For many if not most of us, living abroad can be a life-changing experience. I am no exception when it comes to how living abroad in three foreign countries (Poland, Thailand and Japan) has influenced my outlook on life. In this post, I will be sharing how living abroad in Japan has altered the way I am.
Change #1: I have become less fearful of earthquakes and tremors on the ground
I come from Singapore, an island nation located smack right near the equator. Unlike Japan, another island country, Singapore does not have earthquakes at all. From a young age, I have heard numerous horror stories about the sheer number of earthquakes that Japan has yearly, if not daily. This is because Japan is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire (on the edges of several tectonic plates that contain high volcanic and seismic activity) and is highly susceptible to earthquakes.
I was supposed to have gone to Waseda University in Tokyo for my university education after getting accepted into the school. However, I eventually pulled out of the university due to surging public fears after the Great East Japan earthquake in March 2011 and concerns from my loved ones.
4 years later in 2015, I mustered enough courage and determination to relocate to Tokyo to pursue my graduate studies. Since then, I have been exposed to daily earthquake tremors. Every night, I drift off to sleep amidst tremors in my room. The saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt” clearly does hold true in my case here given how my constant experience to such tremors everyday has led me to dismiss most tremors I feel as “normal” or “nothing worrying”.
Japan’s location on the Pacific Ring of Fire makes the country vulnerable to earthquakes, even huge and dangerous ones.
Change #2: I now have a “different” concept of “time”
Punctuality is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. For many Japanese, being “on time” or “punctual” for a meeting or appointment with someone does not mean arriving “right on the dot” but rather, arriving a good “5–10 minutes earlier” than the scheduled time. It is considered good manners to be punctual in business situations and even when meeting friends for a drink. Even Japanese train companies apologise to commuters when trains are 5 minutes late.
After having lived in such a time-conscious country like Japan, I have been adhering to the Japanese societal norms even after I left Japan. For example, when I have an appointment with someone at a certain time, I try to make it a point to arrive at my destination at least 5 minutes before the arranged time. I now go by the mantra ” 待たせることより待ったほうがいい” (mataseru koto yori matta hou ga ii) ~ I would rather wait for someone than to let others wait for me.
Change #3: I find myself apologizing more often than before
Japan has a culture of apologizing. The Japanese language has various ways to express apologies, ranging from the commonly heard sumimasen (すみません), gomennasai (ごめんなさい) to the more formal moushi wake gozaimasen (申し訳ございません) used in business settings. All these forms of apology point out to the reality of the importance of being polite and harmonious in Japan, so much so that the slightest tinge of discord or mistake is often made up with at least a single sumimasen (translated as “sorry” or “excuse me”). It seems that apologizing is the way to go about things in this country. When in doubt, apologize first.
After living in Japan, I realized that I have been apologizing more and more. My French friends whom I met in Tokyo commented that I have become “way too polite” due to my almost knee-jerk use of the term “sumimasen“. Even when someone else accidentally brushes against me in a crowded train, I find myself apologizing to the other party for something I had not done. Once, I even apologized to a table after hitting it while walking!
Change #4: Eating “natto” (納豆) (Japanese fermented soybeans ) has become part of my diet
There are two types of people on this planet: those who love natto and those who hate it. I belong to the former group. For some reason, I was instantly hooked onto natto the first time I tried it. The rest is history.
Natto has become part of my eating choices since I moved to Japan some time back. Even after I left Japan, I eat natto mixed with rice along with some other side dishes as part of my meals.