When I first landed in Japan, I didn’t truly feel like I had left the U.S. There was English under each kanji character on every airport sign, every staff member greeted me in English, and there were foreigners everywhere. I didn’t truly process where I was until I went to the supermarket a few hours later to look for things like hand soap and paper towels. At first everything felt normal. The supermarket’s layout was similar, I could here American pop music playing through the loud-speakers, and I even heard the Migos’ song “T-Shirt” playing a few minutes later.
The soap section changed everything. Everything was in Japanese. I couldn’t tell the difference between hand soap, body soap, and shampoo. Trying to pick which soap brand I wanted was humbling. It marked the first time I felt helpless in Japan, but I didn’t mind because I knew how to deal with this feeling – laugh, pull out Google Translate, and learn more Japanese. These are the basic survival tools of living in any foreign country for the non-fluent nomad/exchange student.
One thing I’ve quickly adjusted to is the dorm and surrounding area I live in. Like Ohio State, Rikkyo University has more than one campus. The main campus is in Ikebukuro, Tokyo and the second campus is in Niiza, Saitama. Unlike Ohio State, Rikkyo’s dorms aren’t on campus. I live in the dorm right outside of Asakadai Station, called RUID Asakadai. The many restaurants and stores in and surrounding the station can be very lively during the day, but the area gets nice and quiet at night. There’s a certain sense of serenity in the air, a calmness, peace. I think this aspect of Japan is overlooked. The calmness is unmatched in the world.
Since I have Japanese class at 9 o’clock every day, I have to take the train during rush hour. Any train I get on before 8:30am is packed. The train ride to school is extremely uncomfortable, not because of how you get body slammed with the collective force of nine sumo wrestlers every time the train car rocks back and forth, or that at each stop five people try to squeeze their way in for every person that gets off, or even the fact that it’s a 23-minute ride. What makes it uncomfortable is the strange pose I inevitably end up in. It’s like playing twister, but all of your color’s spots that are close to you are gone, you only get one spin the entire game, and there’s no room to fall.
Having lived in Japan for nearly a month, I’ve noticed a few cultural things that are different. The one thing here that has stood out the most to me is using a public bathroom. Not all public bathrooms have soap and there’s nothing to dry your hands with. Paper towels only exist in grocery stores and the rarer than unicorn hand dryers are weaker than Derrick Rose’s knees. Lastly, anime, video games, media, and sushi are not representative of real life. Americans don’t eat hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s better to not come to Japan with expectations, especially not ridiculous ones. Allow yourself to learn through experience. Let yourself be surprised.