This trip is the the first time after long time that I make alone. The reason is a conference that I have to attend to in Osaka. I add some of my vacation to make a little trip through this fascinating country. People generally are quite shy and need some reason to expose more of themselves. In my plane I sit next to a Japanese young man. I open the conversation with him, which makes him uneasy at first. But when he notices that I don’t bother his bad English and I know a few things about Japan he quite openes up and we have an interesting flight, which unfortunately gets delayed by half a day, why we get to Japan in the evening instead in the night.
Arriving in Japan I notice one thing. This is the country where you have to stand in queues. But people do it very disciplined.
Of course I stand in the queues for the immigration. But there is a long queue inside the shop where I want to by a prepaid card. Then in the next shop where I actually get the card, the next counter where I want to by a train ticket and eventually at the train itself even. It takes me a lot of patience since my couchsurfing hosts are waiting for me. I have a relaxing train ride and I finally meet them.
Mayana and Maryia are a married Japanese-Bulgarian couple. They also bring their friend Yoko and together we go to a nearby good restaurant. We try out a lot of little things that we share, especially all of the ones containing raw fish. We make an exception for the whale meat on her menu. We have a really good start together. When we were writing already I had a very good feeling about them. Maryia is an freelancing interpreter who masters a lot of languages. Mayana works for a German company and enjoys the liberal conditions there. Yoko is a yoga teacher that recently opened and school in Osaka.
Lesson One: Bow, Give, Bow, Take
The first thing I learn with the Japanese is that they always bow and if they have to give you something you they do it with both hands – and a bow. Of course you are expected to do the same.
I have to take care not to hit someone with my big backpack in the narrow restaurant. After we go to another place for drinks and karaoke. So many Japanese experiences already on the first day! The place has separated rooms for different group sizes and besides all Japanese songs also a very big selection on hits from the west. I even could perform Rammstein. Until three in the morning we enjoyed ourselves there until we got home and I eventually got some sleep.
On the next day Manaya and Maryia went with me to a temple south of Kyoto, which is famous for its high number of red gates, that form tunnels in the nature and people can walk through them.
I learned also how to use the bus.
Lesson 2: How to take the bus
First you wait until your bus comes. Enter at the back. Take a little ticket that tells where you enter the bus. Never!!! stand up while the bus is moving. People will hate you. Never(!!!) talk on the phone in the bus. People will hate you. The destination is shown on a display in Japanese and in English. The past stations are also displayed together with the amount of money you have to pay from there. When you want to exit you have to walk (as soon as the bus stops, not before!!) to the top to the driver and put the little ticket you got when entering into a box and the exact coins of due into the same box right after. If you don’t have the exact amount you can change small bills or other coins in a separate small machine. Don’t take too long. People will hate you!
My new friends give me more insight about Japan, too. One reason they are really addicted to hosting foreigners is that they don’t have many Japanese friends. The reasons are the following lessons :
Lesson 3: There is no such a thing like vacation It’s well known that Japanese are working long every day and have just one week of vacation in the year which they usually also don’t spend in a row – it would be offensive to the company and the colleagues to be absent an entire week and shows the lack of interest into the company.
Lesson 4: Your company is your family
You work every day more hours than in the contract and you hang out after work with your colleagues. So you have no chance to meet someone else.
Lesson 5: No smalltalk with strangers
There is no talking to strangers in the public. Keep your head and your voice down and avoid contact with people that are not from your company.
Lesson 6: There is not such a think like “hobbies”
There are no clubs for hobbies – only expensive night schools. Since you work all day there is hardly time for a hobby and we remember lesson 4: you already have your company, why would you do something else? If they are bigger enterprises they often offer events or sports for their employees.
Lesson 7: The exception of lesson 5
Sometimes there are rare private events when a friend of a friend invites people. Mostly in that case, foreigners are somehow in the organization of such an event such Japanese people would never do that. Mariya and Manaya tell me, that it happens, that Japanese people get interested to talk to them – until they hear that they are married, that’s when they are gone again. So, Japanese people open up when there is a chance of dating, but not for the possibility of a friendship.
Continue to An Introduction to Japan (II)