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The East/West Divide

Life in Japan

JAPAN | Friday, 3 February 2012 | Views [637]

My current location is Japan; at the moment I am studying Japanese as an exchange student. At my school in Montana, I study politics and history, here that isn't really an option, but I have wanted to see Asia since I was a young child and when I was given the opportunity to come to Japan, I didn't really care what I would be studying. I had all these expectations of Japan before I came, all based on the history I had read in the United States, in my mind Japan was still in the Edo and Meiji periods. I knew this wasn't true, but I was hoping to find some remnants of that culture here. Now 5 months into my year abroad and I can tell you Japan isn't anything like I expected at all. I have climbed up Mt. Takao and seen the sun hit Fuji, ridden a JR Train to Kamakura to look at the graves of shoguns and have skied the peaks of the Japanese Alps. All of these things have each been their own amazing experience, but not one that I would have expected before leaving my home in California. 

I was born and raised in California, the northern part, in the mountains, the climate is cool and the snow is plentiful. I grew up ski racing and through that I have seen the world (well a small chunk of it). I have been lucky enough to see the Eiffel Tower, the capital buildings in Quebec and the lakes in New Zealand where lord of the rings was filmed. These things cannot compare to what I have seen since I moved to Tokyo. Tokyo is packed to the brim with people, they move around the city with such determination it is no wonder they are known for their hard work. The people here are focused, but highly consumeristic, the Buddhist principle of minimalism hardly seems to be relevant. The air smells of pollution and cigarette smoke and every building and room is packed with people and products. Walk into a grocery store and you will be amazed, there are so many products in such a small space. This is in stark contrast to my own reality at home. 

In my hometown there are less than 13,000 people, you have to drive 10 miles to get to a store and people have this lazy aspect to them. I mean it is a town of ski bums. Lucky for us though the air is clean and we have space to roam, our grocery stores are expansive and it is hard to find anything in town, other than food and necessities. We don't even have a video store anymore. Culture shock is a nice way to put the anxiety I felt when I got into Tokyo, never in my life had I been to such an expansive city. I was all alone and I was trying to navigate my way from the airport to my dorms and all I could see from the train was an expanse of never ending city. I didn’t know anyone in the city and didn’t have a working phone to contact the school if I got lost. When I got off my train I found a taxi, which drove me to my new home, a seven story building on top of a hill.

My first week in Tokyo can only be described as a hectic attempt to see everything all at once. I hit every district in Tokyo, except Odaiba (which still eludes me), when you spend your life traveling so quickly from one place to another, sometimes you forget to slow down.

      Now though I have fallen into my daily life and am beginning to understand the way the culture works. I haven’t found many things left from the Edo period, other than at the national museum, but I have found a new culture. One that is equally as mysterious and definitely as complex as those of the past. 

Tags: culture shock, expectations, japan, new experiences, study abroad, tokyo

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