Culture Shock? Homesickness? What’s That? – 6 September 2012
I’ve been a resident of Japan for five days now. Yes, there is a lot of Japanese everywhere (writing and people). Yes, the food is vastly different than it is in America. Yes, there are vending machines everywhere and in the most unlikely of locations. Yes, Japanese television is… weird, for lack of better phrasing. It’s far and away an adjustment from living in America in every conceivable way, geographically, culturally, and in any other way you can imagine.
I should be mired in culture shock, but I’m not even homesick, really.
I suppose that’s because of where I happen to live. I go to an international university outside of Nagoya, and I live with about forty other students from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe. It’s sort of like… a commune, I think. We share lots of things – food, liquor, stories about where we live, and yes, our anxieties about becoming reasonably skilled in speaking Japanese. Remember when I wrote about how anxious I was in coming to this place? There are people here who feel much the same as I do, but we’re all slogging through this swamp together, and that helps to lessen the blow. This isn’t to say that I don’t think of my family back home – quite the opposite. They run across my mind every day. And because I haven’t left home on uneasy terms or without showing them how much they mean to me whether I’m with them or not, a guilty conscious doesn’t grate against my mind and drag me down.
But back to where I live.
It’s called the Nagoya University of Foreign Studies (hereafter referred to as NUFS, because I’m not typing that long-ass title anymore) International House, or I-House for short. It’s like a dorm, but not like a dorm, if you’ve ever had the experience of living in a dorm to know what living in a dorm is like. Everyone’s rooms are along the outside walls, and there are three main communal areas in the middle of the building – the 玄関 (genkan, a wide entryway within and beyond which no shoes may be worn), the 中庭 (nakaniwa, the inner garden in the very center of the building, surrounded by sliding glass doors and window panes on all sides, and with a zelkova tree standing in the very center of it), and the テレビ・ルーム (the television room, exactly what you think it is). My room is more or less the same as everyone else’s, with a tiny bathroom (everything here is slightly miniaturized, really), a strange toilet (I’m getting used to it), a low bed, and many, many, many shelves (which I still have to put my clothes into, but have been too preoccupied and lazy to do just yet). There’s a small balcony too, perfect for that first cig of the day. There’s also a washroom for laundry and guest bathrooms (with one of those space-age-y Japanese toilets in them, which confused the hell out of me the first time I saw it, much less used it), and several kitchen areas on the first and second floors which we all share. There’s also lots of recycling done here (and all over Japan, really) which I’m not used to – but because Japan is such a tiny place, it’s necessary, so it’s what’s done.
Like I said, there are about forty other people here from all over – France, Tasmania, Australia, Cincinnati, England… just to name a few. We’re all still getting to know each other (some a bit more slowly than others), but I’m sure that by the end of our stay here we’ll all be really close. And me? This is an opportunity that cannot be wasted, remember? I’ve been talking with everybody, getting to know them and letting them get to know me, and it’s been pretty nice. Yet another reason the doldrums have been beaten back a bit.
The place where I’m living is called 日進市 (Nisshin-shi, or Nisshin City) and it’s about fifteen minutes away from the center of Nagoya by subway (which I’m pretty excited about riding for the first time, by the way. Expect a special post about that soon.). The streets so far haven’t been too much of a hassle to navigate, although to be pretty honest I haven’t ventured out too far from home, so I’m sure that’s gonna change. Most of the places I’ve been to outside of I-House have been the grocery store and a few of the restaurants across the street form me, and that’s a story in and of itself. One of the popular places is called Hamazushi, a chain of 回転寿司 (kaiten zushi, conveyor-belt sushi) where the sushi (and various other things, like desserts and coffee) come to the customers sitting in booths or at counters and they choose what they wish. Pretty interesting. The grocery store (here called a スーパー, su-pa-, short for supermarket) is vastly different than what is found in the States, mainly in superficial and aesthetic ways – the shelves are much lower than I’m accustomed to (it is Japan) and there are lots of Japanese foodstuffs there (it is Japan). Rather surprisingly, buying things isn’t that hard, for a couple of reasons – I can count, and the cashiers don’t expect me to speak Japanese, so they take my money with the appropriate polite greetings and give me my change in exactly the same manner.
Of course, I say thank you. I wasn’t brought up in a barn, you know.
When it comes down to it, I suppose the major reason I don’t really feel culture shock is because I’ve been mentally preparing for this for at least a year now. I wasn’t just dumped here in my sleep; I knew what I was getting into. That’s not to say there aren’t any difficulties here – my Japanese is far from workable, and at this point fluency is far-off.
But that’s not to say I don’t see it. It’s coming. And soon.