Being able to experience my first trip to Japan through the TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars Program was truly a blessing. Through this program, I learned about both the traditional and modern way of Japanese living and their culture. I was able to experience some of their customs and traditions firsthand and it was an unforgettable adventure. Being able to explore Japan and try new things that aren’t offered in Hawaii definitely opened up a broader-spectrum for me in terms of understanding/acknowledging cultural differences and being able to adapt to my surroundings.
Our first few nights in Tokyo were amazing! Being able to see the city lights of Tokyo really took my breath away. It was so lively and fast-paced there! This was a nice change in scenery because it was something a little different from home, where it is a little slower-paced. Also, being exposed to that 40-50 degree weather was exhilarating for me because Hawaii’s temperature usually stays around 70-80 degrees all year round.
The food was delicious and it was presented in a very delectable way. It was presented so nicely that I didn’t want to ruin it by eating it. However, the food was so good that I devoured every last bite of my meal until nothing was left but a few crumbs. One of the biggest differences I noticed between American culture and Japanese culture (in terms of food) were the portion sizes. In America, it seems as if the portion sizes are much larger than those in Japan. It was definitely something that I had to adjust to since I am used to eating until I am full, rather than just when I’m satisfied. This allowed me to work on my portion control, which I continue to practice to this day (since coming back from Japan).
When we visited the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum, I was able to expand my understanding of the world since I got to see immigration and familiar historical events through the eyes of the Japanese immigrants. These were events that I have heard of in American schooling, but I’ve only ever heard them being told through the American point of view. After reading through some of the articles and descriptions provided in the museum, I noticed that the Japanese people still remained positive despite all the hardships that they may have gone through. They never spoke down upon any other country or event that may have put them through those struggles as well. They remained humble and persevered through the hard times as a nation, which is something I’ve come to admire about Japanese culture.
If you compliment someone from Japan, usually, they will deny the compliment and/or return it to the person that gave the compliment. Their values and ideals are modest to say the least. You never want to be too proud of your accomplishments and you don’t want to bring shame to your family because your family is bigger than you are as an individual. I feel as if this way of viewing life is still ingrained into a lot of the local Japanese in Hawaii. Being a Japanese American myself, I still find these Japanese morals and beliefs to be just as important as my American values and beliefs. The idea of modesty is something that was passed down from generation to generation from my ancestors and I plan to pass them down to future generations as well.
After walking around in Japan and witnessing the locals in their natural habitat, I’ve noted a few differences in cultures between America and Japan in terms of what is expected and what is acceptable.
Through my observations, I’ve noticed that Japanese people don’t particularly like too much eye contact. While walking around in the malls, temples, or subways, a lot of their heads are pointed toward the ground (especially in elevators) as compared to ours, which were angled up looking for some type of acknowledgment. If you did happen to make eye contact with them, they were quick to shoot their heads down or look in another direction. It was not something that I was used to since in Hawaii, you look for everybody and everybody looks for you (metaphorically speaking, of course). It’s nice to see people smile back at you or wave to you, even if you may not know the person. In Japan, it felt as if I didn’t exist and it gave me a slight feeling of loneliness.
Another difference I noticed were the directions of the streets. In America, I’m used to seeing cars drive in the direction that is away from me in the right lane and toward me in the left lane (if you’re standing on the right side of the road). However, in Japan, the roles are switched! If I had to drive in Japan, I would surely crash. Did I also mention that the steering wheels are positioned on the right side of the vehicle, rather than the left? This solidifies my chances of getting into a crash in Japan.
Another big difference in culture that I’ve noticed was that the locals don’t like hugs there – especially if you’re meeting them for the first time. In Hawaii, I’m so used to the “Aloha” spirit, that to give someone a hug for the first time meeting them is natural. Although in Japan, it is quite unnatural and it even seemed unwanted by the locals. I’ve taken enough psychology courses in college to know when people are uncomfortable, so I just stuck to handshakes after my first awkward encounter with a local.
Another difference is the “no tipping policy”. In America, tip is expected but not required (for the most part unless gratuity is somehow included in your tab), but in Japan, it is considered rude and it is unwanted there. I’m not too sure how true this statement is but I wouldn’t challenge it. I would rather be safe than sorry and abide by the Japanese customs, rather than the American ones in this case.
I could go on and on for paragraphs and paragraphs about the differences that I’ve noticed, but I am going to spare you, the reader, the hardship of reading through all that.
All in all, my trip to Japan was an amazing and educational experience. I will never forget it! I will always remember the kindness shown by the locals, learning the Japanese culture, the TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars Program and all that it has done for us (which I am eternally grateful for), and of course, Japan’s natural beauty (both the environment and the women ;). I plan to visit Japan again someday – maybe even live there for a bit if my resources permit it. I may even revisit some of the historical sites our group visited and reminisce about all the good times we’ve shared there. Most importantly, however, I will always remember the people that I have met through this program (both the ones from America and the ones from Japan). Without them, this program wouldn’t have been as excellent as it was and I am really thankful to each of them for such an amazing time. I hope to keep in touch with them when we can and hopefully we cross paths again someday. If not, I wish them the best of luck in all of their future endeavors!