Tag Archives: living in Japan

When Foreign Becomes Normal: Reflections on Living in Japan

Where to begin with such a title? As I am American, I guess that is where my story starts. Moving to Japan in 2000 was a life changer.

When you go from a place of long cold winters with brilliant summers and tree covered, well-everything, moving to a new land offers many jarring sights.

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Electric poles stick out into the streets. Not on people’s property-that would be taking up their land. Nope, right in the street where you have to weave and bob around them in traffic. I have become adept at this and now do not even notice when I do it.

Food is fresh. As in you buy the food you are going to eat that day, you eat it, and you go shopping for 15 minutes again the next day. No more buying food for 2 weeks. No more thoughts of, “Why don’t I just go to Burger King and eat a bacon cheese burger?” No, you don’t do that anymore. Well I don’t do that anymore. I eat more vegetables and fish than before. The rice we buy and eat was grown in the prefecture we live.

Every year I go to a health check that costs me the equivalent of $12USD. It includes: barium stomach cancer check, lung cancer x-ray, urinalysis, fecal coliform check, blood pressure, EKG, blood test (cholesterol HDL/LDL, hemoglobin, etc.), height/weight check and a check by a doctor.

I never had, save for kids checks at elementary school, a health check growing up. I am much more likely to go to a doctor here if I think something is wrong-a big difference from my homeland where I avoided doctors because essentially I am cheap and do not have deep pockets.

People marvel at how Japanese live so long. If you could have a doctor tell you what to do every year and just followed 25% of the advice it might add years to ones life. Not to mention the tie in with my second observation about food and its freshness.

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Oops, do you see what is happening here? I am starting to turn this post from an observation of what becomes normal into a comparison between two places and there is always something bad when you do that. Why? Because one side will always be demolished. It’s an unfair thing to compare one country or people against another-unconsciously I was stacking the deck in the Japanese favor. No, Japan is not better than America, just different. So after nearly 20 years what is normal that was not normal before?

I am. I don’t see myself as a foreigner here, even though my face clearly is. After such a long time and coming here relatively young I am a man betwixt nationalities. I relate to Japanese people, but I am not from here. I understand some of what Americans think, but have supplanted it with another set of mistranslated rules.

I have changed as I lived here to the point where I am now comfortable being a resident. Life feels normal in every way, even if I marvel at the different sort of life I am living from the rest of my family. Again not positives, just differences.

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I hope that where ever you may be, you are taking note of the people and things around you. If you are a writer this is an essential point. Observe people, learn and understand them if at all possible. Write it down and relive what you have observed. Pass it on to the next person to savor, to enjoy. Make the normal in your life the extraordinary for others lives. And above all-

Keep writing.

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