Fried Chicken for Christmas

by Nadine Doushy

First things first: I’m not Japanese, I just lived there for a few months (would’ve been a year but Covid came in and said ✨no✨), but I still got a good grasp of the many nuances that you pick up when living in Japanese society. Even though it’s been two years, I am still fascinated by Japanese culture, and I would like to share it with you.

Free water in restaurants and cafés, chicken at Christmas, no trashcans in public, sleeping in class and on trains, no eating while walking, white valentine… I could go on and on, but let’s focus on three specific things.

First off, we must address the lack of trashcans. Something I noticed on the first day I was in Japan was that there were no trash cans in public spaces. We were staying at the Sheraton hotel, and I had just woken up from a nap because I hadn’t slept for almost 40 hours. I went to buy my very first meal in Japan, which coincidentally was sushi. After I finished eating, I walked around the hotel premises with a new friend from Germany I made looking for a trashcan in order to throw away the garbage. However, as we walked, I realized that there was no trash can in sight. I was so confused; were we supposed to hold on to the trash and throw it away in our hotel rooms? This was something that many exchange students realized and found bizarre. Later on, the exchange coordinator for the Japanese university I was attending explained to us that in Japan, they take their trash to a nearby supermarket or store and ask the staff to dispose of it for them. This came to us as to kind of a culture shock due to the fact that in our home countries there are trash cans in close proximity to each other, with trash still on the ground. In Japan, there was a lack of trash cans and no trash on the ground. This was something that I was not used to, but definitely respect a lot. It showed that the Japanese respect each other so much, they keep public spaces clean to not disturb others. So much so, they don’t even have trashcans, they just carry their trash home or to a nearby store.

Another thing that is different in Japan are holidays. They have two Valentines days, the one on February 14th is reserved for girls to gift to boys, and White day, which is one month later on March 14th, is for the boys to gift chocolate to the girls. It was very nice to see that they reserved two days for two partners to spoil each other and not expect anything in return on the same day. On top of that, the chocolate, flowers, balloons, and everything heart-shaped was overflowing in the stores for about two months. It was really sweet to see. February had more of a red boxes and brown chocolate theme, while March was more pink boxes and white chocolates. Thinking back, that might explain the mystery of the weight I gained at that time- and I don’t even like chocolate! I just thought it was cute (great marketing strategy from their side). In addition, the staple meal for Christmas in Japan, is fried chicken, specifically from KFC. This began with KFC’s wildly successful campaign before the 21st century where they connected Christmas to their chicken special, they had huge sales on chicken buckets which led people to buy a lot of Chicken on Christmas day. This was a huge success and led other restaurants and convenience stores to do the same. Since then, it has become the dominant food choice for the snowy holiday.

Something else that I hadn’t fully adjusted to, was the fact that if students slept in class they were not woken up. Japanese students sometimes slept during class and the lecturer just sighed and didn’t say anything. When other exchange students asked the teacher why that was, they said that students have it very hard and are busy with after school clubs and activities, which they need to contribute to their resume in the future. Other than that, they also have homework they need to finish before school again the next day. It is understandable that they fall asleep, but their coursework is their own responsibility, and they will have to study on their own if they miss out on class. Due to this, it was apparent that to students and teachers it was more important to attend the classes, rather than actually paying attention in the classes. This is a very different approach from Western education that we know of, so it was something that I was not used to. I did respect that the teachers showed sympathy towards the students rather than giving them a hard time.

I learned a lot about Japanese culture when I lived there. I chose to go to Japan because it differs a lot from the Netherlands. I wanted to challenge myself on a personal and academic level by living on my own in a country with a different culture, a different language, and different customs. I would like to think that I achieved that goal. I am glad I chose Japan as my study abroad destination. There is so much more about Japan that I could share, but I guess the most important thing is that the Japanese have a very peaceful, respectful, collective, and harmonious culture, and I would definitely visit it again.