My "Culture Shock" returning from Japan

A month ago, August 21st, I was scheduled to return to Boston.  The morning light started peaking through my window as I was finishing getting ready to leave.  I stayed up the night before to adjust to the difference in time zone between Japan and Boston (13 hours).  Once ready, I walked with my suitcase out of my apartment, closed the door behind me for the last time this summer, and before dropping my keys inside the mailbox, I thought twice about what I was about to do.  Leaving those keys inside that mailbox meant I would no longer have a room to sleep in in Japan.  I was, after all, leaving this place.

I finally left the keys in there, and attempted to open the door right after.  I was locked out, I no longer had an apartment in Japan.  I walked to the train station taking a last look at the house of the ‘grandma’ who greeted me every morning as I walked to the station, I walked past the convenience store I had visited almost every day for the past 3 months, and finally I walked past Mister Donuts and Juso Ramen, places I adored by then.  I bought my train ticket to go to the Osaka Airport, and with that I was on my way home.

I got to Osaka Airport early, over 2 hours early.  I just walked around and thought about what life was going to be like going back to America.  I could not really imagine it, it was too difficult to think about having a normal life after having spent such a long time in Japan.

I finally checked-in, and after hearing many times remarks from the airport employees such as “Please wait just a little bit” and then “I’m so sorry for the delay, here is your ticket,” I was finally on my way home.  I switched planes in Narita, and then finally landed in Chicago.

Once in Chicago I go through immigration, and I hear the immigration employee say “I need to see your passport.”  I smile shyly and give him my passport, and stand still while waiting for him to ask questions or give me back my passport.  Next thing I know, he half-throws my passport back at me while saying, “Welcome Home.”

That was when I first felt a culture shock… “why was he so careless with my passport?”  Having gotten used to people handling my documents, or whatever it was with much care, I couldn’t help it but feel upset at his rude behavior.  I kept walking, starting to feel the sadness of being back at a place where people can be so careless when treating others.  I walked, and walked, and I did my best to keep a smile on my face.  I go to do a check-in to my new flight, from Chicago to Boston, and first thing that happens when I get there is that I am notified that my flight was canceled.

Another culture shock… what do you mean my flight got canceled?  You mean, things here are not organized and the transportation system is not reliable?  What do you mean we are not following a schedule down to the minute, and we are not always on time?

Not only that, this was the explanation I got:

“Your flight got canceled, I don’t know why.  I’ll put you in a flight at 2pm (original flight was supposed to depart before 11am.)”
“2pm?”
“Yeah… don’t complain other people didn’t get flights.”

And there I was, trying to get used to this service again.  Instead of the employee apologizing to me profusely because of the company’s unreliability, I was sharply told to pretty much shut up and not complain.  At this point I started wondering how would a Japanese person feel in my position if they were here to visit… I, who had been living here for so long, was now upset and in disbelief after having only spent 3 months in Japan.  I felt less welcome in America than I had felt in Japan.

I look down to avoid expressing whatever combination of feelings I was feeling, and I kept going towards the security check.  There, standing on the line, someone walks past me and hits me with some luggage and I jump and say, “Sumimasen” which means excuse me in Japanese.  I said it by instinct and then felt a bit ashamed when I realized I had just spoken Japanese in Chicago to an American, but my shame quickly dissipated as I turned even more upset when I realize that the person who had just hit me with their luggage had just kept walking, not even looking back to say sorry.

I just stood there trying not to listen to the people around me complaining about things out loud, making faces and radiating their anger towards everyone else.  I was, at this point, extremely sad to be back.  I felt the urge to just go and buy a return flight to Japan, get on a plane, and not look back.  What was I doing back here?  Why would I chose to be back in a place in which being happy was so much more difficult?

I kept going with my life as normal, and once in the gate I went to eat lunch at Chilli’s.  I order an ‘American lunch’, a burger with fries.  I ate half of my meal and got nauseous because of the amounts of grease I had just ingested.  There was yet another shock for me… my body, after 3 months eating Japanese food, and lots of it, couldn’t tolerate the massive amounts of greasy food that regular portions in America have.

I go and sit in a corner, waiting for my flight while I see that over 40 people are waiting there hoping to even get assigned to a flight to Boston that day.  Their flight had been canceled and they now had no other option but just wait and see…

I finally made it to Boston, called my friends and started cheering up.  I was soon going to see my friends, that would make the transition back smoother.

I had dinner with nice friends, and with that finally got happier to be back.  Not everyone here is rude, of course, and being among my friends really got me excited about what was to come this year.  Senior year in college, job-hunting, all these things I was now looking forward to.

I, at last, made it home, and there, in the comfort of a house with no rude people around, I started embracing being back in America.  I got online, announced on Facebook my arrival, and soon after went to bed.  My life in Japan soon started to seem more like a long dream that I would think about and talk about, and up until now it just seems like a very surreal experience.  I am happy back in America, but not going back to Japan doesn’t seem like an option to me.  My days in Osaka, and my visit to Tokyo, are now among the most precious memories I have.  I can’t wait to go back and visit again the old friends I was able to see again, and the new friends I was lucky enough to make.  I am grateful for all the experiences I had, and I can definitely say that this was the best summer I have had.

Omar

My Japan Experience –

Having arrived to America exactly one week ago, I feel quite settled now, but there is definitely a lot I have to say about my summer experience in Japan.

My flight was scheduled to depart the Osaka Itami Airport at 8am Friday morning.  In preparation for this I started meeting with my friends to enjoy a last meal together for the summer.  The week before my departure I had dinner with Zhang-San, a pleasant dinner in which we discussed many great things about our lives, the future, entrepreneurship, etc.  I was very happy and excited, yet sad simultaneously.  As I listened to Zhang-San talking about his plans and experiences, and I responded positively, amazed by all the great things we talked about and planned, I had a feeling of helplessness.  I wanted to stay in this place, yet I had to return.  I also wanted to be back in America with my friends, I missed them terribly.

I did not say “Goodbye” at the end, but rather “Mata ne!”, “we’ll meet again!”  I returned home that Sunday night with a lot of mixed emotions about leaving Japan.  This would be something that would continue to intensify as the week approached an end.

That Friday I met with Meru-San for the last time this summer.  It was then that it started to hit me, there would not be another epic adventure to visit some random place in Japan anytime soon.  There would be no more jumping pictures in front of interesting buildings.  There would be no more waking up at 6am to meet with other yawning friends excited to go and run, jump, walk, eat all around Japan for the weekend and then try to recover during the week without falling asleep at work.  Those days were coming to an end for the summer, and I was to miss them.

Saturday I visited my friend Masato-San in Tokyo.  I can’t begin to describe how it felt to spend these two days with him.  I was able to experience a Japanese “riot”, or rather people yelling on the streets at each other because of a controversy over the Yasukuni Shrine.  As everything in Japan, it was shocking for me to see the way people behaved and the conflict developed.  It was the most peaceful encounter I could have imagined.

That weekend I was also able to meet a few great people in Tokyo, and I realized that yes, there are very nice people all around Japan.  Masato-San and I joined a few of his friends for dinner, and it was very comforting to talk to them.  They were all so nice and friendly; I still can’t get over it.  So much niceness!

Although we joined Masato-San’s friends during their dinner, we didn’t dine with them, but rather went to have sushi at a place nearby — real sushi.  And my god that was delicious.  I had many different kinds of sushi, and also tempura, and it was just fantastic.  After sushi we walked around Ebisu, which is where Masato-San lives — it’s a very nice area.

I stayed over at his place, and the next day we talked and stayed at his apartment until it was time for me to go meet Tamaki-San, with whom I spent a lovely afternoon.  After walking around and having a nice time with Tamaki-San, I returned to Osaka in the Shinkansen, and with this I finally got in the mindset of departing Japan… it was my last week in Osaka for the summer.

My last week went by real fast.  Tuesday I met with Koji-San, a very special and smart kid whom I’m looking forward to meeting with again and working with in the future.  He really treated me and Meru-San as friends and made us feel very welcome in Japan.  We met on multiple occasions to get lunch and dinner; traveled together a few times during the weekends, and always had a great time.  And by god we ate so many parfaits, which probably kept me from losing more weight than I did.  Koji-San really made my Japan experience unforgettable and unique.  His humble and energetic spirit struck me, and I definitely learned a lot just by spending time with him and Meru-San.  Oh we did make a very nice & dynamic trio.

After my Tuesday meeting with Koji-San, Wednesday was my last day in lab.  My labmates organized a farewell party for me and the PI (Principal Investigator) came over for a while and talked to me.  I had a chance to talk to my labmates and say goodbye to many people, and they gave me yet another gift.  Just a week before, my birthday, my labmates had given me multiple gifts and had organized for me a small party.  I was surprised that they took the time and energy to organize yet another one of these just for me.  I was also invited to go out and drink, which was a very nice gesture from them.  About 10 people joined in for drinking that night, and I was very grateful for everything…

I went back home, finished packing, and the next day simply returned a few things, cleaned up my apartment, and then finally departed Japan… On my way to the airport I was thrilled and saddened.  I was looking forward to meeting my old-friends, but I couldn’t help feeling sad leaving such a magnificent place, full of wonderful people.

As I heard the train announcement in Japanese… “Next is Osaka Airport…” all the images about my summer experiences were flashing through my mind.  I relived the moment when I first landed in Japan, going through immigration and trying to put my 2 years of Japanese education into good use.  Arriving at Osaka for the first time, seeing my apartment, my first experience in an internet café, the ramen shop near my apartment in which I would have many bowls of ramen throughout the summer.  I remembered meeting with Meru-San, Kim-San, Green-San, Nix-San, Lee-San, etc, for the first time.  Also making new friends, Koji-San and Naoki-San, Zhang-San and Tamaki-San, my labmates, and many more.

I stumbled as I got off the train, and with a tear in my eye I turned around and said to Japan, mata ne~  Okay, I may be exaggerating, I did not have a tear in my eye, but I sure felt like I did.

(There is another post coming soon, cause this doesn’t even start to express how I felt coming back to America, and this is already long enough for now…)

The Transiency of Life — Why you should enjoy your life, now!

As I walked my way to the fireworks show at Osaka, Japan yesterday, I was impressed by the amount of people congregating to see the show.  I was with my friends over an hour before the fireworks were scheduled to start, and even then it was very crowded.  I though about just going to my room and resting instead of dealing with massive amounts of people, but instead I ignored how tired I was and spent the night with my friends.

The fireworks started, and they were beautiful.  I have seen fireworks many times before, but for some reason this time it just felt very special.  I was struck by the beauty of each one of them, and how they would soon dissipate, just to be replaced by a different one, and yet another one.  Seeing how the fireworks would change so much one after the other, yet no matter what they would soon dissipate, made me think about life and how beautiful and transient it is.

Each day comes with new opportunities, opportunities for learning, enjoyment, and growth, etc.  It is up to us to appreciate the beauty of each day and make the most out of it.  Just like I chose to stay to see the fireworks despite having to deal with massive amounts of people when leaving the show, it is up to us to decide on a daily basis if we are going to enjoy our day and make the most out of it, or choose the ‘safe’ alternative of doing the same thing as the day before all over again.

It is hard to accept this, but what happens to us is a direct effect of what we do.  Focus on improving your life, take on new risks and challenges for self-development, and soon you will see yourself leading a more rewarding life.  Just like the fireworks, our life is transient, and so are the opportunities presented.  Only when we decide to stop ‘resting’ and instead open our eyes  will we be able to get out of the vicious cycle of repetition and truly appreciate the beauty that has been there all along.

Just like the fireworks show, our life will end.  Maybe we have another 80 years to live, but we could just as well be gone from this Earth within the next hour.  That is the reason we have to open our eyes and start living our lives NOW.  Every hour we waste pondering on the issues of the past, or the things that we can achieve in the future, is an hour we stop living and enjoying the PRESENT.  And in the end, what do we have other than the present?

If you are thinking about the past, don’t let it stop you from living the present.
If you don’t enjoy your present thinking about a better tomorrow, what makes you think the future will be so much better than the present?

Tomorrow the sun will rise, just as it did today, and despite all you achieve or fail to achieve, the day will go by and at the end night will come.  When night comes, take out your pen and a piece of paper and write down the things about that day you enjoyed and the things you are grateful about.  Think about what you want to achieve the next day, and what you will do to enjoy the day.  Repeat this exercise every day, or at least once a week.  When you find yourself not knowing what you enjoyed from your day, you might need to reassess the path you are taking and your outlook in life.

EDIT:  Just after posting this I read the following:

“The death rate for human beings hovers right around 100 percent, and is expected to remain there for … well, forever. Consider this: if the average life span is 77 years, then that means we only have 77 summers … 77 winters … 77 Christmas mornings … 77 New Years, and that’s it. The Marriage Masters know this all too well. It’s easy to get caught in the day-to-day craziness of life and, in the process, take our spouses for granted. A widow named Betty, married 54 years, says, “Now that he’s gone I wish I hadn’t had so many headaches.””  (Source)

Life is short, enjoy it.  🙂

Share your thoughts — What are you happy about, right now?  What are you grateful about?  What did you do or will you do today to enjoy the moment and remind you that all you have is the present?

If you found this post useful and things others might enjoy it, I would appreciate it if you submit it to StumbleUpon, Digg, Retweet it, or share it in any way! ~

Apologize & Thank Profusely – Lesson I’ve learned in Japan

In the book, “How to Win Friends & Influence People“,  Dale Carnegie teaches a few concepts that we should keep in mind in order to have more fulfilling relationships.  I loved reading this book because it spells out all the things we already know that people don’t like, but it also goes a step further to tell us exactly how to behave if we want to improve our relationships.  If you readThe Snowball about Warren Buffett you might have heard about the book as one of the most influential books in Buffett’s life as a young adult.

I learned two things from this book that I have seen the Japanese do naturally.  It seems to me that in Japan it’s just part of their culture.  These are:

  • Quickly apologize for anything that has gone wrong, even if they were not directly involved.
  • Thank profusely for anything good you receive, no matter how small.

The Japanese have a word, “sumimasen”, that means “thank you” and “I’m sorry” simultaneously!  As one of the safest countries in the world, there is definitely something for us to learn from the Japanese behavior.

Thanking someone genuinely has a more lasting effect than most people would imagine.  Try it out yourself, as you walk through your day make it a point to thank anyone you can find a reason to thank for.  While thanking that person, make smile genuinely and really enjoy the process.  Being grateful, and expressing it out loud, has great rewards you may now have realize at first!

Also, always apologize even when in doubt!  I have never seen someone angry because they received an apology from someone they didn’t expect one.  On the other hand, many people don’t think something was ‘bad enough’ to require an apology, while the other person is burning up inside withholding a lot of anger against you.  If you apologize genuinely, chances are you will save a few key friendships/relationships throughout the years.  Definitely worth a try.

Maid’s Café, Yaoi, Hanabi, & Prostitutes – Japan is lovely

This is a continuation to my previous blog entry.

Having spent a bit of money on clothes, Meru-San and I decided to wear our new outfits in the afternoon.  We walked back to my apartment and that’s when I opened my bags and changed.  This, however, was a whole experience on its own.

The Japanese employees at clothing stores pack things similarly to the Apple way, which makes opening a product almost as exciting as using it for the first time.  I looked at my bag, with it’s plastic “rain wrap” and removed it, then cut the little piece of tape that sealed a piece of my bag, and proceeded to open the bag.  Inside were my clothes, carefully folded and wrapped with yet another plastic wrap.  Is this a bit wasteful?  No, it’s VERY wasteful.  I’m sure that if you bring the “green” squad from America to Japan they will go around giving everyone reusable bags big enough so people can fit clothes and food in the same bag.  Yes, Japan is wasteful.  That being said, it was awesome to open my ‘gift’.

After that I put on my new clothes, which were a bit expensive but you could feel the quality.  You can ask Ashley-San, she was touching my clothes inappropriately during our ride to Nipponbashi.

Which bring me to my next point, prostitutes and Maid’s Café! Wait, that’s two points…  let me explain the first one first.  Juso, where I live, is this place in Osaka that is quite known for having a lot of Pachinko places and for a big male entertainment area.  This is probably why I have been asked by women standing in front of the train station if I want a massage, at 2am .  Meru-San was waiting for me in front of the train station on Friday afternoon and she saw a few people walk by and look at her a bit… strangely.  In a “omg look at you” kind of way.  Apparently one of this men, an older man, came back after a bit and asked her where she was from, and then “いくら” or… “how much?!”  Oh my god, that is one good moment to say “はずかしい” (embarrassing).

On related news, two women were arrested at a massage parlor, like a ‘legit’ place, for touching inappropriately policemen working undercover.  Now that’s a job I’m sure many policemen wouldn’t mind doing.

So… where was I?  Right, Maid’s Café.  Meru-San and I changed into our newly purchased clothes and then met with Ashley-San, Ben-San, and two of Ben-San co-workers to go down to Nipponbashi and check out a maid’s café.  The concept behind these cafes is that you are served by ladies that look pretty much like anime characters.  These ladies just come around and serve you, and if you want you can pay to be entertained by them… which means they come to your table and simply talk to you, I’m guessing, I didn’t inquire much.  I heard you can also pay to get a massage from them in a massage room they have.  Japanese people are quite interesting.

Also, if you order something from the menu with a heart by its side, you know there is some attention included with that dish.  An example is Ashley-San’s dish, which was an omelette rice.  It looked like a plain omelette on top of rice when it first arrived at the table, but then the maid grabbed a bottle of ketchup and she did MAGIC. The maid drew a dog over the ome rice, and signed the dish with her ketchup signature.

After this fantastic late lunch experience, we walked around Nipponbashi and randomly entered a store that was FULL of yaoi.  That was interesting, particularly since there were so many women looking through piles and piles of it.

That afternoon we took the train back to see the Hanabi (Fireworks) in Osaka.  It was quite a show, except for the part in which we were expecting fireworks (and so did a million other people) just to not get the memo that we were in the wrong place.  But then we just walked around and there were random fireworks all over the place.  It was quite good cause it wasn’t crowded all in one place, but rather people could walk around and randomly see fireworks all over the place.

After the Hanabi we had dinner around the area, and it was quite tasty. If you want to see pictures from the day, here is the album!

Omar