Small Town Japan

Funny Habits From Living In Japan

After about a year and a half of living in Japan, things have gotten into a regular routine. I guess a small town – is a small town, regardless of what part of the world you live in. I take my kids to school, I work, I pick them up, dinner, bath and bed. Rinse and repeat. Of course I’m not mentioning the magnificent nature that we experience, my hours spent teaching them English, and other things unique to our location. Living in another culture means making personality adjustments if you want to be successful in that society. Has it changed me? Probably not at my core. But there’s many small, social habits i’ve picked up.

BOWING FROM THE CAR

Ok, this one may be a bit silly, but it’s a simple matter of courtesy. Americans wave – Japanese bow. If someone pulls over to let you pass them on a narrow country road or intersection, it only makes sense to give them courtesy bow to say thanks. Should i mention the flashing of the hazard-lights as a thank you when someone lets you cut in front of them? I guess I just did.

APOLOGIZING BY DEFAULT

This relates both to Japanese language and culture. Japanese apologize about everything. But it’s not always a grand gesture. Often it’s more like… “Hey, sorry if I inconvenienced you” or “Excuse me”. Do I have to do it? No. But i think you can come off as rude when people are so used to hearing it, and suddenly they don’t hear it coming from you.

MORE SELF CONSCIOUS IN PUBLIC

Along with the Japanese habit of keeping harmony, and preventing yourself from bothering others, comes a certain self awareness. When my kids are screaming, and how I react to it has a bit more value here in Japan than the US. If I need to blow my nose, or sneeze, or anything else loud and potentially offensive I tend to be a bit excessively discreet about it. Yes, part of this is that as a foreigner my profile my stand out a bit more than the average Joe.

SEEING MYSELF AS AN EXAMPLE

As one of the few (non-tourist) foreigners in town, you tend to stand out. Someone passing through town may be able to momentarily get away with acting like an ass, but I (as a resident) cannot. Sure, part of me wants to single handedly disprove the negative generalization of the scary, uncultured foreigner. But let’s face it, negative people rarely change their views. Setting myself up as a high-standard is far more for me, than it is for anyone else.

REDUCED PDA

I’ve never been one of those people who makes-out with someone else in public, nor is it something that i really care to observe. Though I would say that small-town Japan takes it to another level of reservedness, and typical PDA between couples seems rather rare, usually just young people and tourists. While I am affectionate on rare occasion and dish out the hand holding, hug, or kiss – I’m just far more aware of it. Nobody needs to see that stuff except my wife and kids anyway.

These are just a few tiny habits, and there are no doubt many more. Having said all that, these are all basically social, or cultural considerations in my opinion. I’ll always hold a certain reverence for the cultural traditions in which I was raised. At the end of the day, when you come home, kick off your shoes, pants… take of your makeup, you’ve gotta look yourself in the mirror. That person you’re stuck with when you are alone, that’s who you are, regardless of what you put out there socially. So hopefully you can respect that reflection. (Check out my post on other Cultural Differences.)

Costco Items That Every Foreigner in Japan Needs

So you’ve moved to Japan from the USA, or maybe you’re just here for an extended period. Chances are there’s a few things your going to miss from home. While big cities offer about anything you might need (for a price), dwellers of the countryside like me might be out of luck, or forced to compromise during those rare moments we’re feeling nostalgic.

Costco Toyama

Fortunately we have that giant American wholesale warehouse we all know and love, Costco, with stored spread throughout central and southern Japan.

Naturally when I have the chance to visit my nearest location (Toyama) there are a few “must have” items which go into my cart regularly.

Real Cheese
One thing I’ve noticed is a lot of processed cheese in Japan. If you do find the good stuff, it’s not cheap! Bricks of real cheddar and jack cheese can be had from Costco. I always buy a couple bricks and put some in the refrigerator and cut the remainder into pieces or grate and freeze. Freezing it whole does ruin the texture a bit (gets crumbly) but still great for cooking and keeps indefinitely, or at least until the next Costco Trip. Costco puts all the expensive cheese together in the busiest part of the store, while hiding their affordable Kirkland Signature cheese in the refrigeration isle.

Oats & Cereal
Cereal is expensive in Japan, and you certainly won’t find any that you loved as a kid. You can buy a huge amount of steel cut oats at a great price for making oatmeal (or porridge as my UK counterparts would say). This is especially great when you have kids and want to occasionally offer a healthy alternative to rice, pasta, or bread. They also carry a few common cereals for us old-kids like Honey Nut Cheerios.

Wheat PastaOrganic / Wheat Pasta
We like to give our kids healthy options whenever possible. While pasta is readily available throughout Japan it’s kind of rare that i see all wheat or grain versions of pasta, which I feel is a better option than…. just flour/water/egg of regular pasta. Costco has it.

Baked Beans
If you’re looking for beans in Japan – I hope you like desert. Sweet red bean filling is the most common place I find beans in Japan, and while it’s not bad (once you acquire the taste) it can seem very strange to what Americans and British folks think of as beans. I personally prefer a spicey ranch style pinquito beans from my home town, baked beans is still a comfortable reminder of home.

Pork Ribs
I love Japanese style BBQ, I of course have my grill out on the back porch ready for the summer. But there’s no argument that it’s a completely different style than the US. Once in a while, I’ve got to get a taste of that old home town style BBQ and in the absence of a Tri-tip, pork ribs are a great next best option. You can get a full rack at Costco at a relatively affordable price, where as at countryside supermarkets you may see a few small ribs in a pack on occasion – if that.

Taco Seasoning
I know what you home master-chef’s will say, “I use my own seasoning for taco’s”. Yes, I get that. But when you live in Japan, Mexican food seasonings are either non-existant or expensive. For quick meals, Costco has a huge container of taco seasoning that will probably last you a year. You can kick it up a notch with your own seasonings to get your taco’s in the right happy place.

Fresh / Frozen Pizza
Costco’s giant “ready to bake” pizzas are nearly identical to those in the US (with the exception of the seafood pizza). In fact, most Japanese kitchens probably lack the size of oven required to cook it! This means most people probably cook it in sections (I’m guessing). One alternative is their 3-pack of frozen pizzas which are also quite tasty, and at about $5/per pizza quite a good deal. Add your own toppings to make it something special.

Bakery and BreadDinner Rolls / French Bread
I’m an American and this pretty much certifies my love for white bread. What’s great (once again) is that bread keeps rather well in the freezer. Costco’s bakery cranks out favorites that are identical to the US version, and make you feel right at home.

Ritz Crackers
I admit this one is something of a personal favorite that I was craving last time. Japanese crackers are great, but something completely different. If you miss the buttery, salty (can’t be good for you) snack that I was craving, they have them. Top them with some cheese or…

Peanut Butter
I’m listing this one because they have it, and Peanut Butter is rarely ever seen by me at the grocery. If I do see it, it’s a tiny container. Here’s my beef with you Costco, you only carry the sweet full-of-sugar PB’s like JIF. How about a nice natural one, 100% peanuts only? I guess my Trader Joes jar will have to last a little longer.

Tequila / Wine / Beer
Tequila! Oh how I’ve missed you. I never see tequila in supermarkets, and only one option when in most liquor markets. Costco has a couple options, and the Kirkland Signature is quite drinkable and very affordable. I got spoilt on wine in California, as many of the wines imported to, or made in Japan taste watered-down to me. Costco’s cheapest (bottled) red wine is usually imported as well, but you can tell that they’ve taken the time to select a decently drinkable one. Imported beers are always pricey – but at least they have some to pick from.

English Books
If you happen to have kids like me, raising them in Japan – English books might need to be ordered online unless you get lucky at a second hand store, or live in a big city. Costco has a ton of children’s books (and adult ones) in English at your expected new book price.

Avocados
I thought Avocado’s were expensive in the US, then I moved to Japan. Wow! Costco carries avocado’s by the bag, still not cheap, but maybe better than many supermarkets and always large in size.

BONUS ITEMS:

The oven roasted chicken at around $6 is a steal, especially considering most people don’t usually buy whole-chickens (or have big enough oven to roast it for that matter). It’s obvious why it’s strategically placed at the back of the store. And you know I can’t go without mentioning the all-beef hotdog from the food counter. It comes with a drink, AND it’s under $2? Shut up and take my money. Don’t tell me how it’s made, just leave me alone and let me eat my dog. Maybe i’ll get one for the road too.

What’s your craving from back home? Whether Costco or not – leave us a comment below and tell us what you’re missing.

Pass Your Japanese Driver’s Test in One Attempt

Need to drive in Japan more than the 1 year given to you by your International driving permit? Your going to need a Japanese drivers license.

You could face a fine of up to 300,000 Yen or up to 1 year imprisonment for driving on an expired permit.

This could take several months – so you better get head start my friend because the clock is ticking. Does 3, or 5, or 10 attempts sound crazy? Because the Japanese practical test often presents a challenge to foreigners.

As an American – it’s more work than simply swapping out a US license for a Japanese one, unfortunately. On the positive side, neither do you have to go through the process that locals go through which includes months of driving school, and likely thousands of dollars in training and fee’s. Yes – they take driver’s licenses very seriously in Japan!

The steps you will need to take will look something like this:

  • Setting your initial DMV paperwork appointment
  • Gathering the necessary information and documentation
  • Providing this information to the DMV, and likely a short interview in Japanese
  • At least one drivers training session with an instructor
  • Memorizing the route/map for your practical test
  • Taking a simple written test (true or false)
  • Taking a practical driving test on a track at the DMV
  • Filling out forms and paying fee’s

This doesn’t look very appealing. But it’s not as bad as it seems and it can actually be quite simple provided you do a few things the right way.

You will not pass the practical test without at least one driving school session.

I know what your’e going to say. Probably the same thing I said. “That’s crazy! I’ve been driving in the US for 25 years!”, well yes, but there are many little things specific to the test in Japan that a foreigner would never think of. Examples?

  • Examining the car before you enter it
  • How smoothly you are turning the wheel
  • Listening for trains at railroad crossings
  • Having your blinker on almost entirely through the course

There’s many more, and every instructor/prefecture is looking for different things. So what is a person to do? Most likely there is a nearby driving school (in my case, less than a mile away) which has the very SAME course as the actual test! This is a huge benefit to you. Most people recommend at least 2 hours of training, but i did it with a single 30 minute session.

I’m going to tell you how – plus everything else that I learned. But since this blog post got really long – I’ve created an entire page dedicated to the subject!

That way the rest of you don’t have to sit through all the boring details. Just know that if you plan to get a Japanese drivers license – it will take sincere effort, patience and preparation.

To view this post in its entirety, visit the dedicated page – How To Pass The Japanese Drivers Test in One Attempt.
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