Whether we like to admit it or not, where we were brought up has a huge impact on the person we become. From our way of thinking to what foods we prefer, it’s hard to deny that our environment shapes our personal identity.
While some people come from nations that are veritable melting pots of backgrounds, languages, and cultures, others come from a country with much more homogeneity. Japan is one such country, and its people have a strong sense of identity—though they may not readily admit it.
But often during a trip to a foreign country, there comes a moment of self-realization where they become aware of just how Japanese they really are. A recent survey asked Japanese travelers to identify the five moments they felt most Japanese when abroad. The results are really quite telling.
Taken by website goo Ranking, the survey asked 1,731 Japanese people between April 24 and May 8 this year to vote for the moment during a trip overseas that they became most aware of their Japanese-ness. Here’s how the results came out:
5. Being surprised when an employee couldn’t calculate the change (128 votes)
I would be surprised too if a store clerk struggled with a quick calculation, since almost everywhere you go any transaction you make is calculated by the register. But if it was the case that a shop or restaurant employee actually couldn’t count out the change they were supposed to give back, well… Then again, having worked through high school and university in customer service, I do have sympathy for store employees. The hours are long, the work is repetitive, customers can be awful… Sometimes brain-farts happen, folks!
4. Finding the sweets or beverages too sweet (174 votes)
Japanese confectionaries are distinctive for their subtle sweetness, so as to allow the consumer to enjoy the distinct flavors of the ingredients without being overwhelmed by a huge punch of sugar in the palate. As for beverages, though, I have to disagree. Coca-cola and Pepsi are just as widely sold here in Japan as they are anywhere else, not to mention all the super sugar-laden teas, coffees, and fruit drinks, which are to me, personally, just too sweet, so it surprises me that so many Japanese people would be shocked by the sweetness of food and drinks outside their country.
3. Not being able to handle the big portion sizes at restaurants (78 votes)
I’m not too sure about other countries, but America at least is known for serving rather large portions. Yes, this all depends on where you go for your meal, but in general, when compared to the average size of a meal you’d receive at a restaurant in Japan, we Americans do tend to consume quite a bit more.
2. Being shocked at the poor customer service (212 votes)
What constitutes “good” and “bad” service is entirely subjective, as each individual has their own idea of how they want their dining experience/ hotel stay etc to be. Cultural differences also determine what is expected of an employee towards customers. In Japan, the interaction is much more formal than what you would expect in the United States, where more casual, friendly interactions between customers and employees are desired. For the average Japanese patron, however, customer service outside of their homeland undoubtedly comes across as rather lacking, since Japanese store clerks are trained to follow set scripts and carry out actions in a very specific way.
1. Longing for a bowl of plain white rice (341 votes)
By a landslide margin, the number one instance when Japanese tourists overseas realized, “Yep, I’m Japanese after all,” was when they wished they had a steaming-hot bowl of plain white rice to accompany their meal. It’s not so surprising when you think about how much importance rice has played throughout their country’s history, and how much it is still consumed by each individual every day (it wouldn’t even be unusual to be served rice at every meal of the day). Some Japanese will insist that the rice grown in such-and-such region tastes the best, or that using good water when cooking rice really enhances the flavor, so don’t try to tell them they can substitute Japanese sticky white rice for the inexpensive plain white rice you generally find in US supermarkets either. It’s just not the same!
And there you have it: things that make the Japanese feel Japanese. Any of you, fellow expats and travelers, have a similar moment of realization while overseas in which you truly felt you were the nationality you were born as?