Aug 31, 2016
These are a few of the accidental habits I brought back to America after living in Japan for just one year. There are lots more, but for now let's focus on these three habits. These are different from feelings of reverse culture shock – they're small positive lifestyle changes influenced by living in Japan.
Carrying a small hand towel
I started to carry a hand towel most of the time to use after washing my hands in public places. A lot of public bathrooms in Japan don’t have electric hand dryers. I've never seen paper towels for drying your hands in bathrooms in Japan. Way to be environmentally friendly, Japan.
I see most women carrying their own towel and most men carry a handkerchief for the same reason. By hand towel, I mean washcloth size (about 33 centimeters square), not the larger rectangle-shaped American hand towels. If you work in a school in Japan, there won’t be anything for drying your hands, so bringing a hand towel is a good idea. They're easy to find in 100 yen stores in a variety of designs.
Brushing after lunch
In my previous school, there was a time designated for brushing your teeth right after lunch time. It was in the schedule – five minutes to take care of your teeth. They even played the same song every day so we knew when it was time to brush our teeth. (It wasn’t a song about brushing your teeth either, it was an old pop song in English. I wish I knew what it was, but I only know it’s sung by a woman who is probably Swedish, according to the Vice Principal.)
At other schools I've worked in, students aren't expected to brush their teeth after lunch, which is a little disappointing. I've noticed most teachers in Japan brush their teeth and some students at least rinse with the water used to rinse out their milk bottles.
I think this is a good habit for obvious health reasons, plus when we work with others, it's better not to have bad breath or food stuck in our teeth.
Air drying laundry
This is normal, even in America for a lot of families, but unfortunately can be seen as lower class in the states. I think it makes a lot of sense and clothes dry quickly when the weather is good.
In Japan, I don’t know anyone who owns a clothes dryer. We have a washing machine with a dryer function, which has never been used, even during the rainy season or winter. It’s seen as a waste of energy to use a clothes dryer - Japanese people use less than half the energy of Americans, per capita. (Again Japan wins for environmental friendliness.)
There are all kinds of cute laundry items (I have this octopus from IKEA & love it), like mesh bags with Hello Kitty designs and hanging clips for small items like socks. On nice days in Japan, you can see laundry hanging on balconies everywhere. On colder or wet days, clothes can be dried on hangers inside open closets or hung from the curtain rods over windows.
For me, it was a waste to spend money on the dryer when it was always sunny in southern California. I didn’t have a balcony but used the closet or the backyard for drying clothes.
These aren't huge changes, but simple cultural differences which became completely normal to me, after just one year of living in Japan. They're not specifically Japanese habits either. I feel like they're positive and environmentally responsible habits that could be followed in any country.
Not so much a habit perhaps, but an oral twitch - My thinking sounds have changed. I no longer say 'Well...', 'Yeah, I know what you mean ... ' etc. I just use noises instead; Lot's of 'うんんん's and 'へいいい' s, when I go back home for visits. I think my table manners might have suffered as well; I think I would probably be guilty of picking up dishes and shovelling food straight into my mouth.