Unique Japan. That is right. Living in Sagamihara, Japan for so long has taught me about the infinite uniqueness of this country. A tourist notices the obvious- food, such as sushi, shrines and temples, the efficient transport system, the cleanliness, the manners of the people, and so on…They are always impressed with what they see and experience when visiting Japan. However, I am never done learning, and the uniqueness of this country continues to pop-up. It really is lifetime learning here in Japan. I’d like to share a few aspects of Japan that the tourists don’t see or experience.
One day I saw a young woman fall off of her bicycle. Unhurt, she got up, and slowly went on her way. No one offered to help her, which surprised me. Why did people appear to ignore her? Over the years, I have asked a few of my students at Smith’s School of English Sagamihara that question; and I received similar answers from all of them. “She wasn’t hurt, but she was very embarrassed about the situation. The others didn’t want to embarrass her any more than she already was, so they didn’t offer any help.” If it were obvious that she was physically hurt, the people would have helped her. Amazing to me as an American, but now I understand that behavior. Unique to Japan.
Food and Drink
Recently a friend of mine came to Japan and Sagamihara as a tourist. I took him to a restaurant/izakaya near JR Sagamihara Station. He was very happy with the “picture menu” and we each ordered a few dishes. When the server brought our food, my friend placed everything he had ordered in front of him. These restaurants supply small plates and bowls on the table so that everyone can share the food. As a tourist, he didn’t understand. I explained that it’s customary to share food and enjoy eating everything together. He was clearly not happy with that, so I let it be and we ate only the food that each of us had ordered. I guess it is unique to Japan and some other Asian countries.
We boarded a train at Hashimoto Station in Sagamihara, and my friend instinctively tried to carry on a conversation with me. His voice was quite loud, actually, and I had to ask him to speak more softly. Passengers are careful not to disturb others. Trains are quiet here. One can learn a lot about Japan just by riding the train. A tourist usually doesn’t notice…
The Japanese Maple Tree, many of which can be seen in Sagamihara, is like no other. There are so many varieties that offer different colors throughout the year. The leaves are small; quite cute actually. Some appear to be “weeping” while others grow straight.
Bamboo trees are also prevalent; and can be seen growing just about anywhere; even in big cities. My children sometimes laugh at me because of my fascination with bamboo, and trees in general! If bamboo is left to grow for a long time, the roots become very strong; strengthening the surrounding soil. It is said that they aid in preventing landslides and damage due to earthquakes. Earthquakes occur every day- somewhere in Japan, but we don’t fear- we prepare. All of that underground turbulence is responsible for creating much of the beauty of Japan- from its 14,000+ islands to the natural hot-springs in Sagamihara and throughout the country. So unique.
Respect and Language
The Japanese language contains an enormous amount of vocabulary and required levels of speech, depending on whom you are talking to. It often pertains to social status, situations such as customer service, age, family members, etc. I cannot even begin to explain this, but the language might be one of the most complex and unique aspects of this culture. People adjust their speech quickly, and it is all about showing respect to whomever they are speaking to. I occasionally tell my students that in university, I once had a professor of psychology named “Peter.” Peter would not be “Peter” in Japan. He would be addressed by his family name (Van Dyne) with the proper title (sensei)- “Van Dyne sensei.” But he is “Peter” in the USA.
So I have mentioned only a few of the characteristics of Japan that make this country so unique. There are so many, many more. I will never be done learning and writing about Japan, this job, my students, and Smith’s School of English. And I’m sure I’ll never be done living here; until my time is up. I’m staying. Thank you for reading.