Monday, November 28, 2011

Throw all preconceived notions out the door

Culture shock in Kyoto

The term "culture shock" is hardly a new one for me, but having only traveled to places like Europe and Australia, I didn't have a full understanding of what it could mean. Japan would prove to be a different experience.

One day the friend I was visiting, J, and I were in busy but refined Kyoto searching hopelessly for the Nishiki Market. Neither of us are admittedly all that great with directions... I absolutely need a map and a mental picture of it in my head if I hope to find what I'm looking for. In grid based layout like North America, this serves me quite well. While a large part of Japan follows the same pattern, not all streets are named. Why? Why is that? How on earth does mail get delivered if your home doesn't have a street name??

In any case, we're tirelessly searching for this market, and finally we reach the particular street we're looking for- but a market is no where to been seen. We then realize there are two Karasumas: a street and an avenue. Jessie eyes her ever trusted Iphone and tells me that we need Karasuma street and blank street (yet another Japanese word I have trouble remembering), not Karasuma avenue. To which I of course say that this cannot be, avenues and streets cross, streets run parallel to one another.

Not the case. J replies that in Japan, you must "throw all your preconceived notions away". Now there is a challenge!

Sure enough, I look at the google map, and it shows two streets crossing. Ridiculous.

We eventually found the Nishiki Market, thankfully!

Veggies at Nishiki

This statement proved useful to me on a number of occasions. There is a whole new set of customs here, from what is considered polite (don't eat or blow your nose in public, but sniff as much as you want), to their complicated garbage and recycling rules: (combustibles, non-combustibles, sections for different paper... the list goes on and on) 

Garbage and recycling routines at my friend A's house
to even their version of a balanced diet:

Food guide on white bread in Japan. A) there is hardly any whole wheat bread here B) bread makes the top of recommended servings, 6-7, while fruit is at the bottom!
I never realized that Canada's food guide could be view completely different in another country, that they could have another opinion to what a balanced diet would be!

And their food... I doubt I could ever live here and grow accustomed to the food. My friend J took me to a lovely restaurant in Kyoto called Giro Giro that served set 10 course meals.

One out of the ten courses: salmon and oysters I believe

First courses beautifully presented in the fall Kyoto colours

My favourite, dessert! Hard to know what each piece was...

I now have a new understanding of culture shock. Forget all pieces of wisdom, common courtesy and common sense acquired up until now as adult and start fresh. What is true in Canada cannot always be true in another country, even concepts taken for granted like avenue and street directions.

With this new piece of insight, there's a new part of myself I've learned on this trip. I'm not an "all or nothing" kind of girl, and throwing myself into their culture and fully embracing it all in one go is not my style. To stop myself from feeling overwhelmed, I need to take it slow and keep part of my own culture, food especially, while learning about new one. Try some new specialties, but eat some others that are familiar. Keeping my balance has never rang truer.