This is a picture I took when my flight started its descent into Abu Dhabi International Airport. My connecting flight to Narita Airport in Japan would arrive three hours later.
As the number of days until departure dwindle, I find myself filled with the same mixture of anticipation and excitement that I would get during Christmas time when I was younger. The list of things I am looking forward to is also continually growing: the bustling city life of one of the world’s largest and densest cities, unique local cuisine, historic castles, spiritual temples, festivals, and the beautiful forests. And I haven’t even mentioned the karaoke stops, hobby shops, hot springs, neon robot restaurants, and those weirdly themed cafes that seem to always show up on travel shows.
I had known that the Japanese held honor and respect in very high regard, with the traditional bowing as one of the most noticeable practices to any outsider. I also knew as an American student I would stick out in Japan, so before departure I looked up YouTube videos made by foreigners (“Abroad in Japan” is one of my favorites). Mostly videos about social etiquette with titles like “10 Things NOT to do in Japan” (this is part of my attempt to assimilate into Japanese society and not look like someone who has gaijin, or”foreigner,” written on their forehead. I thought it would be helpful to list some of the things I have found for myself and for those who are also interested in visiting Japan.
- Don’t misuse chopsticks (stick upright in rice bowls, rub together)
- Don’t tip, or modify food orders
- Don’t blow nose in public or eat on trains
- Don’t get physical (handshaking, hugging)
- Don’t forget to take off your shoes (private or public, look for change in floors)
Yes, this might be an incomplete list with only “don’ts” on it, so to lighten the mood I must offer an essential “do”. Do stay open minded and have fun! Try new things that you can only do in Japan, but be safe about it and be aware of your situation! I am telling myself this in preparation to try to alleviate whatever potential culture shock or frustration I might experience.
I thought it would also be wise to start learning some additional Japanese phrases that are useful in certain situations, like when one is at a restaurant, in a conbini (convenient store), or at a train station, and kanji (Chinese symbols that represent ideas) as well before leaving. I made sure to know what the kanji for man and woman looks like, because the last thing I want to happen is for me to accidentally walk in a Japanese women’s bathroom. One last thing I learned that I think also deserves some attention is Japanese-only restaurants or any place that prevents foreigners from entering. From my research, it seems these are rare in big cities, but in rural areas or perhaps in the outskirts or back alleys of cities, they seem to still exist.
As I prepare to leave for Japan, I have also been reflecting on the journey to this point. I think this is a good time to mention that partly what made this trip possible for me, particularly financially, was the Gilman International Scholarship. They give awards to students who are from minority backgrounds and who are the first in their family to attend college. They helped me take advantage of Temple’s study abroad program and made sure that I could get the invaluable experience of self-growth and education that one can only receive while abroad. Looking ahead, I am so excited to see what this summer in Tokyo holds for me!