My Definition of Home

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

The few months I spent away from “home” changed my definition of that term completely.  But not in the way I thought it would do. My feeling of affinity to a place developed into another direction, into the opposite of my expectations. The more I realized that, the more it turned out that I´d known myself less than I thought so far.

To explain that, I have to go a little far afield and talk about as what kind of person I´ve considered myself till now. What (stubborn) picture of me was in my head. I imagined myself always as an “open-minded” character, the one who´s about to sleep on mattresses in South East Asia, who explores the neighbourhoods of a Manhattan or travels spontaneous through Northern Europe. The one who could easily adapt to a new culture and survive in a foreign environment, who never knows in what corner of the world she´s pitching up her tents. To cut it short: Whose home is the world itself. That picture of me mainly comes from the fact that I´ve never seen myself as an Austrian patriot. I was never the one who´s waving excitedly the flag at a match of the national soccer team (also because there´s rarely anything to be excited about) or would see herself in a Dirndl. Don´t get me wrong: I love Dirndls, I´ve even got two by myself, and I do sing the national anthem if it comes to it. Not at all that I was not fond of my country, just the fact that I didn´t define my own character by it, that my personality wasn´t shaped by the nation I belong to. I thought that I would have been a similar personage or even the same if I´d been born in another (Western) country, that a character is predominantly influenced just by your parent´s education. That was what I expected myself to be.

Actually a human being doesn´t work like that. Only by now, only when you are separated from the safe hands of your country, your traditions, your habits, your familiar environment, you realise how much you´re defined by that. Just if you´re apart from the things you know you recognise how essential they are actually for you. Even and primarily the small things, the ones you didn´t even notice. The fact that the vehicles stroll on the wrong side. That you cannot get brown bread here. That the sun sets so early in the afternoon. That you´re in most cases the only blondie (ok, that´s just for me). All the tiny things you´re so used to have that you can´t even imagine them to be not self-evident. What dominates your daily life influences you in a certain way, the things you like as well as all the annoying ones.
That was what I´d not been willing to accept: I always considered myself to be an “independent” person who´s standin on her own (how ridiculous that sounds now). And now, the short time I´ve already spent in Japan, in a completely different culture made me learn about myself that I´m more an Austrian than I thought. That your nation does decide your personality (or at least influences it), if you want that or not. And I only learned that by being away from my familiar space, from living out of my comfort zone. Yeah, the journey I´ve been into so far made me understand myself a little more as I expected that before. But not in the way I expected it.

So the feeling of home is definitely aligned with a specific place. It´s a fabulous imagination to call the entire planet your home, but it can´t be more than imagination, as the little human brain is too small to deal with a term that wide-spread. The coziness is required to be associated with a certain corner of the world, a certain culture, a certain nation. The place where you grow up, where you do our first steps, spend your childhood will always be in your memories as your real home, even if you would´nt expect that. I learned that the culture in that you´re raised up, the beliefs you got told and values you got taught as a child will always stuck unconsciously in the back of your head. And amusingly in the far even the things of your culture that get on your nerves, that you´d wish to get rid of, start to seem surprisingly special and familiar. So in my case some things of the Austrian culture and characteristics that totally stressed my up don´t appear that bad right now (for example the preference of Austrians to motschgern). And even clichés and stereotypes of your culture tend to become rather intimate for you (In Austria I´d have never toyed with the idea of going into a Sound of Music show).

The feeling of coziness, of trust, of relief of the society´s difficulties does start at a door, and is not only associated with the people you´re surrounded with, as I was assuming before. Now that I know better, I have to admit that I´m in a way more dependent that I imagined myself to be. And in this case that is not a bad thing.

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

Exploring the unexpected

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

Foreigners usually have a typical idea of Japan in mind that´s common all over the world. And as clichés always have kind of a true pip, that image often matches with reality. But getting off the beaten track there are some things that do not necessarily fit in the expectations from abroad and that could surprise one or the other tourist (such as me). Things that you would not expect Japan to be or to have. So I picked out a few of these catching my eye and maybe they surprise you a little as well.

  1. Vending machines.
    That was one of the first things I marvelled about when I came to Japan and what catches every tourist´s eye. The bunch of vending machines behind every corner and door. You find these rare species of Japanese curiosities on crowded squares, especially at train stations. But don´t expect that these are the only natural inheritances for them, you bump into them in lonely alleys and parks where no single soul is coming around and they´re always fulfilled. That´s a huge mystery in Japan: Who´s gonna filling them up all the time? I have never seen anyone doing this so far. So maybe there are some tiny Japanese goblins (or pokémons) whose job is to assure enough possibilities to drink.
  2. Japan is very Japanese.
    That might sound way curious, but what that sentence is supposed to say is that Japan is not as international as you might assume. It´s still an island, a very exclusive island where 99% percent of the population is native Japanese. Foreigners, though as they´re getting more and more, are still a rare thing here, specifically in provincial areas outside the metropolis. I definitely stand out here in my appearance. First, I was a bit irritated by all the stares on a blonde girl, but after some time you get adapted to be an alien in a more or less homogenous environment. And the less you care the less you attract glances.
  3. WLAN is rarely available here.
    Well, Japan, the state of technology and electric curiosities, where robots can communicate with you and the toilets have bunches of technic options, you could say that free WLAN is something natural here. A friend asked me once whether there is free Internet connection all over the country. That´s a dream far away.
    Don´t get me wrong, there is actually WLAN in several areas and restaurants, especially at chains like Starbucks and McDonald´s, but to get access to it you must have a Japanese telephone charge. And even then it often doesn´t work if you are a foreigner with special licences. So I´m sorry to destroy your dreams but if you come to Japan you should be ready for that.
  4. You don´t give tips in restaurants.
    That is something that is completely unknown in Japan. In Europe you give tips to appreciate a waiter´s service (or to help them to survive as in America) but here you only will earn a blank look by them. They will give you the money back assuming that you calculated wrong. A tip is even something that might be considered impolite so you should not take the risk and express your gratitude by thanking and saying a few honorable words.
  5. Japan´s pets aren´t animals anymore.
    That is maybe one of the weirdest things for foreigners coming to Japan. In case you see here a pram standing around or accompanied by ecstatic young women don not assume that a child is lying in there. It´s even more probable that a little white poodle is holding its nose out of the carriage, maybe dressed in little pastel costumes. The hype about the “cuteness” of little animals is enormous here (and absolutely overdone from my point of view). In many streets you can see pet hotels, dog oases and animal equipment stores where your sweet little darling can be treated as far from its wild nature as possible. Recently I saw a woman having a dressed rabbit on her arm. That picture of sweet innocent animals fits perfectly in the Japanese longing for sweetness and youth and I understand the enthusiasm around that. But nevertheless I think that the natural sense for treating an animal getting lost by degrading them to fluffy toys (as though I like fluffy). Of course that´s all generalization and I´m convinced the conditions in the land are different, but in Tokyo, where I´m living now that´s something that really catched my eye. I always imagine my grandma thinking of me to be going bananas if I´d let my dog eat on the table.
  6. Japan is very tropic.
    I didn´t really expect the weather here to be a lot different to my home. Until I came here. And I felt it.
    The Japanese are celebrating spring and autumn and that not without reason: What´s between is quite bearable sometimes. Tokyo is actually located on the same degree of latitude as Sicilia which surprised me as I heard it first. In the cooler seasons you don´t really notice that as the winter can be pretty freezing, but the summer is extremely hot and muggy. The sun never stops shining, in the night the air doesn´t cool down and there are not really thunderstorms turning up as in Europe (apart from the taifuns naturally, but they usually just arrive in the beginning of autumn). Japanese have a special word for that feeling of the merciless sun on your head: atsui 暑い. You hear it often in sweaty summer days during chasing the tiny places of shadow.
  7. The most frequently used English word: Starbucks
    In Austria drinking a coffee from Starbucks is something very special (as there aren´t many) and you keep the cup with the mermaid proud for several days in your room or share a picture of it on Instagram (still kind of provincial, though). When I came to Tokyo the first time I also was like that: Drinking a coffee there was something I was looking forward to and at every corner I saw one I wanted to have cup of it. Afterwards I got aware that I had been a victim of their actually quite simple marketing concept (that´s successful all over the world). Having a drink at Starbucks isn´t something extraordinary in Japan as you´ll find a store literally everywhere. At any station, any busy square or boulevard you will not pass without having seen the mermaid smiling at you. You can have your karameru kappuchino in every street if you turn around. I dare to say that Japan has the highest Starbucks-density in the world (maybe apart from the U.S.). And it seems not to work bad, even without young tourists following the hype.

So that was a little extract of the things in Japan that surprised me, amused me or is different to Europe. I feel like I´ll do another series of that format after some time as there are lots of other things that are surprising,  interesting or good to know about the country. Thank you for reading and have a nice, not-heated day with some coffee!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

Being a piece of the puzzle

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

My prospective teacher in my school I´m going to attend in Yokohama clarified me one day the fundamental cultural difference between Japan and Europe. He said: “Europe is an individualism society. Japan thinks in crowds.” That is basically everything you have to know before coming to Japan. Forget the bunches of tourist brochures and the must-see sightseeing destinations. You will come along with these two sentences if you know how to handle them well.
It sounds very simple but that is what´s noticable in every company you will be here, whether on the train, in restaurants, schools, convenience stores and other places where you get in connection with people. You will notice it in conversations and actions as Japanese will always apologize for leaving the lift before you, never (!) jump the queue or mainly let the other go first. They consider themselves as a part of a big  honourable circle that has to be treated respect- and careful. The great basis of social japanese codes of practise is to maintain the balance of Wa 和, meaning Harmony. That old Asian concept basically demands that the group´s belongings have to be over your personal interests.

Wa has to be valued.” -Shotokutaishi, Japanese Prince

Here the single person always will first regard the conditions of the group before striving for their own wishes. Their biggest anxieties are to disturb the harmony and rules or to interfere with somebody´s plans.
That all might sound a little weird for an European whose ambitions are always a bit more single-handed. We consider us naturally more as individualists  who are independent from others. Some of “us” may consider society as the ones above and are more likely to stand out from the crowd. We´d like to develop on our own as self-sufficient (Please keep in mind that that´s now ALL generalization!). To be only a little part of the puzzle is not urgently that what Westerners dream of.

But do not forget that Japanese behaviours have developed for huge amounts of centuries and that they don´t exist without reason. To explain that we have to have a little glance into Japanese geography.
You wouldn´t have  expected it so far but  most of Japan´s landscapes are just mountains. Yes, that´s right, about 80% of all the surface is covered by elevations. As there it´s not that easy to live in, that areas are sparely populated only by some farmers. So you have to imagine that enormous number of people (about 130 millions) into only 20% of the Japanese surface. To portray this in a picture: Take about half the U.S. population, crunch it into California (ca. Japan´s area size) and then minimize the surface to about 20% of it. Then you roughly have Japanese dimensions.
So maybe now you can imagine that it is important to take care of each other in Japan just because of the density of people living here. To organize and to handle that demands huge efforts of administration rules and also the willingness of people to pay attention to the other´s interests. The millions have to get along with each other. Otherwise that huge social building just could not exist.  So these being-part-of-the-group lifestyle might seem strange for a Westerner but on the other hand it´s very important to keep the public in harmony and safety. Just by experiencing the underground in the rush hours, being into those immense crowds on the train, when you cannot fall over because everyone stands so tight, makes you realize what it means to be part of such a gigantic community.
And Japan is used to it. The Japanese folks are used to the rush hours, the endless queues and the big assemblies of people they´re walking through. If I´ve got an overlook over the city´s skyscrapers or walk through one of Tokyo´s districts, everyone with its own character and subworld, I sometimes marvel how it´s possible to provide for that gigantic population. Just how to feed all that masses must be a huge effort to manage. So it is kind of understandable why there are employers for everything and everyone in Japan: People how work as guides, as waiters or who just direct the way you have to go next. That may be annoying at first sight but it is absolutely necessary. I often think of all the people living their lives next to each other, door beside door, and kind of admire that such a fireproofed society is possible.

Of course that all has it´s disadvantages, too. If there is anything you can´t be in Tokyo, it´s being alone. There is always someone next to you, probably a stranger. You always have to keep up that friendly face and you´re rarely undisturbed. If you come home exhausted after a long workday, you must expect to be shut in a big crowd or that you have to wait at the cash desk. That´s something all the people here have to be prepared for.  You´re always in public.
That can be very irritating. Especially if you´d grown up in the countryside (like me) where you´re sometimes  lucky to meet someone anyway, it can occur a real culture-shock (after the initial euphoria dropped). I stuck in that shock after some time but I simply got more or less used to it. But my little hometown and Tokyo are simply different universes!

There´s another thing that justifies the importance of Wa: The climate. The conditions are extreme here in Japan for various reasons I´m shure you already know (and I don´t want to bore you with). There are about 1.500 earthquakes every year, not to mention all the whirlwinds.
Currently, as I´m writing this post now, there is a taifun passing over Tokyo. It´s kind of strange how normal everyone behaves.
Earthquakes and tsunamis, taifuns and eruptions are the other components the Japanese population has to get along with. There are often strong winds and gales racing through the streets, branches are flying around, the raindrops fall horizontal on your face. Sometimes trains cancel and hundreds of people stuck at the stations. Misty weather comes as fast as it goes, you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. And the next day the sun is shining. Everything is clean, no rubbish is lying around and employers go to work as nothing would have happened. Crazy world.

So I suppose individuality is a relative term here. It´s not that you can´t be self-sufficient in Japan, but it´s just more difficult to stand out of the crowd here than in Europe, as there we do not have that strong feeling of homogeneity. But for good reasons as I´ve shown you already.

So that was a long one, but it´s been important to go a little deeper if you want to understand Japanese structures of community. It´s just a completely other way of thinking how society works. Thank you for reading and leave a comment if you want to!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif (love that expression)!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

Getting off from Europe

Well.

Okay. Is this stuff working? Right.

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

Welcome to my new fresh-opened website (I´m still excited)! Nice that you found your way through the million different pages that exist. I hope that you enjoy a little what you find in here.
There are hundreds of thousands different websites online and every day they´re getting more. And now there´s another one. Another site where you can read into the crazy thoughts of an overflowing teenage mind. So thank you for visiting my site, I´m honored that you spend a little of your leisure time with me!

You might wonder why an Austrian girl writes a travel blog about Japan in English (and you may have noticed the little influences françaises as well). So I should start with introducing myself, shouldn´t I? My name is Victoria, I´m a 16-year-old girl grown up in the countryside of Southern Austria (and no, that´s not where the kangaroos come from). In the middle of a green periphery I used to spend my time with ordinary daily life activities including music, sports and literature.  After some more or less unadventurous school years and struggles what to do with my life I recently got offered a huge chance to fulfill a big dream of me: To go abroad for some longer time and to experience a completely different culture. It has been my dream since I was a child to see as much of the world as I can. So you might not be surprised that I was literally over the moon as I got the opportunity to spend (probably) half a year in Asia, more accurate Japan and more exactly in the biggest centre of population in the world: Tokyo 東京, the city where you find high-tech buildings and ancient Asian traditions.

So the main purpose of writing this blog is to share my experiences with some people and to shorten the distances a little bit between the Asian and the Western world. At first sight Japan might look quite Western-adapted, but the society, the lifestyle and even the mind of people is completely different. It´s like entering a second life when you´re getting off the plane, checkin out your new environment and try to adapt to (or just understand) the new habits here.  At least if you stand at one of Tokyo’s huge crowded train platforms and feel like an illiterate because you can´t read anything you realise that some frightening new années de pelèrinage are beginning right here.

Tokyo is a labyrinth in order.  You can go everywhere there, whether to one of the popular big sightseeing streets or a twisty little alley, you will always find someone who can help you. Or at least tries to because the English skills of the inhabitants are usually not on the top (one good reason to study more Japanese). You could have therefore some difficulties to start here but as soon as you are more into the local behaviors you will not have any trickinesses.
I had gone to Tokyo several times before I actually settled here, so I know more or less the touristic side of the city. But I´m not yet used to some more hidden interesting places and I´m looking forward to exploring them in these huge Asian labyrinth. And I would love to share them with you!

So let´s jump into the materials and please apologize btw my non-perfect English as I´ve just written school articles in that language so far. It´s a possibility for me to improve myself by trial and error. I hope it´s quite understandable and proper to read.

Okay let´s get started and stop beating around the bush!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif (love that expression)!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V