As I wake each morning, I know for certain that before the day is out I will be asked the following two questions: "Do I like living in Japan?" and "How am I coping with life in Japan?"
My friends and family back in Australia obviously ask this as a precursor to queries about my new home, job and lifestyle in Japan. But my Japanese friends and colleagues also quiz me regularly. Not out of curiosity, but out of a deep and earnest concern for my well being. They are convinced that my new life must be both stressful and difficult as a result of the radically different culture and customs I must become familiar while living in Japan.
My home in Japan is in the city of Chiba, a port city about 50 minutes by train from Tokyo, situated on Tokyo Bay. The city is compact, friendly and very modern, with a slick monorail crisscrossing the city streets.
What I would take for patronizing anywhere else, is graciously accepted when my Japanese friends insist on "teaching me Japanese life." The sheer volume and strictness of daily customs in Japan make this education process not just an interesting pastime, but a vital necessity in order to function in this country.
In my corporate working life in Australia, as a business liaison manager for a large bank, morning greetings are casual and personal, with meetings usually started with a few pleasantries before getting down to business. Now, as a member of staff at a Japanese Junior High School, I participate in a group bow and greeting to my principal at the start of each meeting. My initial introduction to new colleagues created amusement and awkwardness when I offered a handshake and...