I first went to Japan when I was 12 years old for a two week study abroad trip through my middle school. I loved it and continued to study Japanese culture when I returned to the US. I chose my university for its famous Japanese Language and East Asian Studies programs, participated in a month-long field study in Tokyo and Kyoto, spent my junior year at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata City, graduated with Japanese and East Asian majors, and finally worked in Japan for three years as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). Japan is one of my special interests!
There are so many reasons why I keep gravitating toward studying about, living and working in, and obsessing about Japan!
- The Japanese language–hierarchy: A large part of the Japanese language is made up of set rules and patterns based on who you are talking to. If you know your place in the hierarchy, you know how to talk to basically anyone. Don’t know if you are above or below someone in hierarchy? Just use the general polite form of language! It takes away so much guess work.
- The Japanese language–set phrases and ritual: There are many instances in Japanese when a formal, ritualized, or set phrase is used and you know exactly what you’re expected to say in return. There is no guess work or fumbling for a response. You just know exactly what to say without thought. For example, when entering or leaving a home or work environment, there are set phrases you say and set phrases others will respond with. When you say these phrases, you know exactly what the response will be (and vice versa) and that’s incredibly comforting.
- There are more clear social and cultural rules: It really helps that I’ve studied Japanese culture for years both on my own, while in Japan, and at university. It may have been different for me if I had grown up in Japan, but being able to study about a society has made some aspects of fitting in much easier.
- Being a foreigner: Being a foreigner in Japan affords great privileges and allowances socially. In a lot of instances, any effort made as a foreigner is an unexpected surprise which is praised. Efforts to behave culturally appropriately in Japan will be often be met with exclamations of surprise and delight while social missteps are more often seen as an unfortunate byproduct of being foreign.
- If I don’t pass as Neurotypical, no one suspects: Along the same lines, it’s much more likely that someone would assume my quirkiness or awkwardness is due to being a foreigner! Any social misstep or awkwardness is almost always attributed to just being a foreigner and coming from a different culture.
- Eye contact is not nearly as valued: Prolonged eye contact can actually be seen as very rude in Japan! Along with this, handshakes and hugs are not the norm, so it’s much more sensory friendly. People bow to one another and there are even rules about how low to bow depending on your hierarchical status.
- Less perfume/cologne bathers: People in general just don’t overdo wearing scents. That’s not to say that some people don’t, but–compared to the US–they are few and far between. This means a much more friendly sensory environment for me and less sensory overload.
When I am in Japan, I know more-or-less what is expected of me and what to expect from others. When in America? All bets are off. That’s not to say that everything in Japan is completely wonderful for me and everything in America is terrible. But I certainly have a lot less social anxiety in Japan and it tends to be more sensory friendly.
[image description: A well lit, sunny closeup of a Japanese sakura (cherry blossom) tree in full bloom.]