I would love to go about explaining the intricacies of another culture in beloved detail, however I don’t think I could do it justice. So instead, I would like to take a few minutes of your time to express what I’ve learned about myself, living on one of these beautiful islands before I set off on this worldwide quest for critical thinking and self-education.
Attentiveness to those around you almost certainly leads to an elevated awareness of all of your surroundings. This is something taken almost completely for granted in Japan. Going out drinking and you can easily see people pouring drinks for one another. Of course, this has downfalls. From my understanding, people are socially required to pour for those above them.
Being that I don’t like hierarchy, nor do I respect bosses at face-value, putting me in this situation is interesting to watch. Taking on such a wonderful custom, I’ve always quickly grabbed the pitcher and immediately poured for whomever was the most subordinate in the situation. This is almost always greeted with a smile as my punk-side comes out.
To be honest, I’m not the first to do this, nor will I be the last. I’ve witnessed many of my Japanese friends do exactly the same thing.
For me, the atmosphere is important, the corporate structure is not.
Teaching English for four years, I have had the pleasure to meet thousands of people. When I first meet them, I always ask the same questions about hobbies and jobs as every other English teacher in the world.
However one of my favorite questions is asking about someone’s ‘hometown’. Usually, the student will quickly mention where they grew up without a second thought. Sometimes they will immediately move on to the next question. But I absolutely love talking about hometowns. Why? Because there is always a delicious dish or famous building we almost always take for granted.
For example, if my student says, “I’m from Sendai.” I don’t ask another question, but explain how delicious (and kinda strange) ‘cow tongue’ is to eat. Without a doubt, the student will laugh. Not because cow tongue is delicious, but because their home has that reputation. (Oh man, zunda is delicious as well!)
I don’t like the world ‘furusato’, though. Translated, it means ‘hometown’ but it often takes on an idealized simple upbringing in a countryside that is virtually non-existent. Any mention of the word roots ‘hometown’ so far in the past, that people begin to act disconnected from place. Nostalgia takes
over and their current home becomes completely meaningless. Whenever the conversation goes in this direction, I begin to ask about someone’s current home and the beauties of their everyday life.
For me, home is extremely important. Not only someone’s hometown, but their present home as well.
I’ve had the pleasure of learning so many concepts while battling the daily battle of life in Japan. Like many Japanese language learners, this phrase, “ichi-go ichi-e” sticks out as being supremely beautiful. Basically the concept can be explained as ‘once in a lifetime’. You may never meet the convenience store attendant again, and you may never have the chance to give this make-or-break presentation a second time. Recognize it as thus.
There’s something about it that feels right. I mean, here’s an example. I volunteered in Northeastern Japan after the tsunami in April of 2011, and I would love to volunteer there once again. Every moment I spent there, whether making art, digging out someone’s home, or eating dinner together; felt connected. I offered my ability to shovel and in return I was met with life-altering stories.
What I gave to the people of the area was always met and often multiplied in what I received. I treated every moment as a once in a lifetime chance, and so did they.
However, I don’t like the concept of ‘ishoukenme’. Basically, it means to ‘try with all of your might’. While it’s important to try hard, I’ve seen many people (Japanese and otherwise) who work so hard, they’ve lost sight of their goal. Instead of producing the best possible results, they produce the most results. Slowing down for one moment and recognizing that moment for the respect it deserves can so easily set someone on the right track that their productivity will benefit while needless busywork falls by the wayside.
For me, those connections, those meetings, and those moments are so important; every moment should be treated as the last.