I arrived in Tokyo soon after 2 PM on Tuesday afternoon. I was greeted with Japanese signs and advertisements as soon as I stepped out of the plane. “I don’t think I’m in America anymore,” I thought to myself as I passed by some of the strangest ads I had ever seen. My mood soon turned sour. After more than 10 hours on a flight, I was in no mood to take another 75-minute bus ride. When I went to baggage claim I was immediately lost. I don’t read Japanese at all and I had no idea where my luggage carousel was. Perhaps it was because I was looking around aimlessly (I’m a guy–asking for help is hard) that a woman walked up to me and asked in clear English, “Do you need any help?” Hallelujah! So this was the famous Japanese courtesy I’ve heard so much about!! She was infinitely helpful and I soon found my luggage.
In America, no one would dare come up to you or even bother unless you asked him. The fact that this women made the effort to help me, a foreigner, really spoke to me about Japanese courtesy. After the awful 75-minute ride to Shinagawa Prince hotel, I met my host mother. She was quiet, shy, and didn’t speak much English. My friends who had been to Japan before tried to teach me a few useful phrases–it didn’t help. However, if anyone asked where the convenience store was located, I was prepared. No one did. Luckily, my years of charades paid off and I was able to communicate with her pretty smoothly. We soon headed for the trains with my luggage in hand
I was perfectly calm I had read earlier that Japanese trains are very crowded almost all of the time and it isn’t uncommon for people to push and shove their way in. “Ok,” I thought, “I totally got this. Push your way through. No problem.” No amount of reading could have prepared me for this. It was chaos, but at least it was organized. People were crammed in the train like sardines. “So this is a claustrophobe’s worst hell,” I thought to myself as I was trying to balance and hold onto my luggage all at the same time. I was amazed with how people could do this every day. I wondered how claustrophobic people in Tokyo lived with this.
Finally we arrived at the house after another hour of travel. I was beat. The house immediately gave me the impression of cleanliness. Everything in the house was neat and organized. I had heard it is an honor to be invited into a Japanese home, so I made sure I was respectful of everything. I got my first taste of Japanese work culture as I learned that my host mom’s husband worked 13 hours a day. To me that was unbelievable. In America people complain if they have more than 10 hours. I would complain just as easily. It really put work ethic in perspective for me. All in all it has been a great couple of first days in Japan and I look forward to many more.