Living in Japan

Published by MartaCastro on

Living in Japan

Another “little corner by the sea”

Japan must be one of the most idiosyncratic countries in the world. With ancient culture, the old and sacred coexist with the most technological and Pop. If there are robots as receptionists, everything works with paper and pen in bureaucratic services, and you must have your stamp at hand.

Living in Japan requires some controlling temper, restraining our gestural communication, and understanding cultural differences. Despite people being incredibly kind, helpful, and cordial, kisses, hugs, or handshakes that we are so used to in Portugal are not well received. It doesn’t mean less sympathy. On the contrary, the old ladies in the street say hello to you and come to see your child in the buggy and say “kawaii” (cute). You can have people approach you only to find out where you are from and wish you good morning. If you ask for directions, they will probably not explain how to go there, but they will take you there. 

The country’s culture of hospitality is really felt in the day-to-day. For example, respect and warm friendliness in customer service are incomparable to other countries, including Portugal. Entering a conbini (convenience store) or other stores or restaurant etc., is always accompanied by a loud “irasshaimase” (“welcome”) and when we leave by “arigatou gozayimashita” (“thank you very much”).

The feeling of security is incredible. We can leave the computer with the backpack and wallet in a coffee shop to go to the bathroom. If you forget your mobile phone or wallet somewhere, you will most likely find it in the same place, at the information desk, or at the nearest police station.

Public spaces are highly preserved and respected. In a city where garbage bins are a rarity, the streets are incredibly clean. The public toilets, where hundreds of people pass each day, are always clean. There is an enormous respect for what is public. For example, traveling by train, shinkansen, bus, etc., should be done in silence to not disturb other people. Queues are respected, as are entrances and exits at the transport door.

The language is undoubtedly the most significant limitation. It is not easy to find people who speak fluent English or feel comfortable speaking English in everyday life. Appointing doctors, dentists, restaurants, booking bars, etc., is always a challenge unless you speak Japanese, even if it is a little “scratched”.

Although we can find restaurants and bars at very affordable prices, the cost of food in supermarkets is higher than in Portugal, especially for fresh products. For those who like fish, like the typical Portuguese, the good news is that we can find a wide variety of fresh fish at a reasonable price. On the other hand, domestic ovens in Japan are very tiny, so we can only grill 2 fish slices, for example. What impressed me most in supermarkets was noticing most fruits and vegetables are sold separately and not by the kilogram and are pretty expensive.

Renting a house requires a considerable piggy bank at the beginning. Usually, it requires two months of rental fees in advance and what is called “Key Money”, a “present” to the landlord and not refunded at the end of the contract. The best way to look for a house is to find an agency with workers who speak English. Otherwise, it will be a real headache.

Tokyo is a huge city with nearly 14 million inhabitants. Traveling is relatively easy, with extremely punctual and frequent trains and of course the fastest trains in the world. It is not really necessary to have a car. In fact, bicycles are the most common. It is normal to have bicycles with a seat at the front for babies and at the rear for older children.

The Portuguese driving license can be easily recognized for the Japanese one. Driving in Japan, bear in mind that you drive on the left, and although diesel is not as expensive as in Portugal, tolls can be a large part of your travel expenses.

Traveling in Japan is fantastic, due to the different landscapes and local delicacies and traditions. From idyllic beaches for snorkelling, mountains for hiking and winter sports, natural springs, active volcanoes, beautiful lakes. All this has the touch of Shinto, Japan’s original religion, which makes all-natural beauty a spiritual experience.

I can say that despite living in such a different culture, I was able to find manners and values ​​that I identify myself with. Although there are no perfect countries, Japan has become not just another country where I live, but my home and my “little corner by the sea”.

Categories: ENG


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