March 2012

Just before I came to Japan, my Japanese teacher asked me to do something. Once I got here, she wanted me to send her a message and tell her what I found most surprising about Japan. As it happened, there were so many things that surprised me here that I had trouble deciding what to tell her about.

As I recall, I ended up telling her about how school toilets and other public washrooms never seem to have either hot water or towels. I soon learned to carry a handkerchief around with me, but I still haven't gotten used to washing my hands in cold water. I don't understand how people here can do that, especially in the winter. Every time I have to wash my hands in freezing cold water, I find it very painful. It really hurts!

I didn't tell my teacher about this, but there was another thing which I found very surprising when I got here. At all of the elementary schools, the children ride unicycles in the playground. The first time I saw this was when I took my first visit to Minami Elementary School. It was lunch break, and I was walking along the edge of the ground. I was astonished to see several children riding unicycles back and forth. Some of them were only in first grade, but they were very good.

In Canada, many children have probably never even seen a unicycle. We know about them, of course. Characters in stories, especially clowns and acrobats, sometimes ride them. But unless you went to see the circus, you would probably never see a unicycle in everyday life. I was so surprised, I just stared at them for several minutes. Then I decided to take a picture to show my friends in Canada, otherwise they wouldn't believe it!

Later, I talked to one of my Japanese friends, and he told me that it's normal for Japanese children to ride unicycles. I explained that in Canada, only clowns and acrobats ride unicycles. If I see somebody riding a unicycle in Canada, I expect to see them juggling something. My friend said, "We do that, too. Japanese people often go shopping on unicycles, and unicycles don't have baskets, so when we buy things we carry them home by juggling them in the air as we ride."

Then he saw my expression and added, "Joke."

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