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Monday, August 3, 2015

The Best Advice For Successfully Surviving Japan

Since it's August, I can assume that all you new JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme participants are now nicely tucked away in your new homes/hovels and are enjoying life in Japan with all its newness and happy-happy-joy-joy verve.


It won't last. But that's okay. It'll come back again. It's life. If it was perfect, there would be no ex-JETs because we all would still be living there and Japan wouldn't need you. So, you're welcome.

Sorry for the sobering thought, but I don't want you to get carried away.

Obviously, I think Japan was a great place and I enjoyed my time there immensely - enough to be writing about it 22 years after I left. But, I don't kiss Japan's a$$. Sometimes I enjoy giving it a bit of a kick when I think it needs it. But, no matter what, it was still a great place for me to be at that time in my life.

You will discover that Japan is plenty different from whatever country you happen to be from.

Don't be afraid, rather embrace the differences - try to influence a bit if your own country's quirkiness on Japan (politely), but don't be shocked if it is rebuffed. If it's something worthwhile, Japan will get around to adopting the good stuff from other countries... it just takes a while. Decades even.

If I may... may I suggest that that you begin learning the Japanese language. You don't need to be fluent - oh man, but that would help - but you do need to be mildly conversant.

I survived three years in Japan and escaped with the language capabilities of a poor Grade 1 Japanese student who should have been kept back in kindergarten for two years, but Japan doesn't keep anyone back.

Eat the food, dammit. Every year some poor schmuck comes to Japan because they want to experience the culture, but absolutely detests Japanese food. Lemme tell ya... Japanese food is a HUGE part of Japanese culture. To not eat the food is to do yourself a disservice of your time spent there.

My buddy Jeff hated Japanese food, and every day at school would bring his own sandwich or eat at Dunkin Donuts. I never eaten at Dunkin Donuts - and I'm sure it's a fine business - but that should never be a consideration for your EVERYDAY meal while in a foreign country. Be adventurous.

Somehow, Jeff managed to snag a babe of a wife and spend the past 25 years in Japan... so I'm assuming he's eating Japanese by now... I hope... poor woman.

Look... no one is saying you need to go native when in Japan. You will in many ways. I, Mister Blogger, used to have standard Michigan cereals and milk for breakfast, eat my Japanese school lunches that I had to (and you will) have to pay for on a monthly basis, and then have whatever for dinner.

I used to make a huge pot of chili for myself and friends, lasagne (these two are expensive options, by the way) or have eggs and bacon and beans for a meal. I tried my hand at making tempura once - successfully, I might add, but I'm not into cooking. I'm into eating. I love me a good cook. Kiss the cook, indeed.

However, a guy's gotta eat... so every day after school I'd ride my bicycle to a small grocery store (or the huge one for all my other necessities) where I knew they had prepared ready-made meals and I'd choose something convenient: pork kontatsu cutlets and rice; red beans and rice with a smoked duck breast; tempura - it always tastes better when you make it yourself, but who the hell needs to be splashed by hot oil in August when you are wearing just your underwear - maybe - because you are sweating so much in your apartment?

I eventually got A/C and a central heating all-in-one machine by the way... you'll want to pay particular attention to the rules regarding your autumn/winter gas heater by the way... and follow the rules. I didn't and nearly asphyxiated myself. My brain am work fine now.

You will eventually come across a northeast Japanese delight called natto... which is essentially rotted, fermented soy beans that looks sticky and gooey, smells bad and tastes bad.

Don't you believe the hype. Try it for yourself.

It is true that most Japanese think that stuff is the cat's meow, and by that, if I was to translate it from cat, means barf - but I took it all as a challenge.

The Japanese will not expect you - the gaijin (foreigner) to eat natto. In the history of Japan and JET, only one gaijin has actually ever eaten natto and claimed he liked it.

That would be me.

Even then, I had to build my 'like' for it up over a few times of trying it.

Natto is supposed to be very good for you. When I wanted to lose 10 pounds, I was lucky enough to get some excess natto packs from a school (even the kids wouldn't eat it) for free, bought some fresh steamed rice, poured a pack of spicy mustard onto the natto, added some soy sauce and poured the even gloppier mess onto the rice and then shoveled it down my gullet with the chopsticks... I did that as my meal every day for 30 days - and off went the weight. Of course, I also was jogging at that time and after starting at 1600 meters (4 laps) I added one lap a night until I hit 10 kilometers... still, the natto gave me the energy to do what needed to be done.

When I was in Japan, when a Japanese person suggested I might not like to do or try something because foreigners just don't seem to care for it, I would surprise them (and myself, I think) by doing it. Just for spite.

Do YOU want to be pre-judged? No. So help break the stereotypes.

That's what I do here in this blog. I break stereotypes - though admittedly there is often a greater truth in some origins of stereotypes.

The point is... don't worry about things - try them for yourself.

It's the fault of social media and the Internet.

Everyone going to Japan has been reading up on the country, prefecture and city/town/village they are going to. They have been reading umpteen blogs and books trying to better prepare themselves for the country.

Y'know what? Even if you never read this blog again, stop reading to prepare yourself - just follow that corporate slogan of Nike and just do it.

Make up your own mind about stuff.

Just because someone says natto sucks donkeys doesn't mean it will for you.

Just because someone says the Japanese are weird, it doesn't make them any more weird than the people from any other country on the planet. They are just different. Vive la différence. (See Caro, I can speak French.)

Pay attention to yourself and your own experiences and discover what Japan means to you.

That's my advice.

Now stop sweating and go learn something new today and every day.

Kanpai (Cheers)
Andrew "please continue to read this blog written by nose blind" Joseph
PS: When the mood hits me, I will still chow down on natto here in Toronto with a breath mint or seven afterwards. Natto breath is kindda bad.

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