Hey from Japan - Notes on Moving

Today I'm happy to introduce you Emily Cannell, an American currently living in Japan. Emily is running a wonderful blog where she describes her family's adventures in a completely different culture. It may sound a bit strange but I especially enjoy reading her culture lessons learned the hard way. Meet Emily and her guest post.

I admit Olga asked me to write this post several weeks ago. Which I did.  Since it’s for her blog and not mine, I added professionally taken pictures. They were stunning, cost me a small fortune, however, Olga, blogging expert that she is, knew that I’d happily brag on my new homeland for free thus did not offer any additional compensation for making the guest post appear to double as a photo journal. The photo tour could not disguise the unfortunate fact that it was mind numbing and guaranteed to cause readers everywhere a full night’s sleep, heads on keyboards. 

Instead of writing the Guide Book version of Japan 2011, the following version of Guest Post Number 25.6 will focus on what our family, in my blog referred to as the Clampitts, have found most interesting, loveable, and profoundly different from the American culture from whence we came. Since the pictures have been bought and paid for, I will use them, here, there, and everywhere for this and several posts as long as we live in Japan.

The most obvious difference striking at the heart of the Clampitt family is the gigantic difference between cultural values. Starting with simple things - like conversation style. In the US, we are loud - we laugh loud and talk louder. And we like to hear ourselves talk. About ourselves. Surprised? I thought not. Our hosts are quiet, value a pause in the conversation, don't feel a need to fill it, tend to be shy, and will ALWAYS deflect any questions about them with a question about you. When the Clampitts got off the plane, all of Tokyo heard us coming.

Another difference that I find fascinating is the value placed on the group vs. the individual. This cuts many ways. It’s never good to stand out, and always preferable to blend in with the rest of the crowd. In circumstances such as the earthquake and tsunami, individuals have stopped using power by choice because it is good for the group even though it places individuals at a disadvantage in daily activities. It is expected by society (the group) therefore it is done. The needs of the society are placed before that of the individual. Even those who would prefer not to will do so because the neighbors will be watching.

Finally, the other person’s needs are always anticipated making this culture one of the most polite places I’ve been. Having been raised in the American South, manners and politeness are expected, however, the Japanese are masters. Miraculously, my 14 yr old male Offspring has now taken to opening doors, giving up his seat on the train, and carrying my suitcase for me whereas before this required the threat of physical violence or worse, public embarrassment in the halls of his school.

The next surprise is a must on any trip to Japan. Interestingly, they often coincide. Visits to shrines and a long bath in an onsen- the Japanese word for a natural hot spring. Japan is covered- literally- with both. Shrines, temples and natural hot springs. The Japanese like to adopt from other cultures anything of value- including religion- and so the saying goes,” You’re baptized Shinto, married a Christian, and buried a Buddhist.”


When visiting the many Shrines (Shinto) Temples (Buddhist) in Japan - Kyoto and Nara are two must sees with Kyoto alone containing 17 World Heritage Sites. Kyoto was purposely avoided in the massive bombing of Japan during World War II due to its cultural and historical importance.



Due to the geology of Japan, natural hot springs occur naturally. The end to a long day - for anyone - is in an onsen.

Finally, two little known areas of Japan. For skiers and snowboarders, there are two still fairly uncommon areas with some of the best conditions in the world. Nagano, Japan- home to the 1998 Winter Olympics and commonly called the Japanese Alps. Another place in the Northern most island of Japan famous among skiing elite is Hokaido- reputed to have some of the best snow powder in the world. For skiers and snowboarders these are two for the bucket list.


For the beach goers - Okinawa. Quiet, peaceful with the look of Hawaii and the other tropical islands in the Pacific.


Don’t let the language barrier scare you away. Due to the culture here, crime is virtually zero. A smile will get you everywhere. And believe me, if the locals can understand me, anyone can get around. I’m a native English speaker, with a rudimentary ability to speak and understand Spanish. Learning Japanese, with a teacher, has been a true commitment.

The Japanese have two forms of characters to represent the phonetic sounds - Hiragana and Katakana, and 2500 characters that represent words adopted from the Chinese. I’ve learned the Hiragana and Katakana as I’ve learned the basics of Japanese which has been crucial in learning the pronunciation of the words. I see great differences between how my children hear and imitate the Japanese speakers and the way I do. This helps me see how younger children can pick up a language without an accent where the older one gets the more difficult it is to learn and speak without an accent. I also see how much harder it is for me to learn than them.


The hardest element to me in learning Japanese is the sentence structure which is backwards from English. As I talk, I must translate and go in reverse order from how I would normally speak in English which makes my Japanese slow and painful for the listener! The Japanese are very patient and seem to appreciate my efforts.

I see that many Ex Pats don’t see the need to learn the language at all. This is not the choice our family has made although it would be easier to speak English only. I never am without 3 Japanese translation books so that I can get through whatever comes my way! Just the other day I told someone that “I was going to a track meet with my prisoner.” Which is what happens when the word for “husband” gets mispronounced a certain way.

A beautiful country with a welcoming people. Japan. We love our new home.


Emily Cannell, "Hey from Japan - Notes on Moving".

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Emily, I can’t thank you enough. Your post has given me a more vivid picture of Japan than all the books I’ve read.

Pearl's twirl аватар

Just beautiful!! I've signed up for Emily's blog when she was first FP and I am hooked now.

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Agree with you, Ariana. Emily's blog is great!

amblerangel аватар

Olga- I have another test today on my characters and Hiragana! Ugh- this is truly where I struggle!

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Good luck to you, Emily! As far as I can see, you’re making progress. Now in more and more posts you mention saying something in Japanese. I believe in you. Happy

Michi аватар

Great post, beautiful pictures, and great cultural tidbits! Learning the local language is the one of the keys to understanding the people and its culture, so it's a pretty great thing that you and your family have opted to take on the challenge.
I've learned so much about Japan since I started reading your blog - I can't wait to go there someday.

amblerangel аватар

It truly is a great place- I also think it’s a wonderful place for a person who is a first timer out of their home country due to it’s safety, ease of travel on trains, and willingness of locals to help strangers. I don’t think the language barrier is much different than anywhere else…

lisa@notesfromafrica аватар

Emily, loved this summary of your experiences in Japan - you've managed to distill the essence of Japan and the Japanese from the posts on your own site.

The photos are beautiful - would love to take a walk through the bamboo forest in Kyoto. You hair and nose aren't THAT bad, you know! Winking

Olga, thank you for inviting Emily to do this post! I see we both like the Word Nymph, so I'll be reading your posts to see what else we have in common.

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Pleased to see you here, Lisa! Happy

amblerangel аватар

We just cancelled a big trip to Kyoto with the bamboo forest a highlight at the end of a white water boat trip- the only way I could entice the Offspring into a forest of tall bamboo. (RIght around the time of the eartthquake when everything closed) I am still so disappointed- we are hoping to reschedule soon but the rainy season is coming up too!

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Oh, that’s a pity, Emily. It would be exciting to read about the trip on your blog.

notjustagranny аватар

great post (thanks to Olga for having a guest post). love the Japanese approach to life; shame we in the Western world dont have the same attitude.
fantastic photos and loved the stories. good luck with learning the language.

Елена Толмач аватар

It’s one of the most interesting posts I’ve ever read!
Emily, thank you for sharing your experience and impressions!
And the pictures are amazing Winking

amblerangel аватар

Thanks so much Elena- I’m so glad you enjoyed it!