Shopping, Identity, and Making Friends: Japan Edition

Lesli Patino
January 30, 2019

Hi everyone,

This post is more of a reflection about my time in Japan thus far. I have been in Japan almost a month now. *Insert shocked Pikachu meme*

I should begin by saying that I am a quiet person and I have social anxiety. However, I am also stubborn and push to do things that make me uncomfortable (within reasonable limit) which explains how I ended up in Japan despite all my worries and anxieties. So, coming to Japan as a visible person of color has not been terrible (yet). I don’t expect it to ever be terrible, but it has been a little tough to reconcile my different identities into a very broad box termed “American”.

Perhaps there’s a way to say Mexican-American in Japanese, but I haven’t looked into it. Honestly, it’s been second-nature to say “Mexican” when I’m asked about my ethnicity. My go-to phrase has been:


This translates to: I’m Mexican, but I live in the U.S.

The problem with this is that by saying that I am メキシコ人 (Mexican) I am implying I am from Mexico. In other words, my nationality is Mexican, but I am a United States citizen. I didn’t think of it like that when I first started Japanese. It wasn’t until I arrived in Japan and started noticing others’ confusion when I would say, “No, I wasn’t born in Mexico. I am from the U.S.” Granted, it’s a small mistake, but it’s also evidence of my identity’s complexity that is deeply intertwined with both U.S. and Mexico’s history. I’m sure there’s a term or a way to explain my identity in Japanese, but it has caused me to reevaluate my identity. I am American, but I identify strongly with my Mexican heritage and culture.

It’s also disorienting to identify myself as American, because I’ve always identified as Mexican. I don’t think I will stop saying I am Mexican, because even if it’s a lot simpler, and I may not know how to explain I’m Mexican-American yet, I will definitely learn. I think that explaining racial and class differences in the U.S. will be a great conservation starter.


Oh my god. The only advice I can give you is to read up on clerk and customer interactions, so you know what they’re saying, but they usually are very receptive and understand you’re a foreigner, so they’ll help you out with pictures and hand-motions. Also, as daunting as it may sound to beginner Japanese learners, you can do it. You can count money and hand it to the clerk. It’s going to be scary, you’ll be embarrassed and self-conscious the first few times, but you will notice that as your Japanese improves the more you are able to make out the words.

Another helpful tip for when you’re shopping to cook is to google the American products you are going to look for, because they sometimes have different names here. Also, brush up on your katakana because it’s everywhere and it also makes your life easier to know how to read “cheese cream”.

Finally, while snacks may be on the lower end of the price spectrum, fruit is expensive. You’ll be showing your closest convenient store a lot of love because it has almost everything and their cheaply-priced snacks are diet-destroyers.


You’ll make friends within the IES Abroad program, and they’re going to be great, but you’ll have to put in some effort to make Japanese friends. At Nanzan, they have three spaces dedicated to foreign languages – Japan Plaza, World Plaza, and Stella. Japan Plaza is a space where only Japanese is spoken. World Plaza is intended for Japanese students studying foreign languages. While it is not recommended for international students to go, you can. English is the primary language used in World Plaza, but it’s not the only one. Stella is like Japan and World Plaza put together – you can speak whatever language you want! You’ll find a lot of Japanese students in Stella that are willing to practice with you. You also get to know them, so it’s a cool space to use!

Japanese students are really accommodating with your proficiency, so don’t be afraid to engage in conversation. You’re learning! Making mistakes is a good thing and using your language skills furthers your proficiency. It’s really about starting conversations with them! While I am quiet, I’ve made a few here and there by speaking with them!

Also, sometimes Japanese is the only common language you have with another international student!

It’s really amazing to meet people from all over the world that decided to study at the same program as you during the same semester. Get to know them. It’s worth it.


Well, that’s really all I have for now. Classes are on their second full week, so it’s been pretty quiet. Next time, I’ll post about the upcoming IES Abroad field trip to Nara.


P.S.- I should probably take more pictures.

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Lesli Patino

<p>I like rainy days. Once I saw a triple rainbow. I'm just a female Latinx low-income student studying abroad in Japan, learning to navigate an environment completely different from home. Let's get this パン.</p>

2019 Spring
Home University:
Amherst College
Elgin, IL
Latin American Studies
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