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What to Expect of Japan

Raised expectations can be disastrous. At some point, our desires begin to outstrip reality. That dashing, smooth-talking politician you helped elect soon becomes tarnished and burdened with the realities of office. How about video games? Legions of fans wait for sequels or projects long-rumoured but little seen only to cry out in fury at the end result. Excitement is human nature; over-excitement is to be expected when there is not enough information to ground one’s
excitement in reality.

It seems that many come to Japan with high expectations soon dashed by the impossibilities of their imaginations. I travelled to Japan two years ago and felt like I was in a waking dream. My imagination had been shaped by the filter of popular and
internet culture, animation, comics, and East Asian cinema, but was grounded by having a number of native Japanese friends and an interest in the more delicate questions of Japanese politics. However, regardless of my groundings, I was like a kid on his way to Disneyland: my body in a rapture of disbelief.

Coming from the UK, everything in Japan seemed different yet oddly familiar, a cross between American and British city-planning that was not lost on me as I looked out of the window of the airport shuttle. Expecting slightly dystopic scenery, I was not let down. Big buildings, cramped buildings, over-developed roadsides; Japan was what I expected in that respect. The hint of old Japan, particularly in architectural style and the ubiquitous shrines, made my heart flutter with excitement. Does any other country affect its admirers to such a degree?

Not everything was perfect, however. Arriving during the late July transition from rainy season to scorching heat, I was bowled over by the repressive humidity. Worse still, on trying to sleep off my jet lag, I awoke to the cacophony of cicada calls and roaming recycling trucks announcing their presence by megaphone.

Turning on the television, I discovered just how wrong Westerners can be about Japan: Japanese TV programmes are seriously dull. Most consist of you, the viewer, watching a celebrity watch an actual TV programme. The content frequently cuts to the (dare I say, disingenuous) reactions of one of the celebrities present, before cutting to a commercial break. What we chuckle over online or in TV-around-the-world-type shows turns out to be 0.1% of Japanese broadcasting. There is a reason we cannot watch the other 99.9% online: it is not worth the bandwidth.

It was the little things that impressed me the most. The ease with which you can use trains (even if the timetable confused me at first), and the efforts made by Japanese staff even in such dreary places as convenience stores and fast food chains. My stay in Japan lasted two months, but the slight sense of awe never left me. I knew this was a place where I would enjoy living and so this year I returned to Japan to work. My expectations were immediately dashed. Living and working here allows you to see Japan at its toughest, e.g. thecrowded trains, the harshness of the seasons on the human body, and the confusing recycling schedule.

Yet still, Japan can quickly reignite that passion in a heartbeat. I often believed that one could not truly say they have experienced Japan until they have seen Mount Fuji. Having seen it standing tall in the distance on a crisp autumn day, I wholly stand by that statement. Nowhere is entirely what it seems to be as seen from abroad, but Japan offers an experience that should not be missed: great food, historical sights, modern cities. Six months into my stay, I can honestly say I love Japan, but it is not without its flaws. By being mindful of its flaws, perhaps through a little research, you too can enjoy Japan’s offerings without the disheartening let-down.