- I know I'm going to be asked a lot over the coming year(s) what I miss most about Japan....my answer is probably going to be the people. Being here has certainly made me see that people are basically the same the world over. But I do think that Japanese people IN GENERAL are a little more quiet and thoughtful and less reactionary and proselytistic than Americans IN GENERAL. The vast majority of the people I've interacted with have been lovely. I have not had a single truly negative experience. I've had a few shop clerks avoid my eyes (in hopes I didn't need help) and I usually get ignored by the people who hand out flyers by kiosks in the mall (I consider that a perk) but that is really the worst I can come up with. I've been giggled at by a few teenage waiters. I've been stared at creepily by a few old guys. (For the record, these last two would totally happen in the US too.) But so many times I have asked for help or initiated a conversation (in my shamefully terrible Japanese) and have had the person try their hardest to figure out what I needed. Other moms are so very welcoming in the playground and parks we go to. Everyone loves Cora....people around here are used to adult foreigners but a foreign baby/toddler is still a pretty big draw. I think when we move back home she's probably going to be offended that she isn't getting fawned over and "kawaii'ed" constantly. So that makes me a little sad.....I may do a separate post about being an "outsider" in a homogeneous culture but even that hasn't been negative at all for me personally.
- I have pumped gas--no kidding--one (1) time in (almost) four years. It was on a trip home to the US. I have a lovely full-service place I go to maybe once every couple of months....because I rarely drive more than a few miles from my house. At the full service place the nice workers will wipe my windshield/mirrors/windows down and give me a damp cloth to wipe my interior. My dash and steering wheel have stayed astonishingly clean. Back in America I DREADED pumping gas and my dash was filthy. And there may be a full service place somewhere in Greenville, but I sure don't know where it is. Or how much it will cost. And to all you reading from the states that don't allow you to pump your own gas ---- pphhht!!
- Believe it or not, there are a few food items I'll miss. Milk tea is probably #1. I like a little gyudon (beef and rice dish) from Sukiya. Tonkatsu (breaded sauced pork) from our local bento place is tasty. You can get really good pre-made frozen dumplings to fry up. I am going to miss making a lunch off of soft boiled eggs and tuna-mayo onigiri (rice balls) from 7-Eleven. I realize that last one probably sounds gross but you'll just have to believe me that it's delicious. However, any time I get a craving I feel sure that I can help it pass by getting a hotdog or a burrito. Also, I'm looking forward to visiting the tiny Japanese grocery in Greenville. Fingers crossed they carry milk tea!!
- Speaking of food, what I"m really, really, really going to miss are Japanese vending machines. I've blogged about them before but they need to be on this list. Not only do they have cold and hot selections (cocoa, hot milk tea!) but there is always a wonderful, ever-changing selection of juice, tea and flavored water. I don't drink a lot of soft drinks. I never drink diet drinks and rarely drink caffeine (weird, I know). I am not looking forward to returning to the land of Diet Coke and Mountain Dew. :(
- I can't leave out Japanese-style service. My particular favorite is how the grocery store cart and bagging process works. When we first got here it bugged me but I've come to love it. For starters, you don't leave items loose, you have to put them into shopping baskets inside your cart. And then the cashier will move them into an empty basket as he/she scans them. Whenever I've grocery shopped on trips home I always feel so rebellious and slovenly just chucking stuff down in the cart. If you really want to be Japanese about it you'll carefully arrange all your food Tetris-style. But you won't be as good at it as the checkout person, so don't even try. (I have absolutely stopped on my way to the checkout just to rearrange my items in a neater manner.) Reusable bags are much more popular here and are easier to use, in a way, because you bag your own groceries. And you should also do that in a careful and Tetris-style manner. I really want to keep using my reusable bags. In general, I expect to be kind of a weirdo in the US grocery store for a while. If you see me out, watch carefully and enjoy whatever obsessive-compulsive-grocery-arranging-bag meltdown I'm having. And also listen for me to say "excuse me" to everyone in Japanese. :)
- I am going to miss my house! Wait, what? OK, so I'm not going to miss my Japanese house except for one small part---the entryway. Because of the whole take-your-shoes-off thing, Japanese houses almost always have really nice big entryways that function as what we would call a mudroom in the US. As I've started looking online at houses (as we will need to purchase one pretty quickly) I am really disappointed in the lack of a mudroom in most. It's really nice to have a place for shoes, coats, hats, stroller etc. Plus bags, keys, mail, a mirror....the US really needs to step it up in the entryway department. However, if I don't end up with one and I get frustrated I'll just go lovingly stroke my thermostat or run something through my garbage disposal and hopefully the feeling will pass.
- Japanese clothes.....O, how I shall miss ye. I have been running around the past few weeks frantically buying up pants and jackets. Clothing here is more well-made and better quality than in the US. You're much more likely to find linings, pockets, etc. And I'm talking about just your typical department store clothes. Nothing designer or super expensive. And it's all cut for short, narrow-ish people. I bought a blazer the other day that fit perfectly off the rack. I swear I heard a chorus of angels sing when I put it on. Usually I have to have almost everything, but particularly "work clothing", tailored down so I don't look like I'm playing dress-up in my mother's clothes. A special shout-out to Uniglo and Muji, both of which I am going to miss dreadfully. I think both have stores in the US but none close to Greenville. And I have a feeling the clothing is probably cut differently. If anyone has ever been to an American one, please let me know!
That's all for now, maybe once we get back I'll update this post with more things I miss!