I recently chatted with my friend Shivani about her experience living in Japan and how it differs from life in the USA. It’s hard to know what living in a different country will be like until you actually move there and start your life. But to help give you an image of what life can be in Japan and how it can be different from America, we decided to share her experiences. Here is her story…
Living in Japan Vs. The US: My Story
In April 2022, my learning and living in Japan adventure started when softly blooming sakura welcomed me to the rural city of Minamiuonuma in Niigata Prefecture. I had recently spent five years living in the United States, just around 3 hours away from the capital city of Washington, D.C., which also had its own annual displays of sakura. Interestingly, the cherry trees in D.C. were gifted by Japan in the early twentieth century as a symbol of friendship.
Since my arrival, I have had the pleasure of bearing witness to more than just these cherry blossoms. While Japan and the US are separated by a singular (albeit the largest) ocean, the cultures, and lifestyles are in complete contrast to each other, as illustrated through a few anecdotes below.
Arrival in Japan
My journey in Japan started with losing the entirety of my COVID-19-related documents at the Narita airport. As I sifted through my piles of travel documents in a bid to organize them, I put down one of my folders on the floor and absent-mindedly walked off. I later realized I was missing them. But what makes this event particularly memorable is my calm and patience at the time rather than panicking, marked by an assurance that since it was Japan, I would find my documents.
Japan’s reputation of people returning lost items to the authorities concerned turned out to be right, and my ordeal lasted perhaps twenty minutes.
As I traced my steps back in search of them and asked airport staff for help, it soon became an almost airport-wide crisis. Every staff member read their walkie-talkies and was looking for my documents in sections I hadn’t even been in! I continued tracing my steps back while a particular staff member took the time out of her work day to escort me everywhere, along with the rest of the staff doing their work, until someone finally found it on the floor somewhere. It was quite an inconvenience to all involved, yet no one rebuked me. Rather, the staff was celebratory themselves.
When I first set foot in the United States several years ago, I remember seeing diverse faces — people with different physical features and attire— working together. I also remember the crowd being compact and slightly chaotic; much of the immigration process happened through kiosks, while those of us who faced the immigration officers were left nervous by their demeanor.
In the US, and especially at large airports, it’s likely the staff would not be so helpful and kind if one were to lose their documents. And my reaction would be nothing shy of anxiety. As such, it is better to keep all documents tightly clutched at all times, as landing in the US can be more harsh and much less accommodating in the case of missing materials.
The 7/11 Experience
I often tell my friends that 7/11 has been one of my favorite culture shocks. Japan, popularized as the land of cleanliness, may be a cliché, but one truly cannot help but marvel at it, especially if traveling from the US. Although a popular American gas station chain, its greasy and cheap quality food, along with its lack of hygiene, has nothing in common with the 7/11 stores I have found in Japan.
In Japan, 7/11 has become my comfort place. I enjoy their bentos almost on a daily basis, along with their collection of sandwiches, especially the fruit sandwiches. During the busiest academic term at university, I joked that my local 7/11 was my kitchen. After returning home past 10 p.m. each day, there was nothing more satisfying than the nutritious bentos containing pasta or rice, fish, and vegetables. Recently, 7/11’s brand of cheese-filled corn chips has become my favorite snack after rice crackers.
But my favorite part: was the thorough cleanliness, including the restrooms. In the US, I preferred not to stop at any 7/11 while on road trips or for midnight food runs, but in Japan, I’ve spent what feels like half my time at the 7/11 stores!
Bicycling And Walking Culture
I proudly report that my lovely mother, who never rode a bicycle in her village because she was from a conservative background, learned how to in Japan. In the past year, I have witnessed bicycling become people’s favorite activity after they moved here.
Sidewalks and separate bicycle paths may not seem so unique, but for those arriving from the US, we realize how restrained we felt without a car. The US has some lovely cities and towns, but there are barely any sidewalks for people except in the heart (“downtown”) of a big city.
The US is massive in terms of land mass. There are large distances to cover and much empty space between any two areas. An effective public transportation system could have helped, but it hasn’t materialized. This has created a dependency on cars, which also manifests in drive-thru establishments: drive-thru restaurants, drive-thru ATMs, and even drive-thru pharmacies.
Fast forward to Japan. Unlike in the US, where we used a car just to go down the street, I can now simply walk for thirty-forty minutes, even an hour. Japan provides the infrastructure to walk and cycle, as much as it does for cars.
Very few cities in the US accommodate their walking population, much less their bicycles. In Japan, we feel the fresh breeze (and sometimes caterpillar webs hanging from trees!) on our faces and through our hair as we cycle past the farms in the countryside. In cities, we are not stuck between choosing the subway or walking; we can cycle for distances that are too far to walk but too close for driving. A car makes everything easier, but bicycles (and walking) have made everything happier.
Summing Up My Experiences Of Living In Japan and The USA
When I decided to cross to the other side of the world, I figured I was in for a few surprises. Like the sakura, one blooms into a more enriched version of themselves by experiencing life in both countries. Living in Japan and the US seems to be on opposite ends of the spectrum regarding helpfulness, cleanliness, and a healthier lifestyle. But, the same as I enjoyed viewing sakura in both countries, both experiences deserve my gratitude for teaching me different lessons.
If you’d like to read more about Japanese culture and lifestyle. Don’t forget to read the other articles on our website and follow us on Instagram.
Based on the story and experiences of my dear friend Shivani Karn.
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- Why Choose an Amazing Life in the Japanese Countryside
Featured Image Credits: Canva.com