Old habits die hard - Joel Hall

This month will mark exactly two years that I have been back in the country after my two-year experience living in rural Japan.

Looking back, two years feels like a very long time ago, but some experiences leave a lasting impression.

Living by myself for so long in such a traditional region of Japan, I had to alter my habits and lifestyle quite a bit in order to get along with my neighbors. When I went on vacation two weeks ago, I was reminded of how Japanese I have become.

In the first leg of my trip, I visited my girlfriend, who happens to go to law school in Michigan. Before I went to Japan, the idea of a long-distance relationship was insane to me, but in Japan, I found many long-distance couples getting a long just fine.

In Japan, it is very normal in a marriage to have a husband who works three hours away in a big city like Tokyo during the week. The husband will often commute, only seeing his spouse and children on the weekends.

Perhaps it is just a manifestation of implosive anger, but the extent to which Japanese people exercise patience has always astounded me. Perhaps some of that has rubbed off on me.

To pass the time in Japan, I watched a lot of movies. When I was in Michigan, my girlfriend, some of her friends, and I saw the premiere of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," at the IMAX theater.

In Japan, whenever a group of people are watching something, such as a movie or a play, and another person needs to cut by, that person will crouch down and move forward, making somewhat of a chopping motion with their right hand. The motion is considered polite, but to the unknowing spectator, it looks like the person is chopping through some thick, imaginary, Amazonian jungle.

I still catch myself doing this two years later.

Another movie-watching habit of many Japanese is staying until the very end of the movie. No, not until the credits roll, but until the lights come on and the usher starts escorting people out of the theater.

The first few months I was in Japan, I could never understand this. I would jump up out of my theater seat, go to the bathroom, look at some movie paraphernalia, and then drive out of the parking lot without any interference from traffic. Then, one day, I got curious about what I was missing and decided to stay.

A friend later explained to me that most Japanese people stay until the end of the movie as a way of being respectful to the people who made it. The concept really blew my mind. Nothing exciting happens at the end of "The Dark Knight," but I stayed until the end anyway.

While in Michigan, I took a day trip to Windsor in Ontario, Canada to see one of my friends who attended church with me while I was in Japan. She recently married and moved to Windsor with her husband.

In Japan, it is typical for people who have traveled somewhere far to present their friends or co-workers with "omiyagi," a small, honorary gift. Typically presented in the form of food, omiyagi is a way of apologizing for being away for an extended period of time.

I decided to present my friend with Michigan State T-shirts. When she received them, she said, "you are very Japanese."

I guess it appears that way.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.