Flossing in Japan and the States

Sara Portesan

So, being that I am almost 1/4 of the way into studying abroad, I though it time to do a quick comparison.

Lets start with the important things.

Flossing. American dentists (or at least mine) always stress the importance of flossing a few times every week, though preferably every day. I asked my Obaasan if Japanese dentists said that too, and she said no (I think). At any rate, no one else in my family flosses (except for Obaasan). Now that I think of it, maybe we hadn’t been talking about flossing, but about toothpicks, because I always see her using toothpicks. She also said she had a lot of floss if I needed any, but   I bet we were talking about toothpicks because I have seen lots of them, yet   no piles of floss anywhere.

Halloween. Like Christmas here, Halloween means you can buy cute, adorable things, from decorations to food. I think there may be clubs and different places that have Halloween themed parties, but I am not really in the know there. I did see two kids today in costumes though, so there must be parties of some type, even if there is no trick or treating or haunted hospitals. Which reminds me! One of my host family’s previous students threw my younger brother and his friends a Halloween party.   Which makes me the lamest host sister ever. The closest I get to throwing him a party is asking him if he will play soccer with me, which he always avoids directly answering. (I take that as a thanks, but no way.)

Social Hierarchy. We had to do a little interview with a Japanese person on Japanese people typically think of themselves. For example, one of the questions was “is social hierarchy important?” and the answer was yes, very. A Japanese student was complaining the other day that it makes it hard to get a job, or to move up, because your position within the company is based on are, not necessarily on your skill level. Also, being really nice to your seniors will probably help you out more than if you are talented. I will probably never encounter this problem firsthand, but one I can and do come across is keigo, a different form of speech used when talking to your superiors. Japanese is difficult enough for me already, keigo really just makes it that much worse. Anytime we have a tour guide,, or the voice of the train comes on to announce the next stop and not to forget your luggage, they use keigo, and I am so lost. I want to ask people to be ruder towards me, please, but don’t know how. Luckily, as a gaijin,  I don’t have to know how to speak too politely. In fact, a lot of rude/ incorrect things gaijin do are forgiven. Speaking of gaijin…

Gaijin (foreigners). They are so obvious here! In America you can’t really tell from a distance if someone is American or not, since we come from all over (depending on where you live, that is), but in Japan, if you are not Japanese, you stick out. Which is hard, because Japanese society is, from my perspective, a lot about fitting in. Being similar to everyone else is a good thing here. Individuality and a desire to be unique and stand out is not as desirable as I think it is in the States. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different. And it kind of sucks for non Japanese looking people like me, because we do stand out, and attract sometimes  undesired  attention. Of course, sometimes this attention is deserved. Like when I do something embarrassing, like the time I pushed the emergency button in the public bathroom instead of the flush button (why don’t they teach us those kanji?). Don’t worry though, I just say I am from Canada. Just kidding, Canada!

Homework. Its true, studying abroad may means less homework (at least for me). But there are so many different things I can and want to do here that if I didn’t have any homework, I still don’t think I could do them all. This means every minute of homework is painful. Except that it isn’t actually painful because I love my classes and what we are learning. I am in Japanese classes, an art class, and an Industrial Pollution class with an amazing professor from Smith (this is seriously an awesome class. This Friday we are going to an incinerator, woohoo!) and a Japanese calligraphy “practica” which is like a Whtiman activity course (pass/fail and lots of fun)

Mountains. They may call them mountains, and I may say I am going hiking, but please know that I know these are only rather large hills.

For example,  for my industrial pollution class  we went to the Kyoto Conference Center which is like a super sick space craft that landed in the middle of a beautiful, uncrowded part of Kyoto.


I miss the Olympics and the Cascades, and their snow capped cap peaks. Speaking of which…


Miss. There is no direct translation for the idea “to miss” in Japan, as in, I miss my friends and family, or I miss real mountains. You can be lonely without your friends and family, or want to go to the mountains, but there is no “missing” these things. You can also be nostalgic for your childhood, but that is a bit different.

To wrap up, the truth about the mysterious, always empty Buzz building I showed a picture of last time has been uncovered! Friday night, I was shutting my window and noticed the sign was glowing blue. Lo and behold, standing in the doorway were people! Lots of people, a whole line of young people waiting to get in. I asked m host brother, expecting to hear a certain answer this time, and indeed it is a club. Well, he said it was for young people anyway, like karaoke only except it isn’t karaoke he said, and then he acted out someone playing a guitar. But he looked pretty unsure, I don’t think he knows what goes down in there exactly either.   I will find out before I leave. I promise.

Here are some random pictures from last week.

Jidai Matsuri last Sunday. Above and below.

Pole throwing group. Below.


And, a lovely mushroom. Happy Halloween!