Everyone in Japan is your mom: a tale of unwanted advice

Recently, an unsightly blemish set up shop on my chin. I’m not entirely insecure (things happen, right?), but I tried my best to cover it with the limited makeup skills I have. However, it’s rather humid here and apparently I rub my face a lot, so it made a reappearance. Usually students don’t mention these things. The elementary school students do occasionally, but they don’t have much room for criticism. Neither do junior high school students, so they don’t talk.

Older women, on the other hand, love to point out my facial imperfections. I walked into the tea room recently to pick up my lunch, and almost instantly the nurse asked if that huge spot on my face was a pimple. I told her not to look, in a cute way because I’m used to this now. But I really wanted to tell her it wasn’t her business. She told me it’s probably because I’m tired. I should rest, she said. Another lady in the office told me having a pimple on your chin means someone is thinking about you. So that was sweet, but it didn’t change the fact she noticed the thing.

Another time, the nice office ladies gave me enough food for lunch to feed four small children. I’m practically a child myself, I don’t need this much food. Naturally, when I arrived at my assigned classroom for lunch, a student sharply pointed out that my lunch was huge and that if I finished it, I would get fat. He was 8. What 8 year old knows that too much food makes you fat. Oh right, Japanese ones.

I’m really not complaining here. It’s a wonderful thing that children understand food and nutrition, much unlike their American counterparts (is that rude? I can’t tell anymore). I also don’t really mind old ladies pointing out my temporary flaws. It’s cultural, right? I’m learning a new culture. It’s just bizarre still to have so many people around me look after me and give me advice I didn’t ask for. I’m an adult! I know where pimples come from!

What I’m getting at is that if you come to Japan, or go to any foreign country, roll with it. Accept these little tidbits of seemingly weird stuff. Maybe sometimes it’s rude, but most of the time, it’s just a difference in culture.

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Japan Adventure: PART TWO

Boy, has this been a crazy two weeks months! Sorry about the lateness. So, where did I leave off? Kyoto. Right. After Kyoto/Osaka, we flew to Fukuoka via the ever-cheap Peach Airlines. We actually got in pretty late, and we were staying in a new hostel that closes its front desk at 9, so we got our keys from a little pouch waiting for us at the front desk. This place, part of the Khaosan chain of hostels, was super nice. Our room was a private double bunk complete with a shower and toilet! And it was well air-conditioned! I definitely recommend it if you’re staying in Fukuoka.

Anyway, we were really hungry, so we walked to Hakata Station and went to eat at the only Mexican food restaurant I know of in Kyushu. It is so good. We had some drinks and tacos and even chatted with the employees a bit. Despite the fact my brother knows zero Japanese, he managed to impress the waiter with his height and Spanish skills. Man, people here are awesome. If some weird giant who didn’t speak English went to America and try to do the same thing, he’d probably be greeted by squint-eyed stares and a few cold shoulders. Japan, guys. Japan.

After parting with our new friends, we headed back to the hostel and went to sleep. The next day, we took the bus to Dazaifu. Dazaifu is a pretty well know town in Fukuoka that has some nice historical sites and really delicious grilled mochi (umegaemochi 梅ヶ枝餅). We did get a bit lost trying to find some ruins, but overall I think it was a nice morning!

After Dazaifu, we went back to the city and headed to the beach! Fukuoka has quite a few beaches, but as we were without a car, we chose the most convenient rather than the most beautiful. Momochi Seaside Park is where we ended up, and it wasn’t actually that bad. But oh, is the beach scene in Japan different. Most girls were either fully clothed or wearing shirts over their swimsuits. The guys mostly looked normal I suppose, but most people were huddle under tents or drinking under canopies. That I can relate to. I will never understand going to the beach to tan, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do that here! It’s expected, but definitely different from what I’m used to. We hung out in the sand for a while, then decided to get out of the sun and get some food. As we were sitting down, a reggae-ish group came up to the stage and played a short set. With the food, the booze, the sound of the waves, and the music playing, it felt like a beach back home in Texas. I definitely got sunburned, but the nostalgia made it worthwhile.

After two days in Fukuoka, we headed home to Kagoshima. I was probably more excited to be in Kagoshima with my brother than in any other place. We got in on a Friday evening and met some of my friends in the city for dinner. I was actually a bit worried about getting back to Shibushi though, because I couldn’t drive and my car was at a shop getting inspected. My previous arrangements fell through, but luckily a very amazing person offered to give my brother and me a ride. We had to take the ferry from Kagoshima to the Osumi side, and the ferry terminal is not exactly convenient to get to from this person’s home. Not to mention it was getting really late. However, this particular person is pretty awesome and insisted it was no problem.

My brother and I made it back home, I set up his futon, I worried about him sleeping on the floor, he said a place to sleep is a place to sleep, he lied down, he said, “This is nice,” and we were out. The next day we picked up my car from the shop and went on a mini drive through Kagoshima and Miyazaki. I thought my brother would think the south was boring, but he loved it. He told me he wished we had just come here for the whole time. Kyushu is quite beautiful, but you never know what a 20-year-old boy will like.

After our drive, we headed to a city called Tarumizu to see my host family and go to a summer festival. We met at mom’s house and were greeted by many friends and a full temakizushi spread. They had unagi, y’all. Both my brother and I were in heaven. He did say it was hard for him to hear so much Japanese and not understand anything, but with good food and a lot of smiling, you don’t really need words.

Following dinner, we headed to the festival. The fireworks were shot from a platform in the bay, and the display over the water was perfect. I’m really glad he got to see Japanese fireworks and experience Japanese hospitality. I think I scored a few points on that one.

The next day, we headed north to Kirishima to visit the Open Air Art Museum. For a museum in the mountains of rural Japan, it was awesome. Just look at the pictures (coming soon).

I wasn’t able to take pictures of the gallery works, but they too were great.

It was so so hot that day, so we decided to spend the afternoon at a swimming hole/waterfall. I enjoyed it, but I think my brother felt awkward. He had experienced his first real encounter with “the stare” and it got to him. I can talk about this later, but it has never really bothered me. When it happens, my first thought is always, “is there something on my face?!” But for some people, “the stare” is soul crushing.

Anyway, we cleaned up and met my host family again for sushi! Again, my brother was pleased both with the food and the kindness of my friends. Afterwards, Yumi gave me a bag of small traditional gifts for my brother to send home. She’s a dream, I’m telling you. Perfect.

I don’t know what my brother did on Monday because I was gone at the prefectural driving center all day getting grilled about my seemingly fake Texas license (more on that later). That night we stayed a friend’s house near the airport and got up early for his departure.

My brother tends to be reserved in his emotions, but I feel like he had a good time. I know I made some planning mistakes and the trip could have been so much better, but my brother got to see a piece of my new life and that felt really good. Helping him out and getting us around Japan gave me more confidence in my language and communication abilities as well. And him being here somehow solidified that I do live here, and I could live here for quite a while.

After his trip, he told me he is dying to travel again and that he may soon be studying abroad. I’m just really proud of him, I guess. Not everyone has the means to go abroad, but at the same time, not everyone wants to. There are plenty of people completely content with staying at home forever. For me, traveling and living outside of America has taught me so much about myself and the world. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

If you have the chance to travel, to visit a family member in another country, do it. Forget about the money, and just do it. There’s nothing better you can do for yourself, I think.