Living in Japan was one the best experiences of my life. The people, food, and culture are like none other.
I moved to Japan, in September 2015, to pursue a new job opportunity and adventure. When I arrived, my first experience was instant hospitality. They bow after they greet you. If they know your name, -san (honorary title, Mr./Ms.) is added at the end. I am “Tisa-san” (Ms. Tisa). Whenever you walk into a venue you’re greeted with a loud, jubilant “Irasshaimase” which means “Welcome” or “Come on in”. Japanese people are very polite and gracious. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, they are willing to help you. It helps when you make an attempt to speak the language. Also, most things are written in kanji and in English. A memorable experience was being in need of a facial, going to the wrong place (a spa that didn’t do facials), and having a woman leave her job (at the spa) to take me to an esthetician. She wouldn’t take my yen as symbol of gratitude and she even apologized for not being able to speak English well! That experience demonstrated to me that Japanese people will go above and beyond with service and hospitality.
The food is amazing!
I still miss fresh sushi, sushi go-round restaurants, curry restaurants, yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), the most unique Kit-Kat flavors, coffee/tea vending machines and the snacks. I’m an adventurer when it comes to food, so I made it a personal mission/challenge to try something new every time I went to the grocery store. I used context clues and deductive reasoning to figure out what some things were and I was rarely disappointed. My coworkers wanted to test my sense of adventure by taking me to a restaurant for a team building outing. They ordered the oddest dishes to see if they could freak me out; but little did they know, I was more than up for the challenge. They ordered squid so fresh that it was still moving on the plate. I simply picked up a piece of the body with my chopsticks (they were impressed that I knew how to use them) dipped it in soy sauce and ate that very textured sea creature and exclaimed “Oishi!” (Delicious!). Since the tentacles are so tough, they fried them instead of eating them alive.
(Fun fact: Some of the best fried food I’ve ever tasted was in Japan and Korea!)
There are 47 prefectures and 4 main islands. Each region has a food that’s unique to that specific area and a symbol. Where I lived in Sasebo, in the Kyushu region, it is known for the “Sasebo Burger,” which is this massive burger with lots of toppings; the symbol of the city is the spinning top. I’ve visited several different cities throughout Japan. In Sapporo, I attended the annual ice festival. There, I saw the most amazingly intricate ice sculptures. I visited the Yokohama ramen noodle museum. On the tour, I saw the history of the ramen noodle and even made my own. Tokyo and Osaka have awesome nightlife. Okinawa has the most gorgeous beaches! There, I tried Habu Saki, which is sake that has a snake at the bottom of the bottle (very delicious!).
In every city you will find a “Ginza”, which is a major shopping district. It’s usually a long strip of clothing shops, bars and restaurants. Japanese style is impeccable. They don’t wear bright colors because they don’t want to stand out, however, they serve serious fashion! A major source of entertainment is karaoke. From the outside, the buildings look like high-rise apartments. Once you enter, there’s nothing but floors of karaoke rooms. I had my going away party at one; it was 14 of us in a room singing, drinking, eating and dancing. Some Japanese people may not be able to speak English well in a conversation, but they can definitely sing the lyrics to English [American] pop songs!
You will find the most interesting and quirky things to experience in Japan. For example, there are all types of cafes i.e. cat cafes, owl cafes and ones where you can dress like anime characters and the list goes on. Toilets are very interesting there as well. In public spaces, I had to get used to doing my business over a hole in the ground. However at home, I had the luxury of an automated toilet with a heated seat and bidet with several water spraying options. Some toilets even play music!
I highly recommend Japan as a solo or group travel destination. It’s very safe and there’s such a respect and reverence for the fellow man that there is little to no crime. If you were to leave or misplace an item, it will be there when you return or there will be someone running behind you to make sure you retrieve it. It’s so safe that I didn’t lock the door to my car or house. It’s also very clean; from remote towns to large cities, you won’t find debris or litter. Moreover, it’s one of the few places where I felt comfortable being Black. I would walk around my “Cho” (neighborhood), go grocery shopping, running or any other day-to-day errand and no one looked at me twice. To them I was just a “Gaijin” (a foreigner). My Blackness was not an issue. I didn’t get any gawking or staring, only from little children from time-to-time.
Personally, my one year and four months of living in Japan was awesome! I experienced so much of the rich culture, such as participating in a tea ceremony, being dressed in a kimono (which took three women to do) and wore the wooden sandals, attending a sumo wrestling tournament, sake tastings, climbing a river, relaxing in onsens (public bath house), visiting temples and standing on top of an Olympic competitive ski jump, amongst other things. Overall my time there was excellent. I highly recommend taking a visit.
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By Tisa H.