Why am I still here?

I’ve been living in Japan for three and a half years now, and sometimes I catch myself thinking, Why am I still here? What am I looking for? What am I doing with my life? But I never have to think very long for my questions to be answered. Here are some of my current reasons for staying in Japan:

1. OMOTENASHI–Customer service

My mom always told me that I should never settle for anyone who doesn’t treat me like a princess. She was obviously talking about relationships, but it definitely applies to customer service as well. In America, they say “the customer is always right,” but in Japan, “the customer is god.”

I went to a department store last week a few minutes before they opened, and a staff member came out in her fancy uniform to unlock the doors and great everyone waiting. She said they’d be opening soon and apologized for making us wait. At exactly 10:00AM, she came back with three other fancily-dressed staff members, who all bowed deeply towards the crowd and energetically said “Good morning and welcome. Please come in!” They opened the doors so politely and personally greeted everyone entering. Then, as I passed each vendor in the basement to get to the vegan bento shop, I noticed literally everyone bowing and saying “Good morning and welcome!” This happens everywhere, but this was the first time I’d been to a department store right as they were opening. There weren’t many people buying things yet, so the staff had plenty of time to greet and bow. The amazing customer service and attention to detail was so much more visible because I was early.

Granted, this was a high end department store, but most places in Japan are like this. Makeup counter staff are super flattering and helpful, restaurant staff almost never get anything wrong, and even fast food workers are super nice. It may all be fake, but it works on me. I think clothing and beauty store staff have single-handed scooped me out of my shy, introverted past and brought me into this new world where I like talking to people. I’m treated like a princess all the time, and it’s really changed me. Bravo, Japan. BRAVO.

2. Health Consciousness

Minus Japan’s annoying disregard for the dangers of cigarette smoke (it is legal to smoke almost everywhere here for some VERY STRANGE AND ILLOGICAL REASON), Japan is a pretty healthy place. Kids learn nutrition from a young age, and their school lunches are carefully thought out and prepared fresh. Because of this, people recognize that certain foods shouldn’t be consumed all the time. It should be easy, but America still has a hard problem differentiating healthy from cancerous so apparently it isn’t. I will say that there is a lot of pressure here to be thin and thus many people take it too far and end up with eating disorders, but that happens literally everywhere. Overall, Japan has quite a few healthy restaurants and a generally good grasp on nutrition.

Also, veganism hasn’t really caught on where I live, so there aren’t a lot of vegan junk foods for me to be tempted by. I literally have to make my own food for almost every meal, and I eat pretty clean. It’s not hard for me to be healthy here at all. AND if you read my last post, you know that health care is super cheap as well. Win-win.

3. Safety

Bad things happen in Japan. I know this. Yet I feel very safe walking home at night from the station. With headphones in. Occasionally holding bags of groceries. I have had a few encounters with suspected stalkers, but the experience never lasts more than a few minutes. In America, walking around alone in the middle of the day could gain you a lot of unsolicited advances. Old guys in cars used to always try to pick me up when I was in college. Now I don’t have to worry about that nearly as much.

I know I should be careful, and I am, but I feel like Japan does have a more peaceful, safe atmosphere. There aren’t usually large men around the corner waiting to rob you at gunpoint. Even Osaka, Japan’s most dangerous city, feels much safer than the average American city. This has allowed me to feel more comfortable going places alone and just doing what I need to do to live.

4. Public Transportation/Proximity to City Center

I love driving and belting my favorite songs just as much as the next person. I don’t, however, love driving with a purpose. Having to drive to work or the doctor or the mall is stressful. What if there’s traffic and I’m late? Where do I park? Also, gas prices are ridiculous in Japan, and car maintenance is even worse. If I had a personal chauffeur I’d have no problem, but unfortunately I am neither rich nor important enough for one of those. I was made to live in a place with good public transportation. Japan is that place. Between trains, subways, buses, and taxis you can get anywhere you need to without having to drive yourself. It’s lifesaving.

Japan is also really small and densely populated, so everything is centrally located in cities. If you live even somewhat close to a city, you can get there pretty easily and find anything you may need. Texas is a vast land full of cows and long, winding highways. Everything good is a least two hours away. At this point in my life, I’d take Japan over that any day.

5. Fashion

America has its pockets of good fashion. The problem is that they’re all so far away from each other and only so many people even care about fashion, that it was never really that exciting for me. I had to rely mostly on fashion blogs and runway videos to get any kind of style inspiration. Now, I just have to walk outside. Japanese people just seem to care more in general about their outward appearances. That, or I just find standard Japanese style to be more appealing than its American counterpart. Either way, Japan is full of beautiful, fashionable eye candy. People-watching here is like watching NY Fashion Week and not a train wreck like it is in America. Seriously, even if Japan had Walmart, People of Walmart would not exist. I am so so grateful for that.

Recently I’ve been seeing more and more stylish old ladies wearing very odd but amazing clothes, and I can’t wait to grow up and be one of them. Maybe Japanese people have more money to spend on nice clothes because housing tends to be cheaper, or maybe the need to fit in just forces people to look nice because of peer pressure…either way, I enjoy going out and seeing what everyone else is wearing.

Disclaimer: I am not trying to be vain or judgmental; I simply really care about personal style and think fashion is the perfect way to tell people about yourself without having to say anything.

6. I’m having fun

Quite simply, I don’t feel the need to leave because I’m having so much fun. I love my job and getting to meet so many amazing bilingual children and their families. I love teaching English as a foreign language. I love teaching Japanese people about America and what I know about the rest of the world. I love being an outsider because there are so few expectations of me, and I like proving people wrong. I love learning and living the Japanese language. I love it all. Everyday is an adventure here even after three years, and I hope that feeling never stops. Then I’ll just have to move again.

 

In conclusion, there are a lot of really good reasons I choose to stay in Japan. I still don’t know how long I’ll be here, but for now I am enjoying life and finding happiness. That alone is reason enough to stay.

 

Check out my instagram for current pictures of my adventures (which admittedly haven’t been so amazing lately, but that’ll change soon)! See you soon.

Snow Storms and Slipping: My first trip to a Japanese emergency room

You’re probably thinking based on the title of this post that I slipped in a snow storm, but you would be mistaken. It definitely was snowing when I slipped, but rather embarrassingly I was actually inside my apartment. You see, last weekend, Fukuoka received a cold snap and a large amount of snow which is rare for this region. I was safe in my bed asleep when the majority of it fell. However, some time between 4 AM and daybreak, I really needed to use the restroom.  All this trying to stay hydrated in winter stuff really comes back to bite you. So I quickly got out of bed, neglected to put slippers onto my socked feet, and made my way down the stairs of my loft apartment. Ok, so you see where this is going right? It’s cold, my feet are slippery, and I have wood stairs to get down. I made it down most of them, but on the last four or so, I slipped way more than can be easily corrected and landed on my right side. I initially thought the pain was just temporary; it would bruise like when you hit your leg on a low table and that would be it. But of course it didn’t. I still really needed to use the restroom, so I awkwardly sat on my porcelain throne while moaning and whimpering like lost puppy. I attempted to go back to sleep, but could not get at all comfortable. Somehow though, my determination to get my beauty rest paid off, and I got a few more hours of sleep.

In the morning, IT WAS SNOWING! My balcony was solid white, and everything was glowing. So naturally I continued to ignore the pain, because a Southern girl needs to enjoy the snow while it lasts. My mom wanted to see it as well, so I video called her. I told her about my fall and being the good mother she is, she said, “Why haven’t you gone to the hospital!?”

Anyway, I left my place to go get some soy milk, because that’s how much I care about Sunday morning cereal and how little I care about bodily pain. Two minutes into my walk, I could not breathe, and I was literally doubling over in pain, clutching my swollen elbow under my chest to support my surely cracked ribs. Luckily, I live a mere five minutes from a huge Red Cross hospital. I passed the path to the supermarket (breakfast can wait, I guess) and found the emergency center at the hospital.

I’m an American, if you didn’t know. We don’t just waltz up to the emergency room on a holiday so nonchalant. It’s so expensive, people don’t go unless it’s a life-threatening situation. At least not in my family. So as soon as the nurse sat me down to wait, I started freaking out about the price. I was in pain, okay? I wasn’t thinking about that fact that Japan has pretty great national health care, and that I’ve never paid more than $50 for anything medical related here. Still, I was freaking out. I asked a group of other people who live in Japan online if they have experience with emergency situations, and they all assured me it would not be too expensive even if I did need X-rays and medication. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. I only had 5000 yen on me, which is less than $50.

After about 20 minutes of waiting, the doctor called me in to talk and look at my elbow. He wasn’t really concerned with my rib cage though, even though I was convinced I had a bruised lung or something. So he said they’ll take some x-rays and see what they can do.

I waited in that waiting room for two hours watching the news freak out about the snow. Everything was cancelled. Trains, buses, freeways were closed for the day. Some other people in the waiting room were trying to get home and had to wait 30 minutes for a taxi because the taxi companies were all that busy. Like most of Texas, Kyushu, Japan can not function if fluffy white stuff falls from the sky.

Eventually the x-ray man came to get me, and they took two scans of my elbow and two of my rib cage. All of them hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I felt so stupid when they asked if I fell down stairs because they were frozen, and I had to tell them I fell in my not frozen apartment. Pain and humiliation complement each other so well. Throw in missing an amazing opportunity to make snow angels, and you have a very sad Kori.

After the x-rays, I was out in about 20-30 minutes. The doctor said nothing was majorly broken, but it’s hard to see hairline fractures or cracks in the chest area, so he sent me away with some pain meds and told me to come back if everything still hurts in two weeks. “But sir, I can’t breathe.” “Oh,” he said, “you’ll be fine. It’s just swollen and painful now. Come back if it feels worse.”

Once everything was over, I got nervous again because I’d have to settle the bill. The receptionist called my name and said….”It’s 4300 yen.” Thank you all that is good. So I got my pain pills and left the hospital. At this point, I was starving, so little broken me still went to the supermarket with 700 yen in pocket. I had to have my soy milk! My huge bowl of Cocoa Krispies and a long nap made everything better.

If you are wondering, I am fine! My elbow only hurts occasionally and isn’t swollen at all anymore. I still can’t sleep properly because of my ribs, but they’ll heal in time. I’m just so satisfied with the insurance system in Japan. In America, injuring yourself can be such a nightmare, because on top of all of your pain, your wallet hurts too. But in Japan, you can go to the ER, get x-rays done, and get two weeks of medication for under $50. Tis a great country indeed!