It’s been nearly two months since we’ve posted something, by far the longest stretch without an update since we started this project last November. Our silence doesn’t mean we’ve been relaxing, however, as during the past 8 weeks we’ve been busy packing out, saying goodbye to Japan, moving back across the Pacific, and settling into our new digs in Southern California. We love It here, but we REALLY miss Japan.
Our two years in Japan went by way too fast (we knew they would), but we are so thankful we got to see + do so much while we were there. For our followers still in Asia, fear not! We easily have another year of Japan posts to put up, including 3 international trips, a week-long Hokkaido extravaganza, and tons of “local” spots around Yokosuka to write about as well. Stay tuned! Now that we are settled, you can expect a steady stream of Japan (& California) goodness coming your way.
Settled most certainly doesn’t mean sitting still though, so don’t get the wrong impression over there! Even though the boxes are barely unpacked, we are already planning for our next international adventure (more on that soon). Living overseas certainly wasn’t all rainbows and cupcakes, but it did open our eyes to the incredible benefits of immersing yourself in a different culture. As we continue to adjust, it’s sad to feel our Japan memories slip from the present into the past. Before it all seems like a crazy dream, we wanted get down our top favorite things about living in “The Land of the Rising Sun” (and also some U.S. traits we are thankful for)!
5. Rules are rules, not just suggestions.
No one cuts in line, trash doesn’t end up on the street (despite the lack of trash cans), and items in stores aren’t locked up. You don’t realize how nice this is until you have someone try and cut in front of you in the checkout line after you waited 10 min for someone to unlock the deodorant cabinet to grab your Old Spice.
4. Little signs of appreciation build into a baseline happiness that permeates through your day.
That guy at the toll booth taking your toll? He always has a huge smile on his face and seems genuinely happy to help. Let someone change lanes in front of you or merge into traffic? You will nearly always be met with a few flashes of the emergency blinkers, meant as a subtle “thank you.” Spend a few bucks on a coffee, and you not only get a caffeine boost, but a smile + a respectful bow to boot. These things don’t seem like much, but it’s incredible how they can improve your day and put a smile on your face.
3. Don’t Disturb the “Wa”: People always have an eye out for each other.
Getting on a busy train or bus can be a little uncomfortable (especially if your a kiddo and you find yourself completely smothered), but it is infinitely better when everyone is quiet and respectful to those around them. No one speaks loudly or yells, even when smushed up against someone else. Two lines always form on escalators, one for those who want to stand, and one for those who are in a rush and want to walk up. “Wa” is a Japanese concept which most closely translates to “Harmony” in English. It is the peaceful feeling of unity when people put the community before their self-interests. Obviously, this can go overboard, but just the right amount of Wa definitely can make things more enjoyable.
2. Outdoor play is not an option, it’s a necessity.
When we moved to Japan, we had absolutely no knowledge of their concepts and theories regarding raising kids. As we learned about it, however, we were impressed and strived to incorporate some of those same concepts into the way we raise our kids. We wrote about this before in our “How to Set Your Kids Free” article, so if you are interested head over and take a look. Letting kids be kids, allowing some calculated risk, lets them learn boundaries and foster independence. Playing outside is an important part of the day, not just an afterthought.
1. It is SAFE.
Of all the things listed above, this is probably the single biggest thing we miss about Japan. To be clear, this is absolutely not a political commentary as we want this blog to be a politics-free place as much as possible. That being said however, the near complete lack of violent crime and inability for the general public to own/carry fire arms or large knifes has (directly or indirectly) fostered an extremely safe place to raise children. Tokyo was just ranked as the world’s safest city for the third consecutive year by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and it certainly feels that way when you are walking back to the train station late at night. Elementary school aged kids ride public transportation (not school specific buses) to school by themselves and no one bats an eye. Sure, violent crime still occurs, but on a much, much, much smaller scale per capita than in the United States. We miss letting our kids get farther ahead of us on walks, letting them play in the toy aisle while we finish the rest of our shopping, or even letting them go into a public restroom by themselves. This since of security is hard put a tangible value on, but certainly left a big impression on us.
It’s not all perfect, though…
Of course, every culture has its shortcomings as well, and coming back home has also made us realize how much we missed certain aspects of American culture. No doubt, some of the unity and “Wa” in Japan is because the Japanese already have a very homogeneous culture. There are certainly benefits to that, but the diversity we experienced upon returning home hit us like a ton of bricks and to be honest was a huge breath of fresh air. Our country was built by immigrants, and it’s this diversity that is one our greatest strengths. Different kinds of people with varying perspectives can come up with truly amazing things when they collaborate.
We really think this is one of the main reasons the United States has been such an innovator in technology and art. We were once told that there is an old saying in Japan that goes something like, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This is most certainly not to say that all Japanese people are the same, as the culture and even language vary a lot from region to region. Just compare Tokyo to Kyoto, for example, and you’ll see vast differences. Even so, for some reason it seems harder for uniqueness to be truly embraced. In a way, this goes along with the concept of “Wa” described above. There is certainly something to be said about societal harmony, but at the same time sometimes those errant nails are the ones that make the biggest impact.
“Matane” (see you again) Japan,