The first place I ever visited outside of the U.S. was Japan, so it is only fitting that my first post pay respects to a country I lived in for two years. If I’m being completely honest when I got to Japan I was miserable. It wasn’t my choice to go, but I was required to be there and I hated it. However after a month of being miserable I decided it was time to get over myself and start finding a way to enjoy my new home. I took a few short cultural classes to learn more about proper etiquette while venturing around the towns. Something interesting was the chopstick use and etiquette. For example there is a funeral custom in Japan that involves leaving chopsticks upright in a dish of rice. So doing this in a restaurant is considered a faux-pas and rude. It’s small and most likely you’d be forgiven as a foreigner, but knowing things like this will go a long way to endearing you to the culture. Personally I didn’t learn the language, but I had friends who I was living with that learned the basics.
The food is vastly different there. Preparation is very meticulous, often there will be food served in common dishes (don’t eat directly from these), and obviously there are a lot of raw foods. I’d never had sushi until I visited Japan. Now it is one of my favorite foods, but I’m also quite picky about where I will buy it from. I also sampled horse for the first time there, and while I didn’t like it it is a common food option for Japanese people.
For those who don’t know the money there is called Yen. It fluctuates often, but usually it is between 90-102 yen to every American dollar, so the exchange rate is very favorable. As a result I found I was able to really indulge and explore. On Okinawa, the world’s largest tug of war competition is held each year. This on it’s own is a very cool event, but they also add on a re-enactment of a Japanese story on top of the giant rope. There were thousands of people and I was able to interact with so many. There is also a cherry-blossom festival in Japan that has a great deal of importance and cross-cultural significance. Japan gave cherry blossoms to the U.S. at the end of WWII (if I remember correctly).
Overall something I was not excited about when I started turned out to be an amazing experience that broadened my knowledge and allowed me to learn about a culture completely foreign to me.