So you’ve been living, lounging, working, or studying in Japan for a while now. The feelings of homesickness you first experienced are but a distant memory, and whenever you Skype with your family, you unconsciously use the word “home” to refer to your place in Japan rather than your home country. Not only that, you can finally navigate the Tokyo Metro without getting flustered, barely even notice when a girl dressed in kimono passes you in the street, and you think nothing of visiting a convenience store two or three times a day, sometimes just to flick through the magazines.
But what about all of the things you do unconsciously or that seem so normal to you now but would make you stop and stare back home? Today, we bring you a list of 10 moments that, if and when they happen to you, you can safely say, “Wow, I’ve been in Japan too long.”
You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…
1. The very thought of taking a bath without showering first makes you feel dirty
In Japan, baths are for relaxing and warming up in, not getting clean. Part of the reason why whole families have no qualms about sharing the same bath water, and in many households the water is piped to the washing machine to do laundry with once everyone has taken a dip, is because it remains almost completely clean the entire time it’s in use. People always shower and wash their entire body before stepping into the tub, being careful to rinse off completely and ensure that not a single soap-bubble should enter the bath, so the water stays clean. It’s actually a really nice custom, and kind of makes you realise how gross sitting in bath water you just used to wash the dirt off your body with is.
2. You ask for a non-smoking table in a restaurant when you visit your home country
In some parts of the world, it has been illegal to smoke in bars, cafes and restaurants for almost a decade. Customers are asked to take it outside or use special smoke rooms to get their nicotine/tar fix if they really can’t resist the urge, but everyone else gets to enjoy their food or drink without the accompaniment of cigarette smoke.
In Japan, an increasing number of cafes and restaurants are saying no to cigs, but visit pretty much any family restaurant and your greeter will immediately ask whether you want a smoking or non-smoking seat, and if it’s a bar more often than not you can expect there to be smoke in the air. So when you fly back home or visit a country where smoking bans have been in place for years, you’re bound to look a little odd insisting on a non-smoking seat since, well, they’re all non-smoking…
3. You give someone a gift because they gave you a gift
Gift-giving is about as big a part of Japanese culture as exchanging business cards at meetings. Certainly, some of the younger generation ignore some of the older customs, but it’s not in the least bit unusual to receive gifts when someone moves into the apartment next to yours, or when signing up to a new gas or electricity supplier, or if a coworker returns to work after taking time off, or because it’s summer or winter (seriously), or just, you know, because there are gifts everywhere to be bought and given.
But when you get a gift, even if it’s just a bag of apples received from a well-meaning neighbor, it’s generally considered polite to return the favor at some point in the near future. Of course, this can result in a seemingly never-ending exchange of presents and giving presents because you got presents, and once you’ve been in Japan for any length of time it’s not unusual to find yourself thinking, “Oh, I must get something for XX-san to thank her for that XX she gave me.”
Speaking of having something to give in return…
4. You stockpile emergency presents
There are no birthdays coming up, it’s not Christmas, and you have yet to upset your significant other this week, but you’re buying a gift-wrapped box of chocolates or rice crackers, or a set of posh tea towels anyway. What with Japan’s gift-giving culture being what it is, some people – including foreigners who’ve been here so long that they keep forgetting the English words for things - will make a point of having a small, pre-wrapped gift stashed away just in case you receive one and having nothing to give in return – something that, in the West, only the ultra-organised and those who own paper address books could be imagined to do. Oh, and if you got a gift from someone and you specifically didn’t open it so that you can give it to someone else at later date, that counts too. You’ve been in Japan too long.
5. You bow while talking on the phone
Come on, you know it had to make the list. Whether it’s a quick nod of the head or a five-second-long nosedive, bowing is a big part of Japanese culture, and you find yourself doing it. All the time. You used to laugh at the way your Japanese coworkers would bow while talking on the phone (“They can’t see you doing it!” you’d laugh), but you’ve just called Pizza Hut (or perhaps a sushi place that does home delivery…) and, just before you ended the call, you offered up a little nod as if to say, “I humbly put my baked dough and toppings in your honorable hands.”
6. You wave your hand in front of your face to indicate ”no”
Gestures, like yawns, are infectious. And when you’ve been in the company of people who do the infamous waving-hand-in-front-of-the-face hand gesture that, in Japan, translates as “no” but with an added dash of modesty, you tend to start doing it yourself. Which is fine, but when you’re with people who could only possibly interpret that same gesture as ”something-smells-and-I-am-wafting-it-away” it can cause confusion. And makes you look a little bit silly. 7. You pronounce Japanese words “correctly” even when speaking in English
Yes, in their native language, ‘karate’ and ‘karaoke’ are pronounced ka-ra-teh and ka-ra-o-ke (with that ‘ke‘ at the end said like that in ‘Ken’), respectively, but most English speakers simply say ”karahtty” and “carry-okey”. Depending on the kind of people your friends and family are, pronouncing such words as these “correctly”, whether intentionally or not, will be met with either amused smiles or the rolling of eyes, but most likely the latter, and perhaps for good reason. As my mother used to tell me back when I was growing up in the UK, “No one likes a know-it-all smart-ass,” so if you’re slipping into Japan mode when with non-Japanese speakers, perhaps consider knocking it on the head.
8. You unconsciously throw up peace signs on photos
You’ve chuckled at schoolgirls in Shibuya and couples in "purikura" photo booths as they flash the peace or "bui sain" (V sign), and thought how amusingly Japanese it is, but after living in Japan for a few years, and when everyone else around you is doing it, sometimes – maybe not always, but sometimes – you throw one up. And then all your friends see your photo on Facebook and laugh at you.
9. You have an impressive collection of umbrellas in your home
You’re caught in a shower so pop into a combini to grab a cheap plastic umbrella–they’re only about 400 yen, so no big deal, right? You’re over at a friend’s place during the rainy season when the heavens open, so you borrow another one. Someone comes to visit and leaves an umbrella in your entryway. The latch broke on your old umbrella broke (shouldn’t have opted for that cheapo one after all!) so you bought a new one and have been meaning to throw the old one away, but thanks to Japan’s somewhat complex refuse sorting systems you’re not entirely sure how. Before you know it, you have six or seven umbrellas lined up by the front door, and there’s probably another one floating around in the back of your car. Oh well, you can probably turn them into makeshift Christmas trees or something…
10. People wearing shoes indoors gross you out
Visiting home, you insist on taking your shoes off when indoors and hate it when others don’t. Watching TV dramas and sitcoms, seeing characters put their (shod) feet up on the couch/bed/coffee table totally grosses you out. And when people come to your home and march in wearing the same shoes they’ve been traipsing about outside in all day, although you might not say anything about it, you can’t stop glancing down at their shoes every few seconds, squirming in your seat and quietly thinking to yourself, “Unclean! Unclean!”
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