Email this page
February 22, 2013
Japan: A certain way for everything
I love Japan—in part because Japanese culture is the most different from our own that I’ve ever experienced. The United States, for example, is a country of individualists … but in Japan, it’s more about the whole. (I guess when you have so many people living within such a small area, it helps to have everyone on the same page.) There are certain ways in which things get done—and this applies to just about everything: There’s a way to greet somebody and a way to enter their home, and there are certain shoes to wear in certain rooms. Even the gardens are highly manipulated—spectacular, but not natural. With all their manicuring and manipulation, they even try to control nature! Sometimes all of these “certainties” were hard for me—but that’s all part of travel.
Early one morning in Kyoto, Alan and I couldn’t sleep, so we went out for a walk. It was around 4:30 am, and there was absolutely nobody around—until we came to a road with a flashing red traffic light. Across the street, a man stood with his dog, waiting for the light to change. Alan and I looked to our left, looked to our right, and there were no cars for miles … so we did what any impatient Americans would do: we crossed the street. The man was still standing there when we reached the other side, and he gave us a little “tsk, tsk” as we walked by. I kept looking over my shoulder after we passed him, just to confirm that he did not set foot in that street until the light turned green. And, of course, he didn’t.
Where in the world have you been most taken aback by culture shock? If you’ve been to any of the places we’re talking about next month in Harriet’s Corner—Colombia, Burma, and Cuba—I’m anxious to hear your thoughts. After all, these are still places where few Americans have ventured … which, to me, is part of what makes them so exciting. Please email me at email@example.com, or leave your thoughts in the comments.