Within the first hour of landing at Haneda Tokyo Airport, I managed to make several cultural blunders.
My Dad and I step up to the baggage check counter for our domestic flight, stiff from our 10 hour flight from San Francisco, and signal the attendant that we have no knowledge of Japanese with a sad “hello.” As we were about to leave I used the plain version of “thank you” instead of the polite, which does not seem like too big a deal until you remember that Japanese culture holds respect in high regard and that the way of addressing someone plays a big part in that.
To cap off the experience, I said goodbye and turned around to leave right as the she started bowing. Caught in a bad position, I quickly half bowed and hoped she would write us off as American tourists.
We took a stroll through the airport, which only made apparent how American I am. I stood out as much as a highlighter in the sea of black business suits and school uniforms, the dominating wear in the domestic terminal we transferred to. As I only brought a pair of jeans and two pairs of brown/beige pants, im hoping the demographic is more diverse once we step outside the bubble of an airport.
My flights were spent trying to learn Japanese as quickly as possible, which is not an easy task. But with “Do you speak English?” sort of under my belt, I’m feeling slightly better about the situation.
After two plane flights, a train ride, and a taxi, we finally arrived at our hotel. Exhausted from 24 hours of travel, we ordered room service and promptly fell asleep.