Flags of Austria and JapanSeveral months ago, when I visited the cafe of a friend of mine, I came to talk to a Japanese lady, and since then, we have been meeting once or twice a month. Her name is Junko-san, and she has moved to Kyoto only a few years ago, after the death of her husband. She is fun to be with and a very interesting person, and she has lots of interests and various hobbies. While we have lots of fun together and we both like to laugh, I cannot help finding a number of differences in our views and how we approach life, but our substantial age difference has nothing to do with it.

One day we were talking about travelling and I said that I enjoy to be as free as possible in my vacation. I make a rough list of things that would be nice to see and then I set out in a general direction. When I was travelling in North America, I rented a car for two weeks and essentially drove inland, without big plans, just stopping where things looked interesting. In that case, I didn’t even have hotel reservations, but as it was summer, I was prepared to sleep in the car had it been necessary.

My friend was shocked. Junko-san recently travelled for four days to an island in the Pacific Ocean with her sister, and she said she only left the resort for shopping. Usually, she would book a very expensive hotel – preferably a large, well-known chain – and then enjoy the luxury, the food, the pool, the service… According to Junko-san, many Japanese are concerned about their safety, and they do not endeavour to go out alone.

Another day we were talking about work. Junko-san said she was working as an editor and writer (probably freelance) for large companies for 18 years of her life. She said she did not like the job very much, and she had to work very hard (she only slept for 2 hours in the busy season), but she did it for the money, about 1.5 million yen per month. She said many Japanese work solely for the money, and they don’t really like their job, even if they spend all their days and nights in the office.

I was shocked, and I explained to her that in the West, we strive to work to live and not the other way around. Also I told her that I know quite a few people who would happily have a less well paid job if they would feel more fulfilled doing it. I said that we want to have a balanced life of fun and work while we’re still living – after all, if you postpone all the fun until after your retirement (as many Japanese seem to do), how can you be sure you won’t drop dead on your last day of work.

As I said, it is great fun to talk to her, she talks very openly about her life, her ideas, and Japanese society as a whole. I think I can learn a lot from her! At least, there is one thing we both love doing, regardless of our background: we both love solving sudoku…