by Matthew Firestone
One of the main questions that ex-pats in Japan are often asked is simply this: "Why Japan?"
And, truth be told, most of us just shrug our shoulders and give some sort of trite answer like: "The food here sure is delicious!" Or, depending on the temperament of the audience: "The women here sure are beautiful!"
You get the picture....
As for me, I've always argued that the real appeal of Japan is simply that it's an incredibly interesting country to explore. Even after living here for more than five years, and spending literally thousands of hours jumping over the linguistic hurdles of Japanese grammar, I still suffer from a fair bit of culture shock on a day-to-day basis.
You see, I guess that's really the gist of why Japan is so appealing to foreigners like myself. No matter how hard you try to assimilate, there will always be more challenges to overcome, especially if you want to penetrate the heart of one the world's most closed societies. Simply put, life in Japan is anything but boring.
Of course, there are dozens of cultural landmines that must be dodged on a daily basis here. And on that note, I present to you today five mistakes made by first-timers in Japan.
1) There is no word for no.
Japanese has something of a steep learning curve (to say the least!). Of course, one thing you'd better learn if you want to survive here is that there is no word for no. Yes can mean no, maybe most likely means no, but saying no directly pretty much informs those around you that you have about as much social grace as a bovine.
2) Be mindful of your footwear.
The Japanese don't take kindly to foreigners who forget to take off their shoes when entering private spaces. Use the slippers - that's why they're there - though be mindful that no two pairs of slippers are created equal. After all, the Japanese especially don't take kindly to foreigners who walk through the kitchen in toilet slippers.
3) Go easy on the ramen.
I love ramen. You probably love ramen. And yes, the ramen in Japan is damned near the food of the gods. But seriously, after eating the stuff three times a day for a week on end, your gastrointestinal system will start to hate you. Assuming you haven't figured out what toilet slippers look like, this can quickly become a serious problem.
4) Learn how to use chopsticks.
At your local cheap Chinese restaurant in North America, there's a good chance that a fork and knife are always on hand. However, this doesn't mean that this convenient culinary option is readily available in Japan. Although you might not be the most dexterous diner in the restaurant, you'll look like an overgrown child until you indulge in the fine art of Zen chopstick mastery.
5) Don't date club girls.
If there is one bit of advice that I can impart to you now, it's to never date club girls. Yes, women in Japan are beautiful, and yes, they do tend to be attracted to foreigners. However, keep in mind that just because they have a cute and smiling face, doesn't mean that they're all-together innocent. If a girl you meet in a club speaks fluent English, is decked out in designer labels, and keeps reaching for your wallet, steer clear! Chances are that she's been around the block a few dozen times, which means you're just moments from getting fleeced. Trust me - she's not the one you want to bring home to meet mom!
As this list can go on and on and on, feel free to chime in with your own words of wisdom for new arrivals in Japan!