Near and Far, the World Keeps Spinning

One day as I was walking through campus alongside one of my friends from Japan, we suddenly saw a couple of girls sunbathing in bikinis in plain view. I didn’t give much thought to it, but my friend quickly turned to me, exclaiming “That would never happen in Japan!”

That got me thinking—what else is different? As I sat down with two of my Japanese friends, I found out how different Claremont is from Japan.

“First of all,” one of my friends told me, “I miss Japan’s transportation system. Everything is very well-connected in Japan, and you can get to anywhere with just public transport. Here, if you don’t have a car, it is very hard to go out. And secondly, alcohol is very strictly regulated!”

I chuckled at that: “Isn’t Japan’s drinking age 20?”

“Yes, but it is not as strict as it is here. Many students will be drinking way before the legal age and nobody will say anything.”

“How about parties?” I asked. Both of my friends looked at me, perplexed. 

“No! That is not a thing in Japan, we don’t have parties like here. For us, a party means a small reunion with close friends, like a dinner or going to the cinema.”

I asked if they found American parties a culture shock, and they said yes. “What else do you find as culture shock?”

They giggled and leaned on as if to tell me a secret. “The girls here, the clothes they wear are very revealing. When I first saw them, I thought myself, 'That would be too sexy in Japan!”'

My other friend added, “Sometimes girls go out without bras. I understand that it is comfortable, but I would never do it. If a girl did a similar thing in Japan, my initial thought would be 'This girl is westernized!”'

As I was learning more and more about Japan, my impressions were that its culture is more reserved than the American culture. Was this right?

“Yes, in Japan people are more reserved, especially older people. It is seen as rude, or bad, to wear revealing clothes. But also, when I am walking down the street here in America, sometimes strangers will say 'hello' to me. I found it very weird because in Japan that would never happen!”

I asked why.

“Because everyone walks minding their own business; they don’t look at anyone or talk to anyone. People are very closed, very reserved. But here, it’s the opposite!”

They also told me about their shock of seeing how big everything is in here compared to Japan: food portions, buildings, roads … and how utterly embarrassing it is for them to use a public restroom because the dividing boards are so high you can almost see the person next to you peeing. That is something I can completely agree with, as (once again I come from the U.K.) it is something I definitely had to adjust to once I arrived here.

Having talked about the general culture differences between Japan and the U.S., I also wanted to find out how U.S. college here differs from university in Japan. Are classes harder? Are teachers nice?

“In Japan, it is very hard to get into university. Students work very hard to get into a university, so once they get in, they stop working. When a test comes up, the day before a lot of students will try to cram everything in, and once the test is done, they will forget everything they learned. Here, we have a lot of assignments every day, so it is very hard to not study: we feel like we can’t breathe,” one friend explained.  

They continued: “Also, in Japanese classes, the teachers don’t care as much as the teachers here, and the classes are bigger. A lot of students will be on their phones, on Facebook, Twitter or taking selfies (Japanese love to take selfies) and the teachers won’t notice, or care. But here, we can’t do that!”

“Do you miss taking selfies in class?” I asked.

They both laughed as if to say yes.

With special thanks to Megumi F. and Asuza M.

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