What its Like to Visit America When You’ve Been Away for a Year in Japan…

I was first introduced to the idea of ‘reverse culture shock’ on one of my favorite blogs, Surviving in Japan (Without Much Japanese)so when I returned to the States I had an idea of what to expect; but knowing and feeling are two very different things.

So what did my Golden Week look like? Here it is:

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Waiting in KIX airport in Osaka

Flight from Osaka to San Francisco where I had a 6 hour layover. San Fran is one of my favorite cities in the US (and world) so I definitely wanted to soak it up while I was there. I landed, went through customs, checked my luggage through to Baltimore, and exited the international section of SFO. It was there that it hit me: I was in America. Everyone was really, really, really, LOUD. I could hardly stand it. I just wanted everyone to quiet down. I kept wondering why everyone was so loud?! I was attempting to use the free wifi at SFO to let my family know I had made it safely (not very reliable wifi, btw) and so I wanted to take a seat while I fooled with my phone. As I scanned an aisle of chairs I couldn’t find a single one that I was willing to sit on. They were all incredibly dirty. Now, when I say incredibly dirty, most non-Japanese residents will think that there was trash piled on the seats – I can tell you that this wasn’t the case. It was more like there was residual dirt or dust on them, but by Japanese standards they were dirty and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. After giving up on the wifi I decided to take the train into the city to the Embarcadero. When I entered the train, it was dirtier than the chairs in the airport. There was trash on the seats and the walls were coated in dirt. I’ve been riding trains for the last year in Japan and while you’ll see an occasional piece of trash you would never see dirt coating the doors or walls. I was relieved to get off the train and walk around the pier. It was here that I was amazed by the many different people who live in America. Japan is pretty homogenous, most of the country is Japanese and very few ‘foreigners,’ meaning anyone not Japanese. America is incredibly diverse! Eventually I headed back to SFO, got something to eat (realized I had a strong aversion to any type of Asian food while not in Asia) and boarded the plane to Baltimore.

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San Fran Feet

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A pier in San Fran

When arriving in Baltimore I tried to settle myself down. It was midnight, the airport was pretty much empty, but I wanted to run through it to find my parents. When I saw them waiting for me, of course the tears started flowing and my mom and I were a mess, while my dad tried to usher us along to find my luggage. Its funny how being with your family can make you feel totally at ease in a situation which feels totally uncomfortable. While I recognized BWI and Columbia, the city I lived in, it all seemed so foreign, but being with my family made it ok to be in those uncomfortable places.

Over the next week I visited friends and more family, shopped and ate American (and all the other Americanized versions of ethnic food). Here is a breakdown of some of my experiences:

  • I got a stomach ache every time I ate out at a restaurant. The food portions were HUGE and the food itself was incredibly rich.
  • When I was in public by myself (meaning without a friend or family member) I was a little on edge and afraid someone would talk to me. I have gotten used to living a life of isolation in Japan and I don’t/can’t talk to strangers here. I am a naturally friendly and talkative person, so this eventually went away towards the end of the week.
  • I never totally got over the jet lag. I got up at 8 am every day and I AM NOT a morning person.
  • When I saw my friends/family in large groups I was really overwhelmed and uncomfortable and would cut conversations short. I wasn’t good at making small talk since I haven’t had to do it too much in Japan and so I had a hard time with the mini conversations.
  • The first time I drove I was terrified I was going to either hit someone or get pulled over by the cops. These are probably good fears for me since I am not the best driver….
  • I was both amazed and appalled by grocery stores in America, especially the new Wegmans which had opened. Japan prides itself on offering fresh food, therefore food is made and then almost immediately sold. I’m not sure how it works, but grocery stores will often run out of vegetables, meat, fish, poultry and other perishable items by the end of the night. I am not sure if they get deliveries every day, but often they will be restocked the next morning. When I was in Wegmans, I was instantly amazed by its size and selection. It was HUGE! There were rows and rows of items (and I could read all the labels!). I was also impressed by their seafood selection. Japan, being an island, has very fresh and assorted seafood. I didn’t realize that a Wegmans in America would also! It wasn’t until I walked around the meat section that I began to question if I should really be amazed. There were stacks and stacks of poultry lining the wall. It seemed so wasteful! I suddenly had all these questions about how much of it sold and if Columbia residents really bought and ate that much chicken! And if they didn’t how much of it just got thrown away?! I was instantly turned off by the size of Wegmans.

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  • My seasonal allergies hit me like a ton of bricks while I was in Maryland so I went to see a doctor. Here was another revelation: I forgot how going to the doctor in a country where people speak English really isn’t a big deal. You just go, tell them what’s wrong, they look at you, then they send you on your way. It doesn’t seem that easy here in Japan… because sometimes it isn’t. I’ve written several posts on being sick in Japan, and I’ve found English speaking doctors, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t question some of what has gone on at the doctor’s office. When I say that a doctor speaks English in Japan, it could mean one of two things: 1) The doctor has spent a significant amount of time in an English speaking country and speaks English fluently 2)The doctor speaks just enough English for you to play charades and speak caveman English with him until he figures out what’s wrong with you. (Picture this: Mary: Me, ear, ouch! *as I hold my ear Doctor: oh! Pain? Long? Mary: Yes, 3 days. *Holding up 3 fingers Doctor: Hai, ok, ok. *Smiles, writes prescriptions.  Notice that nowhere in there did I say, “Doctor looks in my ears.” I could go on for days about watered-down health care experiences…)
  • I ate tons of salads. When I go to a restaurant in Japan, I never know if I’m going to get a fork or chopsticks. Usually its chopsticks. After a handful of attempts to eat salads with chopsticks, I gave up. Its not any easy thing for me to do. As I mentioned above, grocery stores are different here and I haven’t seen the array of lettuces that you see in an American grocery store, and since I’m partial to either mixed greens or romaine, I’ve been out of luck – on top of that Japanese people LOVE mayonnaise (FREAKING LOVE IT) and put it on everything. I DON’T love mayonnaise and for this reason I’m not too sure about their salad dressing aisle at the grocery store. It really just looks like an aisle of mayonnaise to me…
  • EVERYONE asked me if the sushi was great and I got some weird satisfaction telling them sushi isn’t a ‘big deal’ in Japane – its just food here.
  • I got tired of talking about Japan to people who asked (with the exception of a few people) and yet I couldn’t stop referencing it when I talked to the people I spent most of my time with. I guess it was the differences of the people: for example, I was at a party  and lots of random people were asking me stereotypical Japan questions (anime, sushi, ninjas, samurai, harajuku girls) and I just wanted to run away from them, yet when I was with my best friends all I could do was reference Japan. It was like a double edge sword…

So that about sums it up! I have 5 more months in Japan and I am trying to make the best of it. It took me a week to adjust to the US while I was there, then it took me a week to readjust to Japan when I returned, but I finally feel back to my normal (Japan) self! I have begun a pseudo Japan bucket list and am going to try to check some things off during the end of my stay – but don’t get too excited about that list… its pretty lame: 1)learn how to count to ten in Japanese 2) learn the colors in Japanese (I’ve had no desire to learn Japanese since I’ve been here) 3) actually try some of the more exotic Japanese food (I’m  a picky eater) 4)Go to at least one of these three places (all if I can): Kamakura, Kumano area in Wakayama or Hiroshima – with the way I travel maybe I’ll hit all three! 5)go to Shirahama 6) spend as much time at the beach as possible! When I return to the states I won’t be 1 mile from the beach!

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2 thoughts on “What its Like to Visit America When You’ve Been Away for a Year in Japan…

  1. Pingback: Daily Prompt: The Places My Feet (Shoes) Have Taken Me | The Journey of My Feet

  2. Pingback: Asking for Help: Pre-Japan Move/Post-Japan Move | The Journey of My Feet

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