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Read about Alexis Hartford's culture shock as she studies abroad in Japan attending Akita International University. 

My Introduction to Japan

hartford3Before coming to Japan I did a lot of research to prepare myself for what I might face: from table manners to the proper way to blow your nose. I researched them all. I had read the warnings, and I thought I was prepared. During my ten hour flight, from Salt Lake City to Tokyo, I had fallen in and out of sleep, so in other words I didn’t use the bathroom the whole flight. The moment the plane landed, and I mean the moment, I felt that urge. Having been on a flight with at least a couple hundred other people there were lines to the stalls in the bathroom. So I waited patiently.

I was excited that my first experience of Japanese culture would be the high tech toilets, but as I waited the urge got stronger. Finally a stall opened up. I rushed in and locked the door, but there in front of me was a nice beautiful porcelain hole in the ground, or in other words a traditional Japanese toilet. In order to use these beautiful holes you have to squat. I had forgotten a very important warning that I had come across in my research, not all public restrooms have western toilets. Feeling too embarrassed to leave the stall after just getting into it and the urge getting stronger by the second, I did the only thing I could do. I took off my pants and squatted to pee, while the sound of running water played from a speaker behind me. After finishing and opening the stall door, I found a nice, if not overly technological, western toilet in the stall across from me. On that stall door there was a nice white picture of a western toilet. While on the door I just came out of was clearly a picture of a Japanese toilet. In my urge to pee I had not looked around me and noticed the nice pictures. After that first experience, it was a breeze finding a nice western toilet for my western self to use. I did come to Japan to experience the culture. I just wasn’t prepared to experience it that quickly after getting off the plane.

hartford1Besides this one incident, all my other experiences of Japanese culture have seemed like a breeze. Also, once I arrived to Akita International University, I was given an amazing Japanese roommate. Any question I have about anything, I know I am free to ask her or any other Japanese friends, I have met while here. Although the rest of my experiences have been amazing and not so shocking, I will never forget my first experience in a Japanese bathroom.