In the first part of this series, Laiba Khurram describes her initial impressions of Japanese culture. Laiba is an 11th grade student from Angels International College, Faisalabad. She is currently studying in Okayama, Japan for six months as an exchange student. Laiba was able to avail this opportunity after being selected by AFS Intercultural Programs.
I have decided to answer wholeheartedly due to being questioned about this so frequently.
Every year, a hundred children are selected from Pakistan to experience life in America through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study program. But why America? We all know about American culture. We even unknowingly implement and integrate it into our countries.
What inspired me about Japan was its rapid evolution after the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Within the blink of an eye, they developed into one of the best countries. I was extremely impressed by this nation, and very fortunately, I got a chance to experience Japanese culture through the AFS Intercultural Programs. The selection process started across Pakistan conducted by Learn Smart Pakistan.
Now I am in Japan, experiencing Japanese culture and representing Pakistan. I am making memories I will always cherish, and learning from experiences by embarking on a journey I otherwise would have never thought was possible.
A Culture of Respect
During the starting days of my exchange, when I knew little about the ways Japanese respect their elders, a rather funny incident occurred.
A junior of mine was walking ahead of me. Before walking through the door of the dormitory’s dining room, she turned around. Saw me. There she stood beside the door. Bowing her head a bit.
Confused, I did the same. Turned around. Found nobody. Standing beside the door, I also started bowing my head a bit.
As she began laughing like a hyena, there I was. Utterly confused, I too started laughing to steer clear of the awkwardness. After taking some deep breaths, she asked me, “Who are you giving the way to? There is no senpai behind you.”
As my cheeks grew red with embarrassment, a state of realisation came over me. Woah! That was a complete revelation at first, but she went on to clarify how the seniors are respected in this way. She explained that she wanted me to pass first, since I was one year senior (senpai) to her.
While sitting in the lounge with your family and friends, would you blow your nose while being among them?
The Japanese don’t hesitate to do so. At least around me, I have observed this extremely often. When I inquired about this, they responded saying, “It’s a natural act, why go to the side just to blow your nose?”
Haha, fair enough!
The people here love to slurp their noodles! This is the Japanese way of showing their admiration for the taste of noodle dishes such as Udon and Ramen. Everybody would do so including the elders to display their appreciation!
Don’t mind if I start slurping too. It’ll just mean I LOVE the food!
Wearing a Kimono
At my host family’s house, I expressed my desire to wear a Kimono.
My host grandmother brought a kimono which was very close to her heart as her late husband had gifted this to her. For me, this was an honour.
Honestly, it took twenty minutes to wear! Yeah, you read that right. It is a great effort. Tying all the necessary things around the dress was important to give it the right shape.
Once I was ready, I stood up:
Woah! It was so heavy that I almost fell because it was that hard to walk in. Walking in a kimono is no easy task. It requires experience!
When they saw me, my host siblings started screaming, “Kawaii, Kawaii!” (kawaii means cute in Japanese)
We then performed a tea ceremony, which is a tradition in Japan:
Oh, the tea was bitter in taste but oiishii (delicious) in its own way!