The Consummate Traveler – When West Goes East

By Michele Goncalves
Epoch Times Staff
Created: February 2, 2013 Last Updated: February 2, 2013
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I find it fascinating that even with globalization sweeping this earth, the daily lives and customs of those living in the far-east can still be so drastically different than ours in the west. I am currently in Japan on a three-week business trip, and so far, I have experienced countless unforgettable moments of culture clash. I’d like to share some of these scenes with you in hopes of broadening the knowledge base of westerners who may find themselves here someday.

Masked Men:

The first memorable encounter was at my company’s office in Tokyo. After conducting several uneventful interviews with many colleagues and business contacts, there was a strange scene that occurred. Someone we needed to meet with came into our conference room wearing a very thick surgical mask and proceeded to keep the mask on during the entire interview! Our translator could barely understand a word he was saying. If you ever visit Japan, be prepared to see an uncomfortable number of surgical mask-clad people everywhere—including malls, places of business, and even when driving alone in their own car!

Fish Present:

Another head turning moment came when shopping for souvenirs at the mall in the HELLO KITTY store. My colleagues and I were happily checking out all the cute merchandise with the adorable and famous Japanese logo when we suddenly had to stop and stare at a food item wrapped for gift giving. No, it wasn’t cookies or chocolates. It was a dried up piece of squid/cuttlefish, wrapped up in cellophane and waiting for a bow for Valentine’s Day. Although we in the west can’t fathom that such an item would be considered a yummy treat, dried fish is a big deal in Japan and is a popular snack.

One size fits all?:

As for buying clothes in Japan, those of us larger ladies of the west should just stick to accessories. As we came to find out, there is only one size of clothing in most boutiques. They call it “free size,” while I call it the “in my dreams” size. Who would think that an entire population of individuals would be the same size? Well this apparently happens to be the case here.

‘On the Rocks’

Finally, I’ll share a funny incident that happened just a few moments at dinner. My manager had just arrived from the United States and wanted to meet up with our entire team to have dinner. We decided to go to a traditional Japanese restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. My boss does not like sushi, or fish, so he proceeded to order the safest thing on the menu, which was a noodle dish. He was confident with his choice until the noodles arrived on a few rocks of ice. Never before had we seen or even thought that noodles could arrive “on the rocks.” He proceeded to eat a few bites of the iced noodles with soy sauce. The lesson learned here is to confirm that your noodles will be hot prior to ordering!

As always, I wish you all Happy Travels.

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