One of the many cultural differences between the United States and Japan is that Japan has very homogenous society and most people who identify as Japanese have the same ethnicity. Many Japanese also seem to be more financially similar than in the United States. The U.S. is very heterogeneous and there are many races religions and ethnicities who identify as Americans. Also foreigners or “gaijin” in Japanese are fairly rare outside of urban centers in Japan. I am a large redheaded man so many people stare at me while I’m on public transportation or walking down the road. I’ve had many people ask me if I dye my hair. I try my best to understand their curiosity and try to greet them with a smile and phrase from my rudimentary Japanese.
One of my expectations of being a Texan is that people enjoy friendly chit chat while waiting in line or for transportation. Many people in Japan are quite shy and reserved. I have said good evening “konbonwa” to many strangers and occasionally received confused stares. I have also learned that a common stereotype many Japanese have about American people is that “we are always happy”. I suppose this stereotype must have to do with our friendliness or loudness. I was also quite startled with how many media sources and businesses objectify women. Of course, the U.S. has the same problem but not on the scale or openness that it is used here. I was surprised to see signs featuring completely nude women. This is quite different for me especially after spending my high school years in Dubai where women are supposed to dress modestly under Islamic custom. Speaking of nudity one of my most interesting cultural experiences was visiting an onsen (hot spring) where people are expected to get completely nude and bathe together. Being American I was quite unnerved by this at first but relaxed once I realized nobody seemed to care. I then enjoyed my warm soak in the sulfur rich water.
I have a keen interest in Japanese History especially concerning WWII and I have met an older Japanese gentleman who was able to tell me about the bombing of a rail train he witnessed when he was a child here in Japan. I am also very interested in the Battle of Okinawa and the last stand of the imperial army on that little island. I find it inspiring and intriguing how japan was able to thoroughly reinvent itself after its defeat in WWII and become a cultural and economic powerhouse.
Before coming here, I took Japanese lessons for two years at St. Edwards. My mother and grandfather also lived in Japan during their twenties so I was able to hear many stories about Japan. My grandfather was stationed at an air force base in Morioka and my mother was a model in Iwate. I am currently taking Japanese lessons and a Japanese history course. I also intend to travel extensively while I’m in Japan. I am very excited to get a firm grip on the language because I believe that will provide a steady platform to continue my study of the culture, society, and region. Like other East Asian cultures such as Korea and China Japanese society is based on buddhist and Confucian structures. I am studying these belief systems more closely and currently reading several books on the matter.