to my new apartment in Chiba this afternoon.
A few times this past week I have been struck by a sense of self-satisfied accomplishment. “This wasn’t so bad! In fact, this is fantastic. Why did I think this was going to be hard?”
Then I remember that I have been living in this country (which is putting it generously at this early stage) less than one week, and when I tried to buy cinnamon cereal it turned out to be dried pork rinds, which was almost enough to make me cry. It’s a bit early to be patting myself on the back for boldly exploring unclaimed territory that is actually just someone else’s very explored, very much claimed backyard. (being brave enough to live for a year where other people already thrive? I think that’s the brilliant concept behind Survivor.) The only thing worth being proud of is my exponential mastery of the Japanese language. I did the calculations on paper, and if I only spoke 3 words before, then my previous statement is mathematically accurate.
After “sumimasen”, the most useful and frequently used sentence I have learned has been “inuo sawate e deska?” which is roughly “can I touch the dog?” Needless to say, this was was game changing for me. Last night, celebrating the end of teacher training in Shinjuku, I ran into a couple (well more accurately, ran at a couple) walking a French bulldog. While loudly chanting SUMIMASEN SUMIMASEN and pulling my shirt out towards them like a tent (I was wearing a french bulldog t-shirt and thought that illustrating I had all of the proper credentials and licensing to pet their dog might reassure them) could have been an insalvagable situation, except for the mastery of that single sentence, which they seemed amused by and laughed heartily at.
Now seems like a great time to mention that laughter is occaisionally how people deal with discomfort or nervousness in many parts of Asia.
Language mastery aside, it hasn’t been nearly as much of a culture shock as I expected. I assumed it would be like jumping into a cold pool- quick, shocking, and extremely obvious, but wearing off over time as I adjusted. instead, it’s like being in a slowly boiling pan of water. I won’t be thinking of anything in particular and then something wil happen to make me remember that I am functionally illiterate and can’t speak to most people above the level of party charades and suddenly I realize I’m not in Kansas anymore.
A few things I’ve noticed in no particular order
Not locking bicycles.
Here is a bicycle parked in an alleyway off a busy street in Tokyo.
Here is a bicycle parking lot near train station. They are not locked. as far as I can tell, NOT ONE OF THE BICYCYLES IN TOKYO IS LOCKED. The first few days I couldn’t even compute this. I would see it and my brain would force reboot until I looked away. I asked the trainers, who shrugged it off and said many people don’t bother locking them up. Bicycle theift exists here (apparently bicycle and umbrella theft make up the bulk of crime in Tokyo, according to my experience)This knowledge goes against everything I know about the world and my place in it. If you have something and put it down, all bets are off.
It isn’t just bicycles. On my way to sign a lease for my apartment, I took the train with a company representative. My bag kept getting in the way of exiting passengers (yes, I was that person, yes I am deeply sorry). The representative helping me move suggested that I leave my bags by the door, out of the way, while we sat several seats away.
And no one even looked at it. Even aside from the theft aspect, a lone bag on a train somewhere in the United States would immediately be swept up as suspicious. but people walked past it, careful both not to bump into it or acknowledge that it was there. Again, not something I could ever see happening where I am from, or even in most places I have been. In a city as large as Tokyo and a country as small as Japan, much of social norm seems to be just about coping with living with a large number of people.