- I'm not mad about Japanese food. I enjoy some of it, dislike some of it, and am relatively indifferent to most of it. I'm the same way about the types of food in the U.S., so it's nothing personally directed toward Japan. For example, I also dislike steak and hamburgers.
- I'm not the least bit interested in anime, manga, cosplaying, or any of the other otaku-related pursuits.
- I don't have a burning passion to visit every temple and gate in every major tourist area.
- I don't care about onsen.
- I have insufficient interest in traditional arts (flower arranging, tea ceremony, etc.) to get involved in them.
- I am female and not a lesbian and therefore don't drool and act like a sex-starved post-pubescent dog at the sight of young Japanese women.
People believe that all of the value in living in a foreign culture is to be extracted from the most superficial and obvious aspects. I believe there is also value in understanding how the culture develops and where and why people have divergent thinking. Today, I had a student tell me something in her lesson to the effect of 'sometimes I think about the psychology of why Western and Japanese people think so differently.' She told me she found it fascinating and enjoyed pondering it. Yes, she gets it.
Most people look at cultural differences as a means to an end. That is, they want to either understand so that they can do business effectively or fit into the culture when they live in it. I have nothing so pragmatic at the core of my curiosity. I want to know why this lump of human clay took this shape and that lump formed in another place took another shape. I think by knowing what formed the basic personality structure of a person, I can inhabit their (mental) reality a little better. It builds empathy, compassion, and understanding for the emotional language people speak.
As an example, I can say that I have no interest in the fact that people bow instead of shake hands or in how low they bow. I am interested in why they're bowing and why they bow differently to different people and why they conform to this cultural expectation. And when I say "why", I don't mean that I want a pat reason like they are not comfortable with physical contact. I want to know what about their culture has made them uncomfortable enough with physical contact to choose bowing and why they don't like to hug each other when making contact with other people in acts of affection is one of the greatest visceral joys of human existence. What pushed this out of them?
Of course, there's no easy answer because not everyone is the same, even in a relatively homogeneous culture. The answers are complex and scattered all over the place in the language, the history, and the behavioral norms. It's a huge puzzle that you could work on for a lifetime and never find all the pieces but I think it's worthwhile and far more interesting than visiting maid cafes or having my picture taken in front of umpteen temples. That's just me though. And now another person "gets it", and that makes me happy.