Benjamin: Friends in Ramen
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Japan, etc.
My name is Benjamin Weber. I was born and raised in New York, but have always been interested in Japanese culture. I studied Japanese in college, and a couple years after graduating, I decided to move to Japan and try to find a job. I moved to Tokyo at the beginning of 2010, and then in the summer of 2011 I got a new job in Osaka.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I love traveling, and I love eating. When I moved to Japan, I made an effort to eat many different foods, and I learned about the large wealth of ramen shops in Tokyo. I read a number of ramen blogs and explored the city eating bowl after bowl. In 2011 I moved to Osaka, and I realized that there was no English language blog that covered Kansai. So I decided to start one.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Tell us about the ways your new life in Japan differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
It sounds odd, but the strangest things are not the big differences, but the small ones. Japan and America are on opposite sides of the world, so I expected everything to be completely different here. But some of the tiny differences shock me, like the fact that they don’t have stick deodorant or graham crackers here. You often buy food tickets from vending machines instead of ordering from a waiter, and everyone wears masks when they’re sick.
As for culture shock, I’ve moved a number of times since I entered college, and I was fortunate enough to know some Japanese before I came here, so it hasn’t been so bad for me. The hardest it hits me is every year at Thanksgiving, when I feel like I should be home celebrating, but I am in Japan where nobody even realizes that it’s a holiday.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Japan? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I wasn’t fully prepared, but I’m glad I went in heads first. I would have liked to reviewed my Japanese a bit before coming, and maybe have signed up for a longer Japanese course when I arrived.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
When I first arrived in Japan and was still brushing up on my Japanese, a friend and I went downtown to go drinking. We were new to the area, and so we didn’t know where any bars were. Feeling brave, I approached a group of Japanese girls and asked them if they knew where there was a good bar. I didn’t know the word for bar in Japanese, so I just used the English word and said “baru”. They all stared at me puzzled, trying to figure out what I could possibly mean. After about 30 seconds, one of them realized what I had meant, and corrected me; the word for bar is not “baru”, it’s “baa”. It’s a bastardization of the English word, but my friend and I it was impossible to figure out why one is right and the other is wrong.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Japan?
- Learn as much Japanese as you have time to. At least learn how to read hiragana and katakana. Japanese people don’t speak very much English, and they’ll appreciate if you can reach out to them.
- Know what your plan is. Getting a work visa in Japan is not easy, and it will be even more difficult if you’re not planning on teaching English.
- Be open! If you’re moving to Japan, you’re probably pretty open already, but there’s a lot in Japan that you might miss if you’re too afraid to try new things. Onsens, weird food, and crazy traditions await.
How is the expat community in Japan? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It’s not bad; there are many more people in Tokyo than Osaka, but there are pretty clearly marked expat bars, so it’s hard to miss.
How would you summarize your expat life in Japan in a single, catchy sentence?
A constant struggle between confusion and excitement.