Friday, July 15, 2011

The Change

One of the most common questions I get asked by the Japanese here is 「一番違う物は何ですか?」 or, "What's the biggest difference [between here and Canada]?".  This question is simple and innocent, right?


It's anything but simple.  Because the biggest difference everyday is that everything is in Japanese.  Now, I know what you're thinking.  "Of course everything is in Japanese, you're in Japan."  Which is true, but when you are used to seeing all the words on all the things in English or French, it's just different.  And it's the little things that it hits me on.  It's not the textbooks, or the books in the library, or even the words on my Japanese I.D.  It's the words on the signs I read (note that this verb can be either present or past and it's still accurate) subconsciously, the small print on labels, the street signs,  or the names on buildings.

While street signs, building names, and small print can all be attentively viewed, I have been the habit of constantly viewing names as landmarks for some time.  So when I am unable to landmark a location by the shiny metallic three foot tall letters on the side of a building because I don't recognize them, it becomes an arduous task to navigate cities with no apparent knowledge of city planning nor straight roads.  I was also in the habit of reading every sign I ever see on a drive or trip.  This was learned as a way to evade boredom on the weekly three hour car ride every Sunday.  While in Japan this has developed into a way for me to try and read Kanji it is frustrating to not be able to just skim a sign and know all the words.  Small print was something I also always read because I could (can you tell I really enjoy reading?).  Now when I pick an object up I can usually read it's name, sub-title, and some of the instructions/ingredients by just glancing, all the words beyond that require thought and work.  To be illiterate in today's world is not an easy task.  Reading is required for everything we do, when the words no longer make sense it's a huge difference.  It is the lifeblood of survival (and for some, entertainment).

If you're not willing to accept the language as the biggest difference, then I put forth that unlike my hometown locale in Canada, everyone here is an Asian.  Once again, with the sighing and the and the 'No duh!' looks.  While I'm not sure it's because they're all the same so much as it's because they're not as diverse.  Now I don't mean the prior as the cliche that all Asian's look alike.  I refer to what Canada proudly totes as Ethnic Diversity.  I grew up with Greek, Korean, Russian, African, Lebanese, German, Indian, and Native-American descendents/immigrants/people-on-visas as neighbours, friends and family.  So when I come to Japan and everyone is Asian it's just... weird.  I have also heard the reverse of people who come to Canada and are in awe of the colourful mosaic blanket of culture we all create.

So there's my answer.  The Biggest difference is the language and the Asians.

What?  That's not good enough?  I just told you in the biggest difference!  Oh, so you say that you could have come with that without having ever left the country? So you want original, interesting ideas that aren't necessarily the biggest difference.  So you really wanted what the most interesting differences were.  Well then, be specific in your future questions, please.

Still here, aren't you? *sighs*  Fine, you win.

Here are some of the things that I noticed upon arrival that were different.

When I stepped off the plane and into Narita airport, I was tired, excited, confused and giddy.  I stumbled through customs barely understanding what was likely very good English, had them take me picture and finger prints, told them I was moving here, hence the baggage and then left into the airport.  I manage to eventually work my way outdoors to the sidewalk to try and find my bus to my hotel.  Once outside, I was greeted with an odd site that makes anyone as half as clumsy as me tremble in fear.  Their sidewalks have these lanes formed by ridges made of metal in them.  And they go everywhere.  Going back inside the building I noticed that they were inside too!  When I would arrive in Fukuoka the next day I would see them again, and I still see these bumps in the roads and sidewalks every day.  They're not all made of metal and set in the sidewalk, some are made of a rubbery yellow material and come out in blocks that can be replace as necessary.  These obstructions that threaten to break my ankle daily are for the blind.  Parallel bars mean a path, and dots mean an intersection.  Clever isn't it?

The next most interesting difference is how an office (such as a bank) is set up.  In Canada, were I to go to the bank, I would enter into the building.  There is the primary area that customers sit the waiting area, then there is the reception desk, or clerk as the case may be, and then any one else is behind at the very least, a cubicle wall and out of sight.   It is a clean, professional look, that is clean and preferably quiet.  When you go into an office in Japan, such as a bank or City Hall, what you are greeted with is a waiting area for clients, a reception desk, or clerk, but then all the desks are just behind reception.  There is no separation of workers.  The 'chief' or editor would sit at the head of the column at his desk.  Then the others desks will be lined up perpendicular to his and make a column facing each other.  While it may force everyone to be accountable for work during work hours, it makes a place look crazy busy and cluttered.  I think I prefer the Canadian/North American/ Western style of organizing an office.  But then,  I am biased.

There, now I've answered the question.  It took almost one thousand words.  See, not such an easy question, now is it.  And the above was done without taking into effect the weather, climate, or hours of sunset/sunrise.  In short, the question should be 'What's the same?'.

1 comment:

  1. Best post yet! Really makes me want to go there to see things.