Saturday, March 9, 2013

Two months already!?!

It's overused and cliche but my goodness time flies when you're having fun! The first few weeks I was here it felt like I had forever until I come home and now it feels like I won't have enough time to do everything I want to do and see everything I want to see before I come home! Time to start making a bucket list!

Without further ado here is my two month update, you know, to make up for my super depressing home sick one month update.

Japan is a lot like home, if you ignore that cars drive on the opposite side of the road, people speak Japanese and fish is a mealtime staple. Okay, so there are more differences than that, but what I remember being surprised by the most after I arrived was just how normal everything seems. There are the people rushing way too fast on their way to work, the people who just don't seem to care no matter what and every other type of stereotype you know exists here as well. People are people, no matter where you are and everyone seems to more or less have the same types of worries.

Before coming to Japan I was worried that I was going to stick out like a sore thumb and feel like the elephant in the room all the time. While yes, I don't exactly blend into the crowd (my pasty complexion gives me away) it's not like I'm sitting there waving a red flag with everyone looking at me. Think of tourists you see back home (remember, I'm from a smaller place!!!). Most of the time you hardly pay any attention maybe with an occasional eye rolling. However, people understand (for obvious reasons) that you are not a native to the area and are trying to experience their country. Nobody seems to think twice about you passing through a crowd or doing your thing.

That said there are two other things I want to metion.

Surprisingly, the group I seem to get the most acknowledgement from is other foreigners. Maybe I'm reading more into it than there is, but my friends have said the same things. When you're walking down a street and you happen to catch the gaze of another foreigner you always seem to give each other a passing nod and wind up with the "foreigner comradery" type of feeling. This is probably not true for everyone, but just what my friends and I after being here for a couple of weeks started to feel. That said there is another group of people which always garners the attention of us and other people.

To put it politely, let's call them the baka gaijin. Not the nicest of words and I don't ever recommend calling anyone that, but sometimes that is the nicest phrase I can think of. How I would describe these people is very rude and disrespectful. Occasionally I have heard these kind of people saying that Japanese people should just learn to speak English or who otherwise are very rude in similar fashions. While I am sometimes guilty of the next part of this (hey, I'm an American! We can't help it sometimes!) generally on top of being rude this group of people is loud. Overly loud. Super loud, constantly. There are many other things that when all or a lot of them are accumulated together my friends and I consider to be baka gaijin. Here is a short list of things to keep in mind to avoid being that idiot foreigner.

  • Realize that you are in a foreign country where the native language is Japanese. While some people speak English and will do their best to communicate with you if need be, there is no need to be rude when it turns out that not everybody here is fluent in your native tongue. You're in Japan after all. 
  • Be respectful. This entails a lot of things, but let's hit on this first. Don't be loud! Getting excited is fine, but if you're constantly talking loudly or yelling back and forth with people you are going to wear on people's nerves fast. Talk at a reasonable volume. There's no need for a shouting match.
  • Try not to block access to things. If you want to take a picture of something and you're blocking a sidewalk or entrance, do it quickly. Other people are trying to get from point A to point B too. If you need to, take a step off to the side to get your stuff ready and then quickly take your picture. I can't tell you how many times I've had large groups of people taking a picture block almost the entire entrance to Takeshita Doori with their group picture. 
  • Which brings up the next point. If you must take group photos in a crowded area, don't do so with five cameras. You're all friends on facebook and there is the magical invention that is a flash drive or e-mail. Designate one camera so you can take your picture quickly and get out of the way. There is nothing more irritating than being unable to get where you need to go because a group of people is being inconsiderate. 
  • Eating etiquette. Use it. This may seem simple enough, but certain things like not sticking your chopsticks in your food can go a long way. Try to do a little bit of research ahead of time and if you don't feel like doing that see what everyone else is doing before you reach the "when in doubt, it's finger food" conclusion. Also note that when a dish is being shared between a group there is usually a pair of chopsticks or other serving utensils with which to dish up your food. 
  • Wear clean socks. This may seem odd, but sometimes you wind up somewhere where shoes are not allowed. No one wants to be the stinky feet, dirty sock person. 

Okay, so that last one wasn't a baka gaijin thing. I just got carried away. ;p 

Something else to keep in mind is when you pay. At most stores there is a little tray on the counter for you to put your money in. When it is available you put your money there, the cashier will count it and give you your change. When there is no tray present, feel free to hand it over to the cashier. Also, count that change. This is a cash based society and no one seems to mind that you are counting out exact change and employees like it. Less work for them. Also, if you aren't using those 1, 5 and 10 yen coins they add up fast. My biggest problem is with 10 and 1 yen coins. So make a conscious effort to use them. It might seem easier just to hand over a 50 yen coin when there is a trailing 13 yen on the amount, but all those coins get heavy. Take the few seconds extra to pull a ten and three one yen coins out. It makes your wallet happy.

When you arrive in Japan there is so much to do and so much to see. Everything is new. Everything is exciting. Most of all, you want to do everything. While you may be able to keep this up for a few days it will become quickly apparent that you need to take a rest. Listen to your body. You don't have to do everything all at once (especially if you are here to study abroad). Taking a day off every now and again is good for you. Best off all that day to recuperate will help prevent you from getting sick. Take it from me, I didn't have that advice and I've come down sick twice since being here.

The trains are your friend and so is a Pasmo. Pasmo is basically a card that you put your money on and is read at the entrance to the trains in lieu of your ticket. It makes getting where you want to go a lot easier when you don't have to stare at a map for 20 minutes to figure out what fare you need to pay to get where you're going. There is also a Suica pass, but the Pasmo seems to be more universal and it's the one I recommend. Also, you can use it to pay at some conbinis and vending machine. Very 便利 (convenient) indeed.

As far as trains go, you shouldn't be too worried about getting lost. All the stations have names of the trains and where they're going written in English as well. But if you're very worried about it copy down the kanji for the line and stations you need to help prevent you from getting lost. Google maps is usually pretty accurate about finding the cheapest and fastest routes to places, but hey, it's Google maps. It's not always the most accurate back home, so make sure you check all the options it gives you. Also, http://www.hyperdia.com/ is another good option for figuring out your trains. Just enter the starting and ending station names in romanji (English characters) and it will show you your options as well as the fares.

As for my melodramatic anime and cosplayers aren't life here, it's true. They aren't. The majority of people you see aren't cosplaying or wearing Lolita. Nor is everyone's hair a crazy color. True, I've seen more Lolita in Japan than I ever saw back home, but not everyone does it. I probably see about one Lolita every day or two.  Just make sure you follow the photo rule and ask before you take a picture. As far as cosplayers go, I've yet to see any, but hey, who knows right? And there is anime here. It does exist, you see posters everywhere, but that doesn't mean that everyone is an anime fan. I've met plenty of people who don't care much for anime. The same goes here, to each his own.

Also, make sure you double check dates before you do things. I bought tickets for a day to early for heading to Osaka. My bad, so now I'm covering the hotel fee for the extra night. So be careful and double check your plans!

I think that's all I want to cover right now. I'm heading out the day after tomorrow for Osaka and Kyoto. I have no idea yet what my internet capabilities will be, so if you don't hear from me soon look forward to a lot of updating at the end of the month.

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