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Living Abroad in Japan


© Ruthy Kanagy, from Living Abroad in Japan. Used by permission of Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.

Living Abroad in Japan

Japan in the 21st century is a fully modern consumer society with every convenience and indulgence that yen can buy. On the surface, Japan may appear completely westernized, judging by the fashions, food, and fads you see on the street. As a first-time visitor, you might wonder, “Where are the kimonos, the samurai with their swords, the geisha, and Mt. Fuji?” On the subways and streets, everyone seems busy, urgently tapping their cell phone keys with their left thumbs. The fact is, contemporary Japanese culture is a comfortable, seamless blend of wa (Japanese) and yo (western), plus many other elements. Wa and yo alternatives are available in every facet of life: housing, food, clothes, work, travel, entertainment, religion, and language. This is not surprising if you consider that people in Japan have been eating pan (bread) and castella (sponge cake) since Portuguese ships showed up in 1543, and they’ve been playing baseball with a passion since 1871, when the game was introduced by an American teacher. Even the nation’s writing system comes from three different cultures—Chinese kanji characters, Japanese kana symbols, and the Latin alphabet.

In contemporary Japan, you can wear your hair black or bleach it blond, slip on a pair of jeans or a yukata (cotton kimono), sip matcha (powdered green tea) or a latte, and order French, Chinese, sushi, or pizza. You can play golf or practice kendo (fencing), go to the opera or kabuki (traditional theater), and cheer for the Giants or sumo wrestlers from the sofa or tatami (woven mats). After a day of hiking or snowboarding, you can soak in a rotenburo (outdoor spa), relax with yoga or tai chi, and collapse onto your futon or bed. In Japan, the choice is yours.

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