Essay 2: Culture Through the Eyes of a Young Westerner

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Japan is described as the most foreign first-world country westerners will experience. I guess this is why I chose to work in Japan in the end. This way of thinking about Japan seems very appropriate when you notice that even if you find yourself in McDonalds ordering a big Mac, you receive your burger that does actually look like the picture along with a super polite "Thank you very much!" and a most unexpected deep bow from the waist up!

As I mentioned, in my previous essay, I arrived in Japan with no functional ability in Japanese. It made my start in Japan that bit more interesting as well as difficult. I was lucky enough to have lots of help from my English speaking supervisor at my host school when it came to getting bills sorted out, opening a bank account etc. Outside of that, I was on my own.

When it came to shopping and looking after myself it was one adventure of experimentation after another. I lived in a fairly small city of about 200,000 people, so I was luckier than those who lived in the country or smaller towns from the point of view that there was a department store and several 7-11's, but that is where the similarities to western shops ended.

Getting to grips with cooking for yourself is a nightmare. Apart from a few bits of meat from the butcher section of the local department store, I recognised little that I knew how to cook. I tried boiling squids and innumerable unidentified things that I thought might have been some sort of food, with little success.

Overall, I think that western men in Japan got more out of their stay than some women. A lot of people feel that Japan, although it has absorbed many western characteristics, it still remains highly old fashioned in some aspects. Some of the western girls that were on the JET program found it a little more difficult to get on socially and professionally than their male counterparts. Generally, women are preferred to be subservient and the western worlds liberated and equality-accustomed woman can be a little over-bearing in Japanese society.

Many cultural publications on Japanese culture will also point to the importance of "Face" and "Indirectness" in the society. Charging at a problem with co-workers or anything where you have to deal with people often invoked resistance and hampered the solution. Whereas, if you can solve a problem by showing respect, without allotting blame, without pointing the finger, you can be seen as saving someone's face and will find people much more helpful.

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