In a previous article I wrote about habits I accumulated while in Japan. This time, I want to write about habits that I lost while living there. This is written from the viewpoint of an American, but I think some of the following may strike a chord with expats of other Western countries.
Where I’m from in America, if a bike isn`t locked properly, it’s stolen. Even if one is locked to something, it could still be stolen. I’ve heard stories from friends of bikes being lifted from street signs, or even taken from someone’s porch by breaking their railing. Granted, our local police had a high recovery rate for such crimes, but it’s still annoying, and I always make sure to use a heavy-duty bike lock while in the States.
In Japan, people don’t really worry as much about this. I have known some people who fell victim to bike theft when they didn’t lock their bikes at all, but bike locks like the one shown above that only prevent the back wheel of a bike from moving are commonplace. I felt very strange about not locking my bike to something solid after I first moved to Japan, but this concern soon vanished. Another one took its place, however: While you may not have to worry as much about criminals taking your bike, you do have to worry about local law enforcers who can easily take your bike if it’s parked improperly!
This is at least true when it comes to locker room and same-sex public bath experiences. Although, I think these experiences have helped me with increased levels of general bodily comfort. No one seems to be embarrassed or worried about things like body image in these places, and, and strange as it may sound to some Westerners, I’ve found that public baths are great places to relax and bond with friends.
Onsen (温泉) are public baths sourced by hot water springs, while sento (銭湯) are not. The first time I went to an onsen, I was nervous about taking off my clothes in front of others, but I soon became comfortable being naked in the relaxing atmosphere. Before long, the other girls I was with and I, while initially nervous, began softly chatting to each other just as naturally as if we were in a coffeehouse. The gym I joined in my Japanese hometown had a lovely sento attached to it, and it became a regular routine for me to get naked in the locker-room in front of other ladies and then enjoy luxurious sento facilities after a workout. It also became a great place to practice some Japanese with other regulars I befriended!
To be honest, I’ve never really worn a lot of clothes that show cleavage, but I quickly realized that the threshold for what is acceptable in public places, and particularly work, is much lower in Japan than in the States. While it didn’t take long for me to lose my modesty in locker room and bathing situations, I feel like I became more modest in public.
Particularly in the workplace, showing the slightest hint of cleavage is frowned upon, and you will still get lots of stares anywhere else. The same goes for showing your shoulders, something which puzzled me, but a variety of cardigans helped to flesh out my wardrobe. I never bared my shoulders at work even in the hottest of weather, but outside of work, I couldn’t always contain them – summers are just way too hot and humid not to go sleeveless all the time. I did, however, maintain a modest neckline. As an interesting side note, these generalized rules of modesty don’t seem to apply as much to showing legs. It’s interesting how things like modesty and openness differ from situation to situation and culture to culture.
This one is related to the first lost habit. One great thing about living in Japan is that the crimes rates are low. Before moving to Japan, I would never leave something like a laptop unattended while I went to the restroom. In Japan, I did it all the time, at least in coffeehouses. I also walked around with open purses without fear of pickpockets. Crime can, of course, happen anywhere, so it is important to maintain good habits to keep you and your valuables safe, even in a country as safe as Japan.
One day I made the mistake of leaving an open purse unattended in a public place that quickly became crowded, and fell victim to an okibiki (置き引き), or luggage thief. Now I would say that I’ve gone back to maintaining better habits to keep my valuables safe, but I do find I still have a more relaxed attitude when it comes to potential theft while I am in Japan.
This small commentary about changing habits reflect some differences in cultural attitudes and atmosphere, at least from my limited perspective. For other past or current expats, have you experienced any changes of habit as a result of living in Japan? Likewise, if you are Japanese with experience living abroad, have you noticed that any habits of yours have changed? Please comment below!