April 6, 2016 | Lena Yokoyama
Japan, especially Tokyo might be experienced differently by people from different age groups. As a 20 year old high school graduate, coming here without knowing anybody, a low budget, and poor Japanese skills, living here has definitely been… a lot.
In my previous post I’ve already talked about Japan a little bit. I didn’t really get the chance to introduce myself though. So here are a few quick facts about me: I’m 20 years old, I was born in Japan but grew up most of my life with my family in Austria, I love traveling, art, and dance and
I am currently spending my gap year in Tokyo, Japan. The reason I chose to delay college for a year and come here instead, was because I wanted to get to know my Japanese dad’s culture as well as the language. But let me tell you one thing: I had no idea what I got myself into.
Even though Japan is probably one of the most western countries among Asia, it is still so different from Europe. If I told you, living here has only been fun and easy, I would be lying. Japan is many things but normal isn’t one of them and that’s something to get used to. Maybe not the recommended place to start living in on your own for the first time.
Coming here and taking care of everything by myself and only being able to spend what I earn, was like a leap in the dark. Having to find a job and a place to live, learn how to cook, pay bills, learn a new language and adjust to a new environment all at once, sounded easier in my head. In addition to that, since all my friends and family are on the other side of the world and therefore 8 hours behind in time, whenever I needed someone to talk to, they were often still asleep.
Living in Japan hasn’t only been hard though. In fact, most of my experiences here have been great if not amazing. This country has so much to offer with it’s ravishing scenery, fascinating culture and generous people. Besides, you’re probably familiar with what some famous philosopher, Kelly Clarkson, once said: „What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.“ And it’s true. Going through all those challenges and struggles at the beginning, made me grow up a lot faster and more responsible for my own life. The things I learned here in just 6 months, would have probably taken the triple of time or even more if I had just stayed at home. That’s one of the reasons why I love traveling so much. It gives you challenges that you can grow with.
One thing that’s really different here, is the language. If you look at English or German grammar, you can all kind of compare it. You can’t do that with Japanese though. Thinking logically while learning Japanese won’t get you very far. Very interesting to me, is the Japanese writing system. It consists of 3 different alphabets. You have „Hiragana“, containing about 50 characters, with which you can basically write any Japanese word. After that you have „Katakana“, also about 50 characters, which they use for foreign words only. And last you have „Kanji“. This system consists of about 10 000 - 50 000 characters. Nobody really knows how many there actually are. You can write a whole word by just using one single Kanji. They all have special meanings and become another meaning if you put two of them together. For example this is the Kanji for 今 = „now“, this is the Kanji for day: 日 = „day“. Put the two together and it becomes: 今日 = „today“. Sometimes Kanjis are easy and even look like the word they stand for. Like the Kanji for tree: 木 But then you also have Kanjis that just don’t make sense like this one, meaning 鬱 = „depression“. Maybe it does actually make sense. Trying to remember this gives me depressions.
But once you have the first and most important 200-300 characters down, life in Japan gets a lot more interesting because you can suddenly understand what simple menus or signs say.
Making friends in Japan is hard if you want to make Japanese friends. Other foreigners though are easy to find. They all feel kind of left out in this massive city full of Asians. So they wanna feel left out together. Since I want to learn Japanese though, I try to avoid making too many foreign friends. But easier said than done because I’m no exception. It does feel great to hang out with other „different looking people“ and with whom you can actually communicate in English.
That brings me to my next point: Most Japanese can’t speak English! Even though they learn English throughout middle school and high school, they somehow graduate with only knowing how to say „sank you“ and „herro“. Of course this doesn’t include everyone but let’s say if you ask Japanese for directions, 90% of the time you’ll get a hand waving „no inglishuu“ as a response. That doesn’t mean they can’t help you though. Most of the time they decide to just escort you to your destination which is incredibly nice and typically Japanese.
What took me ome time to get used to is the Japanese currency called Yen (JPY, ¥). Also referred to as „en“. The most confusing part about the money is that it doesn’t have Cents like the Euro does. The smallest denomination is 1 Yen and therefore the number goes up very high. For example the smallest note is the 1000 Yen bill, which is equivalent to about 8 Euros. Now try to imagine purchasing anything that’s worth more than a 100 euros.
This year has definitely been giving me great math practices..
What I’m really impressed by, is how clean this place is. Tokyo is among the biggest cities of the world and even though the city itself has more inhabitants than my whole home country, it is incredibly clean. Why? Because there are no freaken trash cans. Anywhere!!! You always have to take your trash home with you. It’s weird at the beginning but you do eventually get used to it and obviously this system has been working out fine so far.
Japan being home to the most recent and advanced technology, never ceases to amaze me. One thing I’m really appreciating, are Japanese vending machines. Not only are those machines compared to ours at least 3 times faster in proceeding your order, but can also offer you a big range of products. You can buy hot drinks like coffee or tea. Even hot soup is available. Some vending machines also come with touch-screens where you can click on each product and read their descriptions or look at the calories before purchasing them. Other things like magazines, underwear or eggs can be found as well.
But let me talk about probably my favorite invention: Japanese toilets, man.
Once you’ve sat on one of them, you’ll never want to sit on anything else anymore. Those toilets come with preheated toilet seats (which are especially nice in the winter), butt washer (don’t ask me how it’s done), and even music if you want. Some toilets can also speak and they all flush automatically when you get up. Perfect anti-germ solution!
This country is full of surprises and if you like exploring, you will never have to be bored. There are so many events going on every day and depending on your personality you can basically do any activity you’d like. From partying in downtown Roppongi, watching a sumo fight, or attending a Japanese tea ceremony, to relaxing and doing yoga in one of Tokyo’s many parks.
Personally, I love visiting new places together with great people, eating Japanese food, taking art or dance classes, going to museums, learning about this country’s culture and especially studying the language.
After all, I’ve been enjoying my life here a lot, including all the ups and downs.
I really recommend coming here, even if it’s just for a short trip. Japan is an experience like no other and speaking for me, after this year this city with it’s people will truly be missed.