Surprising Shocks

We have now been living in Japan for well over a year. It seems remarkable that we have managed this long, given that we are still far from masters of both the language and life here. Sure, we are used to living in Japan. Things are familiar to us. Yet, each day I will still find things that surprise me about the way people behave, or cultural aspects we just cannot get used to.

Firstly, work-based things. I am not sure I will ever be used to colleagues brushing their teeth in the staff room and using the kitchen sink to wash. It is totally normal and in no-way frowned upon here (or you can be sure people wouldn’t do it). It is recognised as an important part of daily hygiene, to brush your teeth and gargle after a meal, and that is very important to people. It is not seen as unhygienic to do said cleaning in the sink, where others wash their dishes. I will, however, continue to sneak off to the toilet to brush in private!

Secondly, the affirmative, I am surprised, or I don’t really understand sounds. Dan and I had a chat about this the other night to muse about what the equivalent sounds are in English. I couldn’t really come up with any that I do, but Dan proceeded to make several irritating sounds at me to prove we do have them in English. I think they may be less common though – I am sure my sounds are as often silent as they are vocal. It is hard to describe these sounds in Japanese, but if you visit Japan you will certainly hear them. They are extremely commonplace and generally it is seen as polite, and a sign of interest in you to have them made at you. They usually have a rising intonation and go on for a long breath, sort of how you may imagine the sound ‘uuiiiioooooo’. I am sort of used to these sounds now, although I do not make them myself! (That would probably have me sounding like too much of a native speaker in a language that I cannot actually speak…)

Thirdly, how sick we are all the time. This is something it is almost impossible to get used to, as it is in a constant state of change! Ongoing, usually low-level, sickness. After extensive googling and reading of gaikokujin (foreigner) forums, I can confirm, it is totally normal and no, there is no way to prevent it. New germs, new environments, a nation of people that frequently come to work sick, and being around thousands of children each week (in my case) lead to constant sickness, especially in winter. I understand it is something that could pass if you lived here for a few years though, but I am not sure we will be here long enough to build up the immune system’s defence! So for now, we keep calm and carry on.

Fourthly, the mountains that are right next to the ocean. We live about 8km up the coast from the city of Shimonoseki. We are in a place the is gradually growing, but can only grow so far as on one side we have the ocean, and the other, the mountains. To get from the beach by our apartment to the bottom of the mountains it is about 3km. I do not think I will ever get used to the view along our local beach of white sand, choppy sea, and great big looming mountains in the background. It will always make me stop and smile, however grotty I am feeling! It is also a great place to be alone, thus avoiding any unwanted sounds or flossing.

Finally, I am certain we will never get used to the feeling of accomplishment we get whenever we stand still long enough to remember we moved to Japan. We had an idea after an excellent holiday in spring 2014, and by spring 2016 we had packed up our apartment and were making the move. Spring 2017 marked our first six months of living in Japan, and spring 2018 will mark our 18 month anniversary of life in Japan and four years since we got engaged in this wonderful country. Where will we be in spring 2019? Your guess is probably as good as ours!

There is no doubt that moving here has seen us go through a whirlwind of culture shocks. Some days are very regular and not much to write home about. Others are wild and wonderful! Culture shock is ongoing and can sneak up on you when you least expect it. Take this afternoon for example, before I decided to write this blog I had to creep into a quiet and darkened room at school for 45 minutes just to get my head clear. The noises, panic, and florescent lights of the staff room had just all got a little too much! Now, though, I am sitting here once again feeling proud of Dan and I for being here to even experience this culture shock in the first place…

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