Thursday, April 25, 2013

Culture Shame

welcome to Japan Narita Airport by

I arrived in Japan from China much later than expected since I missed my original flight. I was tired from what had become a long day and the first thing I noticed as I walked away from the plane was how quiet everything was. Despite hundreds of people walking through the terminal, it was extremely quiet. I stepped onto an escalator and unlike China, it did not start talking to me, telling how and where to stand. Instead there were just arrows indicating which was the standing side and which was the walking side. Silent, but clear directions.

The only noise I heard next was a sole woman bowing and saying something in Japanese that I can only assume was, "Welcome to Japan." She could have been saying, "everyone stay quiet" though and I wouldn't know the difference. But it was nice, welcoming...and I wondered how much she was paid to stand there all night bowing at arriving flights.

I also noticed how clean everything was, but not too out of the ordinary since Frankfurt airport is extremely shiny and I wasn't surprised to see a bright clean airport.

Still in a bit of a daze, my friend met me and we boarded the Narita Express train to Tokyo Station. The train seat had a little hook to hang your jacket and a little cup holder. The leg space was more than ample. I had never been on such a well-thought out train. It seemed so civilized. There was even a little ledge on the window to rest your arm and fall asleep comfortably.

We got to our hotel and the bathroom amenities included a razor with shaving cream and disposable toothbrushes. They even provided pyjamas. They thought of everything - in fact, I could have arrived at the hotel with nothing and would have been comfortable. This sort of thing was standard everywhere I went in Japan. I wondered what the Japanese must think when they come to North America and check into a hotel. "Where is my toothbrush? Where are my pyjamas? What will I do?!"

 My friend and I went out for a walk to the nearest mini mart to get some snacks. The streets were spotless and the roads smooth. Everything seemed to have a place and a purpose. There were specified ways to do everything, from simple payment transactions, to how to board a train. I loved it. Once you knew what to do, it was easy.

I experienced something upon arrival in Japan that I had never experienced before. It was not culture shock. It was a mix of awe and maybe envy. It can only be described as culture shame.

We (North Americans) are so loud and aggressive. We don't take the time to do simple things. We go where we want, when we want, however we want and it causes chaos. We don't really respect other people. When a Japanese person comes here, I can only imagine they think us to be wild barbarians and I found myself embarrassed by my birthplace.

I usually return home grateful for all I have, but this time I was humbled in a different way. I saw so many ways my society could improve and just ashamed of how things are.

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