6 Interesting Things that Surprised Me about Life in Japan

April 19, 2016
6 Interesting Things that Surprised Me about Life in Japan

When we were offered jobs in Japan, my boyfriend and I considered all of our options. We sat down and had real conversations about what it would mean to move to Fukuoka together. Our future employer gave us only 24 hours to make a decision. So, we wrote positives and negatives of the contracts we had been offered. Finally, we decided to make the move!

Moving from Egypt to Japan was a huge leap. We were enticed by the promise of clean streets, delicious food, and safety at all hours of the day or night. Some of those expectations turned out to be true, and a huge draw to a beautiful country. Other anticipations, though, were completely misguided:

6 Interesting Things that Surprised Me about Life in Japan

1. Heated toilets are the country’s most cutting-edge technology

We expected Japan to be full of the latest technology. CNNgo would have you believe that robot hotels and capsule sleeping are likely accommodations. I expected to have the nicest TV and a car that could drive itself. Everyone raves about the fancy toilets that are heated. But what I can’t understand is why a country with heated toilets doesn’t heat its buildings. In fact, starting in November, I wore longer underwear underneath my clothes to work for several months just to stay warm in the unheated building. I have actually seen my own breath while taking a shower in my bathroom! This was certainly not the technologically advanced home I was hoping for.

2. Everyday Japanese fashion isn’t terribly daring

Before moving to Japan, I expected to witness people sharing their personalities through quirky clothing choices. A quick image search of “Japanese fashion” will turn up colorful images of women dressed in puffy skirts with bows on their heads. In reality, the color palette in clothing choices tends to be bleaker. On the Fukuoka subway, I proudly wear my red winter coat, among the sea of navy blue, dark grey, and black. I walk by stores with clothing and wonder how they sell anything in the ROY G BIV spectrum. If they’re selling those clothes, I certainly haven’t seen anyone in my neighborhood wearing it.

3. You won’t be able to get by in English

I live in Japan, and I do not speak fluent Japanese. However, I did not expect to experience such a difficult language barrier. Unfortunately, I did not realize how difficult it would be to live in Fukuoka without knowing the local language. During our first week here, my boyfriend and I huddled under an umbrella to avoid the rain and trudged out to find dinner one night. We peered into restaurant windows hoping to catch a glimpse of a menu with pictures on it. Once we found such a restaurant, we eagerly went inside and pointed at pictures that looked good on the menu.

We have learned to get by using a few key phrases and pictures, but not without our share of adventurous meals. I have accidentally ordered (and choked down with an Asahi) chicken neck, cartilage, and skin, among other things. We certainly appreciate our local friends who help pick up our ignorant slack with the language.

While we’ve had our share of discouraging realities, some things in Japan are better than I imagined. Appreciation for nature, friendships, and delicious food have kept us here for two years. Finding the positives has helped me cope with my misconceptions.

4. Nature plays a central role in Japanese life

The natural wonders that surround us in Japan have helped us enjoy two years here. As I ride to work each day, I can look inland and appreciate the lush green mountains, or know that the beach is just down the road. People in Japan have an unmatched appreciation for nature. Each season, there are places visitors can go to view the colorful leaves, cherry blossoms, or cascading purple wisteria. This appreciation for nature lends itself to a satisfying life filled with contentedness.

5. Japanese people are incredibly generous and kind

I am thankful to all of the friends—Japanese and foreign—who have made me feel welcome in my new home. Every Sunday, I play touch rugby with some of the nicest people I have ever met. My assistant joins me for baseball games and has a shared enthusiasm for delicious local foods. These unexpected friendships have been the gateway to thrilling Japanese experiences. We have viewed lightning bugs, celebrated a friend’s wedding, and eaten delicious food thanks to our generous friends.

6. Japan is a foodie paradise

I love to eat! And the food in Japan has been the most pleasant surprise of all. Each region boasts a variety of local food made from fresh ingredients. Favorites include sushi and sashimi, Hakata ramen, grilled meat, and okonomiyaki. Every corner convenience store has delicious (and sometimes healthy) food that is instantly ready to eat! Japan is a fantastic destination for foodies—just be ready to eat whatever you accidentally order!

As I reflect on my time in Japan and think about leaving in only a few short months, I consider how Japan has broadened my experiences and cleared up misconceptions. The requirement for open-mindedness is a lesson I intend to take with me into the future.

Photo credit by Unsplash. 

About Anne Sarafin

Anne Sarafin is an elementary teacher who loves teaching in international schools. She has spent memorable time living in Egypt and Japan. Her most recent teaching adventure has taken her to Doha, Qatar. Being from a small town in the United States, Anne enjoys her summers at home nearly as much as her travels throughout the year.

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