Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lack of personal touch in Japan

One interesting cultural aspect in Japan that we won't miss is the lack of personal touch. In public couples don't touch and parents don't touch their children much. People bow instead of shaking hands. Sometimes our students hold hands, actually. But mostly it's a hands off culture. Compared with Latin cultures where couples are sitting on each other's laps in the plazas, it's downright frigid. We saw a Japanese couple holding hands in Bali and it immediately struck us that they don't/can't do that in Japan. We've recently had one of our adult students (drunkenly) lament this fact as well.

When I told the teacher I've worked with the longest that I was leaving she burst into tears. She was really upset and couldn't leave the room for a few minutes in order to get herself together. I've been here long enough to know that it wasn't really appropriate to touch her, but I just couldn't let her stand there and cry in front of me. I stood up, asked if I could hug her and gave her a squeeze. More than any other country, living in Japan has made me realize things about my own culture and how much I'm a product of it. I couldn't just let some one I've known for 15 months cry in front of me without hugging her. I literally couldn't do it, especially when I was the cause of her distress. John's only been at his schools for a month and some of his teachers were near tears too.

It's definitely going to be difficult to upset the "wa" at school by leaving early. They aren't telling my students until an all school assembly on my last day (per the Japanese custom) when I'll give a speech on the stage. Yikes.

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