Living in a foreign country can make you extremely uncomfortable at times for many reasons. Language barriers, unknown customs, and unfamiliar surroundings can commonly combine to make sure visitors simply don’t feel like they are at home. For me, I’ve experienced all of the examples I’ve given, but those all seem minor compared to the thing I struggle with the most on an almost daily basis: just how strange the people around me are acting.
To clarify, Japanese people are no more strange to me than I am to them. The fact that I grew up driving a truck, listening to cows moo on summer nights because of the farm by my house, and having dogs that are bigger than most children always paint a picture of me as the typical big American who has big things and takes up a big space. I have lived my entire life differently than the majority of Japanese people, especially in Tokyo, have lived theirs. Therefore, I realize that I am ultimately the strange one as I am one of the minority, but I still can’t get over my feeling that things around me are different.
Take for example idol music. Just today as I was coming back from working out, I exited the train at my home station to hear blasting music coming from the market nearby. Given that I live in a quiet residential district, I was surprised that someone was playing something so loud over store speakers. Being curious, I walked over to the sound to discover that there was a stage that I had no idea even existed being performed on by an up-and-coming idol group called Doll Elements. Though they’ve been around for over a year, the crowd enjoying their free concert consisted only of about 60 people, the large majority being men who were at least 25 years old all the way to what looked to be 60 years old. I’m not kidding when I say that there were men dressed in full business suits dancing and chanting along with the group in an almost empty viewing area…with no shame whatsoever. Not only that, the people passing by the area also thought nothing of it.
The reason I found that to be strange is simple: coming from the US, I would’ve expected to see multiple people rush to take a video of the men in business suits dancing and screaming to a group of roughly 20 year-old costumed girls only to post it online and get laughs. However, here in Japan, the reservation that we have in the US that causes us to find such behavior abnormal doesn’t exist, making the occurrence of group of businessmen losing their minds to live idol music something that’s actually relatively acceptable. If I truly wish to become a member of Japanese society, things like this will be the last thing for me to get past. However, I can say with time, that even the weirdness fades, and the differences do become easier to embrace.
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Hi all! My name is Ben Krieger, and I am a rising Junior at Miami University in Oxford, OH. I grew up in the Cleveland area as an aspiring professional football player, but clearly that is a path that I've abandoned because I'll be in Japan during my first season away from the game in fourteen years! I'm very excited to be in Tokyo for the fall, and I've been preparing to be able to at least survive in Tokyo by studying Japanese for the first time ever in Beppu, Japan this summer. I may not be great yet, but hopefully you'll watch me grow as I blog my way through the fall program!