Tissues, bowing, grocery trips, toilets.

I’m now into my seventh year of overseas living, and most things about the Japanese culture and way of life have stopped shocking me. Now, they simply just ARE. I’m used to them, and many things that would’ve never crossed my mind before have become second nature. I’m adapting. And in the process, there is much I’ve not opened up for the viewing of others, simply because I’ve forgotten the ‘normal’ western experience. So… I’ve been musing lately about how my little dailies are inherently different from those of my western counterparts. For example:

-I bow. All the time. I bow when the car stops so I can cross the street. I bow when I say thank you. I bow when the cashier hands me my change. I bow when I get on the bus, and when my neighbors pass our house. I bow in greeting and in departure. It’s just so very normal now.

-Instead of napkins, we have a box of cheap tissues we keep at the table. I don’t miss napkins at all.

-I use a convection oven/microwave instead of a big oven/stovetop. And I’ve had numerous turkeys in that thing.

-I bathe with my children. As in naked, together, in the bath. I love it, and some of our best conversations happen in there. (Also, I never have the common, western-mom problem of, “I can’t find time to shower!”) When I mention to my Japanese friends that this is not common in Western culture, many of them remark on how their children always open up their hearts and share their stories in the bath. “When do they talk to each other?”

-Someone from our family is at the grocery store almost every day. We usually fill up a small basket and spend around 2000 yen.
-Our toilet has its own room, and I can’t imagine it any other way. It seems so strange when we visit the states to pee and shower and do my makeup in the very same room. How do I keep the baby from playing with the toilet bowl? Where do I go when someone needs to use the toilet, but I’m getting ready? Honestly, the hygenic side of it all has won me over.

-Also related to the toilet, we have a bidet and heated toilet seat (as do most Japanese households), and I LOVE it. If I ever move from here, I will buy and ship a Japanese toilet seat ahead of me.

-We have rocks for a yard. Big ones that you can climb on, and little ones all around. I forget what it’s like to take a walk and smell fresh grass clippings. I miss that.

-I use Japanese every day, and because of this, my English vocabulary has shrunk. Mainly, I have trouble coming up with those vocabulary words I used to be proud of knowing and using. And sometimes it’s not even big, smart-sounding words — it’s colloquial, everyday words that I just don’t remember because no one around me is using them.

-Though we have a bed, I looooooooove sleeping on futon. Not the American “foo-tawn”, but a mattress on tatami, with a big, heavy comforter on top. I always sleep insanely well. Maybe it’s the subconsious understanding that I won’t fall to the floor?

Anything you’re interested in hearing about life in Japan? Or anywhere away from your home culture?

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10 thoughts on “Tissues, bowing, grocery trips, toilets.

  1. Most everything on your list is true of us as well, except the bathing together (my son is 12, he’s on his own), and the japanese practice. I so wish I was forced to practice my japanese, but I work with other americans and hardly ever really get the chance.

    We’ve been making some changes to our “screen time” practices based on some of your suggestions. Things are going pretty well I’d say. Our lives are so busy as it is that some times despite having no official time limit our son will end up playing less in a given week than he would have if he was trying to make sure he got in that 1 hour maximum a day.

    • @Marco, where are you located in Japan? I don’t know that you’ve commented before, so it’s nice to know you’re out there 😉 So glad the screen time ideas have been helpful for your family — there is just something about “limiting” for kids that makes them CRAZY for whatever is limited.

      • We live south of Tokyo/Yokohama in Yokosuka and have been here just over 2 years now. We hope to live elsewhere in Japan at some point and have been working on our Japanese for that reason. We’ve appreciated your sharing of your experiences as you test the waters with the screen time thing.

      • がんばって! The first two years were by far the hardest for me, in terms of language and cultural adjustment. My language really took off once I was in a setting where I was encountering and using it every day, even if for just 30 minutes. Is there a ramen shop or coffee place nearby where they will take time to chat with you?

  2. My daughter is obsessed with everything Japanese. She recently told me she wants to move there because of a place they call Cat Island. She’s also obsessed with cats, so it perfectly fits her personality.

  3. Wow Jamie, I could really relate to this post, because we’ve been here in Italy for 25 years and I forget what things are different. Until we make a trip to the states & I realize folks are looking at me funny for kissing them on both cheeks!

    The bathroom stuff really resonated with me. Could it be that bathrooms/bathing are one of the most different things in cultures? I’ve already told Mario that wherever we live, a bidet is a MUST. I’d forgo my fridge if necessary! Over here, many parents shower with the younger ones in arms. Water is expensive, precious & bathtubs few! But we had great fun playing with our kids in there anyway. But alas, we have no heated toilet seats. Sure would love one though. Our bathroom is cold!! And I miss the smell of freshly cut grass too, isn’t that strange?!

    • 25 years in Italy! Can I come visit? It’s a place I’ve always wanted to go. 🙂
      Sometimes, the longer I am away from American culture, the more it seems so separate from the rest of the world. I am thankful for the new eyes my experience has given me.

      • Come on over, Jamie our door is aways open! And, I may be a bit prejudiced, but I don’t see how you could help but fall in love with Italy…it’s wonderful! Most of the time 🙂 I agree–American culture does seem so separate from the rest of the world. I just never knew quite how to put it. But you’re right, it’s sort of like a sub-culture all it’s own, isn’t it? It is so good when we learn new ways & especially that ‘our way’ isn’t ‘right’ or ‘best’, just different!

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