Temples and Vending Machines: Japan

What I’ve most often said about Japan is that it feels like a timewarp to me. Both technologically progressive and socially conservative, the most culture shock I’ve felt was in Japan. I loved it and I didn’t find adapting difficult, but it’s the place with the most distinctive and different culture from the US that I’ve been in. Perhaps because of a professor I met during my classes there, one thing that stands out in my memory is the vending machines. 

The professor said vending machines were a part of his “Oz moment” aka realizing, so to speak, he wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Vending machines are on every corner in Japan, along with trash cans, of course, so you don’t litter. You can get coffee, milk tea, and all kinds of drinks from them. Seeing how pervasive they are and all the drinks you can’t get in the US in that way really drills in the vending machines as a distinct feature of Japan. My personal “Oz moment” wasn’t due to a physical thing, though.

What really hit me was the collectivist culture. The strong bonds I created in Japan outnumber those I created in other countries during my study abroad due to this. I’d never experienced the kind of determination to take care of each other and show one another around as I did during the brief span of a month in Japan. There was an effort to make sure everyone was included. The last day there, everyone was scrambling to take pictures together, handing out gifts and cards, members of my group even saw us off to the airport. 

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How did we even get that close though? I suppose this is where the ‘temples’ portion of my title comes in. My favorite memory of the time in Japan is when we went to a hot spring in the mountains. At night, we all stuffed into one large room and played games for hours (the group was 30+). I’m not the type to easily feel comfortable in “party” kinds of situations, but it was so cozy and hilarious-I’ll always cherish that. 

Right now, I’m awaiting one of my friends from Japan coming to the US for her own study abroad. It’s incredible to me that we’ve been able to still chat and maintain our relationship for over a year now. It’s no small thing to maintain relationships over different time zones, but I’ve learned it doesn’t matter if you care enough about a person.  

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