Finally after 19 hours of traveling I am in Nagoya. Unfortunately, due to delayed flights, I couldn’t check in to my residence as planned and was forced to find a hotel for the night. I have to say, when I showed up to my meeting point for residence at 10pm and the doors were locked, I was scared. Dragging all my luggage with me I found a 7/11 and asked to use their phone but they said no (or they did not have one I could use). Luckily a customer who spoke some English offered me his cell phone and I was able to call the exchange coordinator who then booked me into a hotel nearby. The 7/11 staff then provided me with directions (in Japanese) and I finally made it to bed by 11pm.
I have been thinking about all the differences I’ve noticed in the 2 days I’ve been here but there are too many to explain so here are the most significant ones:
- I haven’t stopped sweating— It is very humid in Nagoya (understatement). Thankfully it is not just me who thinks so as I’ve noticed many Japanese walking around with fans and with cloths to wipe their faces. When I woke up this morning and looked outside, everyone had umbrellas so I thought it was raining, but it wasn’t. It took me a little while to come up with the assumption that they were trying to block their skin from the sun. Yet, when I looked around, I couldn’t find the sun.
- I’m sorry I don’t speak Japanese— Language has definitely been the most challenging aspect of the last couple days. I knew before I chose to come to Japan that not very many people speak English. Apparently, it is the first world country with the least amount of English-speaking people. This language barrier has become significant in almost everything I do. Whether it be asking directions, understanding food labels or understanding how to use the A/C in my room; it has been challenging.
Some other differences I’ve noticed:
- They drive on the left side of the road
- People don’t tip for services
- I can’t wear my shoes inside my room (out of respect)
- Approximately 15% of Japanese people I’ve seen have been wearing surgical masks
- Food portion sizes are smaller
- Eating cereal, oatmeal, or bagels is not common
- Most people shower sitting on a stool and sometimes in front of a mirror
- Clothing is usually hung to dry instead of using a dryer
- Japanese elevators seem to be about 1/3 of the size of a North American elevator
- You must separate your garbage into at least 5 different categories: burnable garbage aluminum, plastics, etc
- You are allowed to smoke in some restaurants but you are not allowed to smoke on the streets
Another major difference I’ve noticed, and probably the most important one for me, is how helpful and kind people are here. I know this is a large generalization, but so far I have yet to meet someone who was unwilling to help me even though we did not speak the same language. From all the countries I’ve traveled to, including living in Canada, I would have to say that Japanese people have been the nicest. In the last 48 hours of being here I have probably asked at least 15 people for help and about 20 people have helped me. Complete strangers have helped me carry my luggage up the stairs, lent me their cell phones and given me directions. I am thousands of kilometers away from home in a very foreign country to me and yet the kindness of the people makes me feel incredibly welcome.