Posted in Culture, Everyday Life, Humor, japan, Japanese, Opinion

Elderly Japanese Don’t want your Seat!?

Stay Out of the priority seating!

The other day I came across an article called “Japanese Commuters Are So Polite They Don’t Give Up Their Seats For The Elderly” where the author claims that it is actually disrespectful to give up your seat for an elderly person and to not even bother giving up your seat.

….Yeah, whatever man.

Just in case you didn’t get my tone I highly disagree with this author. According to Mark Andrews the author of the article, “…the Japanese actually find it impolite to give up seats for elderly people when riding public transportation.” Then he goes on to share a quote from another blogger`s experience on the subject.

“I asked my neighbor- (an elderly lady who is also my landlord) about what I saw when I use public transportation and she explained that whenever she get(s) on the bus and someone offers her a seat, she would come up with the thought: ‘Ah~ Am I becoming so old that I need a young man to give me priority?’ This would remind her, ‘ You`re getting old!”

Cheopamm, a Japan Info Blogger

Great research Mr. Andrews. I can tell that you worked so diligently to find that one source of information that had a fragment in it that could support your opinion when you have missed the entire tone of Cheopamm’s article. This quote actually has nothing to do with Japanese culture. Notice how she still gets offered a seat. Its an insight of an elderly lady’s feelings about being offered a seat. Her feelings are not a cultural fact. Hold my tea!

“I think we are told to give our seats to old people. Most of the time old people say ‘ Thank you,’ and sit. If they look kind I’ll communicate with them. But some old people say ‘ I am not old,’ and get angry. So I am afraid to give my seat. Usually I just stand up and walk away and they take the seat. It is done without communicating.”

Manami, (16) High School Student

Look at how the seat is still to be offered out of courtesy and manners. Let’s add in one that I personally witnessed just for fun.

About three years ago a group of friends and I caught the bus from our local library to the train station. There was quite a few of us but we all managed to find seats. During our ride an elderly woman got on the bus and by this time all of the seats were taken. After one or two stops a young man (Japanese) offered the elderly woman his seat. She thanked him and sat down on the seat. Then the young man stood for the rest of the ride to the train station.

In my humble opinion (Yes, I can admit when my ideas are just opinions) Mr. Andrews has made the classic mistake of taking a minor variation from the norm in Japan and is using it to make a wide generalization about Japanese culture. I find this to be very common with certain types of people who live here. So I`d like to give you what I believe is really going here.

Japanese culture usually expects that you politely refuse an offering first. This is because manners dictate that you are not to inconvenience the person who is doing the offering. After this offer has been extended 1-2 more times it will either be accepted or rejected. If there is a rejection it is usually followed by a reason such as the person is getting off at the next stop. This is the kind of cultural back and forth that is done in Japan. It consists of many apologies, insisting, and resisting.

Or…

Maybe you just came across a cranky and sensitive old person. Some people just love to be offended and take things personally. They exist everywhere. That doesn’t mean that a whole cultural system follows that person’s actions and it is certainly by no means a reason to tell people to act like ill mannered jerks when they come to Japan.

Dear readers remember your manners. Try to stay out of the priority seating (unless you need it) and if you see an elderly person who needs a seat kindly offer it to them. Stay classy my friends. Until next time. Ja’ne.

Posted in Culture, Everyday Life, Humor, japan

How Japan Has and Hasn’t Changed Me

I remember when I was a university student my then professor now friend Dr. Jayson Chun told me that “When you move to Japan one of two things will happen. Either you will adapt to the Japanese way of life or you will hold on to your culture even tighter.” At the time I thought that I would just naturally adapt to my new home in Japan. Only extremely stubborn and closed minded people wouldn’t be willing to change to fit into their new host country.

Well, I’ve always known that I was one of the two. Stubborn. I should never underestimate how damn stubborn I am. I amaze myself sometimes. Since moving to Japan I have indeed held on tighter to my culture. But it isn’t because I’m closed-minded. Its because Japan is no longer just an adventure or a stop, it’s my home. Once that reality hit my mind changed. It’s not all a complete loss. I have changed since living in Japan just not to the extent that I was thinking I would and that in fact, I do have some non-negotiables that I simply will not change.

Here are the things that Japan has actually managed to get me to change.

  1. I am a lot Quieter than I was Before– On trains, buses, and restaurants. I am a lot more aware of my volume level than I was in the U.S.A. It was just something I never thought about before.
  2. Covering up More– I never liked showing my arms but showing a little cleavage was never a problem for me before. However, since leaving the U.S. and becoming a teacher I just don’t feel the need to. Not to mention I don’t really need to show them off considering that no matter what I wear it is obvious that I am very blessed. No need to show off now.
  3. I am eating Less Sugar– This actually a great thing for my health. It’s not that you can’t find sugar when you want it it’s just when you do find it has a lot less of it. Drinks here in Japan aren’t as sweet and they do have a ton of sugarless drinks available besides water or the artificially sweetened drinks. The strange thing is that things that aren’t supposed to be sweet can be, like kimchi and potato chips. Odd…
  4. I apologize for No Reason– Apologizing in Japan is almost the same as thanking someone. Someone taking the time to do something for you so apologize for taking time out of their day to help you.
  5. My Socks– So before moving to Japan all of my socks were the same style because in the U.S. we buy socks in bundle packs of 6-10 pairs. They are all exactly the same. Well, I guess that doesn’t fly here in Japan. I had a Japanese friend stay at my home one day and she noticed my socks. She was so shocked that they were all the same. It wasn’t something I ever thought about. But I guess since you often take off your shoes in Japan your socks are kind of like an accessory piece. Of course the next day we went shopping to fix that situation.
  6. Learned to Read Subtle Hints– Japan has a very indirect culture. It is very rare for something to be requested directly. I have tried to learn how to decode and figure out what is actually needed. For example, a Japanese person will say “It is hot in here, isn’t it?’, and I’ll say “Yes, it is. Let’s open a window.” Ding-Ding Ding 10 points for me. I magically understood what was being requested of me. However, this doesn’t always work. One of the major cultural issues I’ve come across is the American tendency to solve problems. When someone in Japan doesn’t want to do something usually they come up with an excuse or a problem that keeps them from doing said thing. What my silly American self does is try to solve the problem so that the requested action can be done. Nope, minus 10 points! What I had to learn is to read between the lines and what they are actually doing is politely declining my request.

Good for you Japan. I commend your efforts and give you your victories. But now it is time to show how Japan has not managed to change me and in some cases caused me to do exactly what Dr. J said. Hold on tighter to my culture.

I love Naomi Watanabe but I just can’t stand Japanese plus size fashion. No shade on her, just her clothes.
  1. My Clothes– I love American vintage/retro style. My ideal figure is the classic hourglass shape. I love A-line dresses, corsets, and doll baby shoes. Japan has a different idea of fashion. Their classic shape is the rectangle based on the traditional kimono. That’s fine but as a plus-size gal that just isn’t going to work. Also, a lot of their modern clothes are baggy or very lose fitting. I feel like that just makes plus size girls look bigger. So I’m just going to have to say “No, thank you,” to Japanese fashion.
  2. The Work Culture– I have become more hostile about my private time. There is a clear separation between work hours and private time. Here in Japan, many people work a lot of overtime as I’ve come to experience. This has left me a bit jaded because 9 times out of 10 its for no reason what so ever. or a complete lack of organization. I used to think that it was good that I could work like them. “She’s so Japanese,” was the highest compliment I could get. But now, I’m not sure if its because I’m older and I have less tolerance for it, but I think it’s pretty rude and inconsiderate for Japanese companies to expect overtime from their employees. Luckily for me, I’m a foreigner so I’m not held to the same standards.
  3. I Stopped Trying to be Indirect like Them– Remember when I said that Japan has a very indirect culture and that they rarely ask something directly? Well, that courtesy is not extended to us foreigners. Sadly, whenever I try their method of trying to decline on doing something it often gets ignored and I end up getting roped into doing something that I don’t want to do. (at work *cough cough*) So I’m reverting back to my good ‘ole fashion American bluntness. “I’m sorry, I cannot work that day.” “No, I don’t like that lesson plan/idea.” Maybe it’s a cultural thing where they think that since I’m not Japanese that I would naturally be more direct so when I answer them in a Japanese style it confuses them and then they become more foreign in their insistence? Now, isn’t that an interesting thought?
  4. Using the “Gaijin” Smash- So for those of you who don’t know what that is, its when a foreigner purposefully goes against Japanese standards. For example, when it’s hot on the bus I just open a window. I don’t do the “Oh, its hot isn’t?” thing and hope the bus driver hears me. What the NHK man is here? I’m not home. Did this lady cut in front of me in line? Oh, I must inform her of her mistake very loudly and clearly. Before I was so afraid to be the rude foreigner and would never do the Gaijin Smash. But over time I have relaxed a bit on it but I NEVER abuse it.

So not bad Japan, your 6 to my 4. Maybe I’m not as stubborn as I thought. I’ve managed to both adapt to my new home as well as keep important cultural aspects from my homeland in my life. I think the mistake that many young expats make is that they think they will be able to completely adapt to their new environment with ease and feel guilty if it doesn’t go that way. I say don’t feel bad or guilty for not being able to adapt to your life in Japan exactly the way you wanted. Some people make it and some don’t but at least you tried.

Coming to Japan is more than just discovering a new place and culture. You’re also discovering more about yourself, your values, and what you hold dear about your own culture. Remember that and go forth. Until next time. Ja’ne!

Posted in Everyday Life, Humor, Money, Shopping

Feed The Cat!: My Crazy Attempt to Save Money

I have never been good with saving money. I am good with numbers though. I can crunch the numbers, budget, and even balance books. But its seems that being good with numbers and actually saving money are two different skill sets.

I will admit that I like to shop. I use shopping to take my mind off of worrisome things, entertainment, and as a reward for working so hard. It gives me something to look forward to. I love going to the recycle shops to find bargains for things that I don`t even need. The high that I get from finding those bargains only last for a little while though and then I`m on to the next item I can find. I have tried to curve this need to shop by actually trying to budget. I use the Envelope Method to help me break down how and where I spend my money. This has helped me a lot since I am able to visually see my money and where it is going. But this has not helped with my shopping habit however. And I often find myself dipping into one envelope to save another or most often than not to buy something that I don`t need. And here is the catcher, if I make it to the end of the month and I actually have money left over, its SHOPPING TIME! I work so hard right? So I should reward myself with something nice. And there goes my savings. It truly is a vicious cycle.

So how do I combat this never ending cycle of this zero net savings? Enter the Cat!

“I demand tribute! “

Meet Nikki. She is a Maneki Neko (Lucky Cat) and the equivalent to a piggy bank in the west. Nikki is a very greedy cat who likes to be fed every time I make a little luxury purchase that doesn’t contribute to me being able to live. Yes, I might need things such as toothpaste, but do I really need that fully organic peach flavor Hello Kitty toothpaste? Here`s how she works:

  • When I buy a luxury item or go shopping I have to feed her 10% of whatever the total cost of ALL the items I purchased. This also includes any transportation fees attached to it. For example, if I get a manicure that cost 4,000¥ I have to feed Nikki 10% of that cost. Also, say I have to pay for parking that`s 800¥. Well that means that Nikki needs 10% of 4,800¥ which is 480¥. Mind you I have to pay this on top of the sales tax that I`m already paying to retailers which is 10%. So that means in total I pay 20% taxes! This is the NIKKI Tax!

Pretty harsh right? Maybe, but I`m hard headed and I love shopping. By adding on the NIKKI TAX I hope to curve my shopping habits because it leads me to a series of questions. (In my friend Emma`s voice of course because she`s usually the one asking me when we shop together)

  1. Do I really need the item or do I just want it?
  2. If I want it, do I really desire it or will the feeling pass?
  3. Is it worth spending a 20% tax on it?
  4. Can I afford to feed Nikki her 10% tribute? (She`s very demanding)
  5. Will I be financially OK after I spend the money?

So far I have had very positive results using the Nikki Tax system. It`s only been in place for about a month and I can already say that it has kept me from spending as much as I usually would. I`m sure other circumstances are part of the reason that I`ve been holding back on my shopping habit but having to pay the extra tax on top is the perfect extra layer. Here`s to saving money and my attempt to be a responsible adult.

Posted in Everyday Life, Health

Help is out there!

“Instead of worrying, a strong man wears a smile . “

Japanese Proverb

This is a famous proverb that is often said to people who are facing problems here in Japan. From a young age this is taught to students in an effort to help them deal with everyday issues such as homework, tests, and even bullying. Students carry this into their adult lives as they face the daily stress of work, family, and social obligations. This and this alone seems to be the only tool/ words of wisdom that are given to them to make it through their entire lives. I believe this to be very troublesome for a few reasons including but not limited to school bullying, Karoshi (death from overwork), and the high suicide rate that plagues Japan. Despite all of this, I will not address Japanese mental health today. That topic itself deserves its own post and since I am not Japanese or a specialist I can’t speak fully on it at this time. No, this post is for us foreigners living in Japan and the problems we face and the help we can get to aid us through it.

As foreigners living in Japan we have our own set of unique problems and stress that we have or will face during our time here. Things that weren’t even a thought in our home countries suddenly become prevalent in our daily lives. Let’s look at the most common issues faced by foreigners.

  • The inability to communicate effectively
  • Culture Shock
  • Home Sickness
  • The feeling of isolation
  • The Stares

Some people can face those issues just by having a few beers with a friend and having a good old rant fest, but what about those who might be a little more sensitive or those of us who have yet to meet a trusted friend that we can share our worries with? What about those of us who are already past just the worrying stage and are facing depression, anxiety, harmful thoughts? There is help for us here in Japan.

Japanese Healthcare

Japan does have mental healthcare available to those who need it. If you are proficient in Japanese you can ask your general doctor, health insurance company, or even check with your local city hall or International Culture Center. Don’t be afraid to ask your general doctor for help because it is their job to watch out for your health. They might even be able to provide you with medications to help you until you are able to see a certified specialist. The benefit of doing this is that it is covered by health insurance both national and private. The cost is comparably very low when put against the cost of healthcare in the U.S.A. You don’t have to worry about going bankrupt here in Japan.

TELL Mental Health Services

TELL is a mental health service based in Tokyo. They specialize in counseling and therapy services for foreigners living in Japan. They have services and certified mental health specialist who speak English as well as other languages. Many of them are foreigners themselves. TELL has offices in Tokyo but also have distant counseling services for adults, children, and family. TELL however, does not accept Japanese health insurance but arrangements can be made based on your income for payment.

If you ever find yourself in need of someone to talk to I encourage you to give one those two options a try. Your life in Japan should be full of adventure and joy but sometimes we need a little extra help to get us through those hard times. There is no shame in that. Wishing you happiness and health in all its forms! Until next time. Ja’ne!