I’ve lived in Japan for over a year now. When I first moved here, I knew I’d encounter some pretty crazy things. (Disclaimer: No, I’ve never seen a vending machine with underwear inside. Windshield wipers abound, however.) But I wasn’t really prepared for the changes I’d encounter personally. Obviously, I knew I’d experience maturation that comes with living alone in a foreign country and that I’d learn some Japanese, but other changes were a bit more unexpected.
1. Earthquakes? No big deal. Obviously, earthquakes can be absolutely devastating. I’m not discounting that in any way. But the daily shakes and rumbles I’ve experienced are just part of life now. I felt my first earthquake a day and a half after I first landed in Japan, fifteen floors up in a Tokyo skyscraper. I thought the world was ending. Now I sleep through them more often than not. The most recent earthquake I felt was two days ago at three a.m.. I think I woke up for maybe thirty seconds, thought to myself, “Eh, a mid-four, maybe low five, nothing to worry about,” and then rolled over and went back to sleep. You get used to it.
2. Four apples? That’ll be seven dollars. Fruit in Japan is disgustingly expensive. I’ve spent around 50 bucks on 10 kilograms of clementines, almost three dollars on a single peach, and six bucks on a half dozen teeny, tiny little kiwis. If you truly love your fruit, you can even fork over 80 dollars for the majestic square watermelon. I like having money in my wallet, but I like having fruit in my diet more.
3. Sure, I’ll put that in my mouth. Spend a long enough time in Japan and you’ll be shocked at how adventurous your taste buds get. And I’m not just talking about your run-of-the-mill octopus sushi. In the past year, I’ve eaten throat cartilage from an unknown mammal (cow, I think?), eel hearts (pretty good, actually), raw sea urchin gonads (which taste like salty mud), and sea cucumber intestines (think mucus-coated rubber bands). I have yet to eat the holy grail of strange Japanese foods, which involves drinking soup filled with still-living fish, but I know it’s only a matter of time before it gets put before me at a work dinner.
4. Hope you’ve got a healthy body image. In America, I’m a healthy medium, easily. In Japan, I’m a large if I’m extremely lucky. More often I’m an XL. So many Japanese women are without body parts that us Westerners are saddled with from birth: a butt, breasts, hips, etc. And with a shoe size nine, I feel like a giant. Buying running shoes took three minutes because only two pairs in the entire women’s department were big enough to fit me.
5. Welcome to life on the frontier. Japan is a land of amazing technological prowess… except in regards to central heating. I live in one of the country’s snowiest places. We average about 19 feet of snow a year. It gets cold enough to see my breath in the bathroom. Japan’s solution? Kerosene, old school style. Couple this with close to no insulation in houses and suddenly you know which winter Ser Ned Stark was so worried about. Yeah, I basically live Beyond the Wall. And what’s more, I kind of like it. You don’t know peace until a wall of snow cuts you off from the rest of the world.
6. My favorite sports team is the Japanese yen. Move to a foreign country with student loans to pay off, and you’ll follow the exchange rate as closely as your hometown football heroes. I’ve been known to fist-pump at my desk when the yen strengthens, and more than one bad mood has been caused by its slump. Anytime the exchange rate rises the day after I send money home, I can’t help but feel a little bit psychic.
7. I will do unholy things for pretzels. And popcorn, real pancake syrup, aspirin, parmesan cheese, quality tomato sauce, Pop-Tarts, and the dozens of other things that either simply don’t exist or are ridiculously expensive and/or nearly impossible to find in Japan. Eating rice, ramen, and sushi is nothing short of delicious, but craving American/Western food isn’t a crime, either. A few months ago, I ordered thirty pounds of oatmeal. The guy who packed up my shipment probably thought I was insane. Nope, just jonesing for breakfast that doesn’t involve miso soup. And anytime I go to my city’s foreign food store, it’s inevitably to stock up on six different kinds of cheese. Life in Japan is fantastic… but with a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast and a hunk of gruyere, it’s even better.