When I first moved to Japan, in 2007, I had no idea what to expect. I had studied about culture shock but couldn’t really understand how I would be affected. What I learned fairly quickly, and which continues to fascinate me to this day, is that it’s the little differences that are really interesting.
I had an image, shaped from popular culture, of the big differences. Things such as kimono, anime, manga, food, and of course language all seemed like huge differences that would be difficult to adapt to. These actually ended up being things which I loved quickly and found easy to understand and enjoy. Culture shock for me was not the culture itself, but rather a profound loneliness, even when surrounded by many people. But that is a story for another day. Small differences became a constant study for me and one that I continue to enjoy to this day. Sports festivals? Community cleaning days? Volunteer firefighting? Canada and Japan share many things, but they are all… a little different!
It’s The Little Things
Black coffee? Butter ONLY on toast? Salad for breakfast? These little things started to fascinate me. Food is always an interest, and discovering all the little differences between Canadian culture and Japanese culture became a mini-hobby of mine. Of course these are broad generalizations, so not everyone will agree with me, but in general I have observed these things to be true over many years.
Here are a few more neat notes about food culture:
– In Canada, breakfast tends to be a combination of carbohydrates and pork or eggs. In Japan there are often vegetables, soup, rice and even fish at the breakfast table!
– In Canada if you ask someone “What’s for dinner?” they will usually reply with the main protein, such as “steak” or “salmon”. In contrast, in Japan they will answer with the main carbohydrate, such as “rice” or “noodles”. Might be the same meal, but how we answer the question will differ!
I found so many small differences in daily life as well.
– In Canada, most people have a shower in the morning, and take baths rarely. In Japan, most people take a bath, every evening.
– In Canada, some people commute by train, most by car. In Japan, it’s the opposite. In Canada people also commute by seaplane, kayak or dogsled (which students always find interesting!)
– In Canada, people’s houses are full of digital clocks, but in Japan they are usually analog. In Canada most appliances have clocks- the stove, the microwave, the DVD player, bedside alarm clocks- all are digital. Very useful at night for telling the time, but troublesome when there is a blackout and we have to go around the house resetting all the clocks! In Japan most household clocks are analog, and battery powered. No problem after a storm!
English Conversation Class
Friends and family back home often ask me about my work. What’s it like in your classroom? What do you talk with students about? Well, this blog is one such thing- cultural differences. Many lessons revolve around cultural topics as these tend to interest everyone! We are all curious about other cultures and always have many questions. Topics like these, combined with wonderful students, make for a very satisfying job experience.