This Is Nihon

An Farmer Obachan Resting

Nihon the country not Nikon the camera.

Would you ever clip your nails at your desk in work? Visible/ hearable for all? If you went to Cork on a business trip would you bring back a mini cadbury’s bar for everyone in your office? Do you hold the door for the people behind you or sometimes let some go ahead of you? Do you slurp your tea or noodles at a fancy dinner party? Would you ever take a swig out of your drink when the person’s glass beside you was empty?

In Japan some of these are very rude, some are a sign of great respect while others are just completely normal, whatever the answers it’s the opposite for me and my country.

I still find it insanely difficult to accept the door slam swinging thing here, I continue to hold the door for others because I just find it evil allowing it to smack back into my followers face. It is so very strange here of all places only because it goes against their everyday standard of politeness, they will bow and smile to a great extent but that door is just not going to get held open. I receive endless doors swinging at me and I have to keep telling myself its good for me, it takes me down a peg or two.

I find the omiagay (souvenir buying) both a little painful and a great pleasure. The stress of remembering everyone and allowing a sufficiently large chunk of your holiday budget to be allocated on these gifts is just nobody’s joy, but (and a big but) it’s a very generous and kind tradition that I believe should be respected and enjoyed for generations to come. There is something really enjoyable about receiving a little treat from a small village, a local tradition, something directly from there to you. It also gives great pleasure to see the enjoyment on people’s faces when you present them with a small bit of your country, bringing your local goodies all the way across the world for them to enjoy makes you proud, and they really really do enjoy it.

If your co-worker had a cold would you prefer them to sniffle all day or get it over with and blow their noses? I would opt for ‘blow it out’, Japan believes blowing your nose is very rude, an awful pity they think that sniffling is not. Sniffling is quiet and cute (yet constant) in a way compared to a big blow out, but a happy medium between these two would be a perfect world.

The nails are clipped wherever and whenever. Frequently during a quiet lull in the office you will hear a gentle clip…. clip…..clip. The sound made me shudder in disgust at first but has grown normal to me now. It’s practical to Japanese, they are very clean people and so don’t see anything dirty about it. I’ve seen them take out a little tissue on the train and very carefully trim their nails between stops. Nobody even batted an eyelid, I tried really hard not to stare that day so I closed my eyes and enjoyed an imaginary scene of somebody on the Dart/ Luas doing the exact same, which made me smile, a lot.

I have a ‘bad habit’ in Ireland of slurping my tea, it tastes better I swear it does, but here in Japan it is anything but a bad habit, I feel very at home and appreciated for my slurping, I am even encouraged and praised about it. I love this slurping business, either listening to others professional slurps or practicing my own, it’s great fun.

A watched kettle never boils? Well in Japan a watched drink never fills. You must distract yourself by constantly pouring drinks for others, even if they are full to the brim you offer them more which makes them sip the top layer off, just enough so you can top ‘em up. It seems like almost a waste of a night, running around filling up everyone’s drinks but you realize that it’s merely used as an excuse to mingle, it gives you an opportunity to offer a kind gesture and have a quick chat…and not to worry you’ll never go dry, the favor will always be returned.

Never let it empty...

 

On Tuesday it was a national holiday and so I headed for a swim at 10am in the local community pool, rather than my usually 5pm after work slot. Presuming it was the same deal, pay and hop in wherever there is space in a lane, I went about it pretending it was 5pm. I got the same smiles from the employees, we practiced our ‘How are you today?…I’m fine thank you and you?’. I hopped into a lane with a few others and headed off on a warm up, it wasn’t until after a good 20 lengths that I realized I had in fact plonked myself into the very middle of an adult swimming lesson. The kindness of them all just ignoring me and continuing on with their lesson around me was amazing, the teacher didn’t even bother kicking me out. I was so embarrassed I wasn’t sure whether to just continue and pretend I hadn’t realized or make the shameful apology. Eventually I grew the courage to apologise and bow a lot of times (which is pretty hard in water) everybody laughed and said ‘ok ok no problem’. Of all the lanes, I had to choose the only one with a lesson in it.

So there are endless differences in life between Asia and Europe, they are fantastic, some are harder to handle than others but largely if taken with a pinch of salt they’re great fun for both nations.

 
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