Today I experienced my first real bout of culture shock in Japan. I don’t mean the sensation where you just feel out of place, and everything is a little odd. I mean the feeling where alarm bells start screaming “WRONG!” in your head. It just felt so wrong, and I didn’t like it. I taught at Uenohara elementary school today, and it is often customary for the teachers to eat with the students, as a way of harboring good relations between teachers and students. This school has one cafeteria where all 600 students eat at the same time. As soon as I walked into the cafeteria a huge wall of wrong hit me. The entire room was silent. Not a single child was talking. They were all eating as quickly and quietly as they could. In a room full of hundreds of children there was no mirth. The worst part was when one of the 1st year students spilled her milk on her lap; for a good 5 minutes the only sound in the room was the sound of that girl crying. It just felt so wrong to me. I see the merit of having order in the lunchroom, but the whole situation felt so inorganic. At the end of the lunch there was a ritualized cleaning of the whole cafeteria, all the dishes were stacked, all the tables were washed, and the floors were scrubbed, all in complete silence. I felt like there was something terribly wrong. What must have happened to these children to make them not act like children?
Culture shock is a weird phenomenon; it absolutely defies reason. Every sensible aspect of my brain sees the merit in that system, but it still rubs me wrong.
Ben and I cooked our first dinner in our house. It was delicious. We made a stew, a salad, and rice. We ate it on our brand new table. Though please don’t look too hard at our table… it will start to look remarkably like a cardboard box.