I've noticed a trend in my conversations with my roommate lately. We'll be trying to do something, usually something that would be effortless in America, and in the process we'll come across some strange way of doing things, or some logic that we just can't wrap our minds around, and one of us will shrug and say... "Oh well, it's Japan." We nod our heads in agreement and keep going on, because that statement explains away all the confusion.
This is my 6 and 1/2 year in Japan. I lived in one place for 6 years. The first time moving in Japan was 6 months after my arrival. My Japanese wasn't so great and I had very little clue what was going on. It's kinda like trying to drive in a thick fog, or maybe a bad dust storm. You aren't really sure where you are, or what you are supposed to be doing, but somehow you manage to get to where you are going and things work out for the most part. But it takes WAY more effort to get anything done than the same activity in your own culture. I spent some time exploring, on foot, my first 6 months or so in my new place. Found many 100 yen stores (think Dollar Store, but WAY WAY better. I mean, quality goods, all for 100 yen! I love 100 yen stores.) But exploring when you don't know what anything is, isn't so terribly enlightening.
6 years later, I speak a lot more Japanese, read more Japanese (although my reading skills aren't so great.) and I live in a slightly less dense fog than before. Kinda like a mist really. Sometimes you forget it's there, you become so used to the cloud of confusion and not quite understanding that envelops you... Until you do something silly like move. ;-) Then suddenly you are quite aware of the cloud and barriers again.
But this time around moving was more interesting. One, this time we had to arrange for everything ourselves. (Before everything was arranged by the program, and I just did what I was told when I was told to do it. Simple, easy to follow.) And this time, we didn't have a pre-furnished place. We did however have permission to take whatever we wanted from our house and several other apartments where people were moving out.
But there are still things you need to buy when moving. So we discovered the joys of home interior stores.
Now, let me tell you about shopping in Japan. It's difficult. It's amazingly hard to find something you are looking for. First you have to try to guess what kind of store would sell the item. Then you have to hope it's affordable. (and usually after you have solved the problem in a less than ideal manner, you find the easy option later.) There are very few stores like Wal-mart that sell everything you need all in one convient place. You have to go searching and searching and searching. If I want to do a craft project, I have to try to figure out what kind of store is going to have the materials I want/need. If I want a lampshade (current item being searched for) I either have to pay insanely high prices for a piece of plastic, or I have to settle for a design I don't like. (I've been on the lampshade hunt for almost a week now. I'm probably going to have to settle for cheap(er) but plain and then try to decorate myself... Maybe.) Then you have to figure out where the shop is. It can become very complicated.
My new roommate came to visit last weekend. So we wanted to go shopping with her. The only home interior store we knew was a 15 min bike ride from the old house. But from the new house it was quite a long walk. (an hour to an hour and a half?) We walked there because we didn't know what buses went there or how to find that out. We finally got there and spent lots of money. Thankfully they have shipping options, so we only carried a few things home. Going home we decided on a taxi. We thought it was close enough, so it shouldn't be too expensive split three ways. Wrong. Should have tried a bus. But we learned about some interesting places because of that.
While we were walking we saw a big yellow sign that said "Big Foot." I mentioned that a friend of ours should try shopping for shoes there, since he has large feet. Roommate replies back, "Are you sure it sells shoes?" I look at her oddly and say, "Well, with a sign like that, one would hope." She gives me a doubtful look and says, "Yes, but this is Japan, and that is English." Oh yeah. She has a point. But one still hopes the world might make sense.
We continue walking and find the shop, and get a better view of the sign:
Oh yeah... This is Japan... And that is English...
10 points for Roommate.
Why didn't I see that coming???
So during the moving process we have come across many "because it's Japan" moments. Probably mostly during the shopping process.
Oh yeah, the next day, on our way to church, we found two of the same store much more accessible by train. :-/ We also found out that Ikea was much closer than I thought. :-/ And I discovered that other people's definition of cheap and my definition of cheap are often different. We also have yet to find any good second-hand shops near our new apartment. The search continues. We did find a good deal on a fridge and a sofa, a kitchen shelf and a desk for my room at one of the second hand stores near our old house.
Shopping in Japan is often trial and error. At least until I learn to read more Kanji... :-/ (I hate kanji!)
But the weekend was very nice. Had a good time with our new roommate. She'll move in in May, which gives us enough time to unpack our rooms enough so we can stop sleeping in her room! Here is a picture of all three of our futon's in her room...
We had lot's of fun with her here. We discovered there is much more laughter when the three of us try to do things together. (although that isn't to say there are not frustrating moments.) We also discovered that three white girls get a lot more stares than just two white girls.
This is the first time for me to live in a residential area in Japan. It's going to be interesting to figure out what's different. Before I lived on a big main street with a hospital on one side and the church on the other. Not so many neighbors. Easy to be anonymous. I liked it. :-D
This time the streets are quiet. No loud cars, or ambulances. No street lights shining through my widow late at night. It's very peaceful.
Until you hear the political campaign cars blaring their ways through the neighborhood. There's another "because it's Japan" example. Here apparently politicians don't attack your TV viewing time with their adds, they bring the barrage directly to your home. (I'm not sure about the TV thing actually, since we don't have one...) But I guess it's normal in Japan for the politicians to have their volunteers drive around in cars with huge loudspeakers shouting at all the people to get their name out. (painfully loud at times.) Before I lived on a huge road, so I guess the cars didn't spend so much time there. Now I get to listen to lot's of annoying politicians. They camp out at train stations too, giving speeches. Well, there has GOT to be a better, less annoying way to do things. But... It's Japan. What can you do. But I know one thing, I'm not voting for anyone who uses one of those trucks, when voting day comes around! (ahem, being unable to vote and everything...) I hate American politics. Japanese politics are even more difficult to understand and make much less sense. :-/
Also my roommate is having problems with the company. The new contract they are having her sign is just causing more problems. I think they are trying to become a better company, but they are not doing such a good job about it. Makes me very thankful that I have quit. But she's stuck with them for now, and has another year of frustrating dealings with them. (Prayers for her appreciated. The company keeps trying to give her less money, telling her it's "better.") It's hard when you don't understand all the rules to be able to stand up for yourself. Sometimes something you think should be completely wrong turns out to be fine, so you doubt yourself. (We were made to change our bank last year by the company, and now they are making her change it again. Apparently, this is not strange in Japan.) So we are having fun being frustrated right now.
So what's the point? If there are so many frustrations, why don't I just pick up and leave? Why doesn't my roommate call it quits and go back to America where she knows what is going on and what her rights are and where lampshades can be found at reasonable prices with a variety of affordable options? (Oh wait, she doesn't need the lampshade...)
Because it's Japan! :-D
Fogs of confusion and only partial understandings can be grown accustomed to. Shopping can be accomplished eventually with trial and error. Politics can be ignored. Lampshades can eventually be found. Companies can be tolerated. Kanji can be learned. (probably)
Frustration is a part of life wherever you are. There are bumps and problems anywhere you live. We just get more entertaining bumps than before. :-D
And we are content even in the midst of our frustrations.
Because it's Japan.
And we laugh at ourselves a lot for our mistakes in the process. :-D