Being in Japan now for half a year, I’ve experienced many “things” for which I wanted to pat Japan on the back for. I mean I’ve ranted in many blogs about the awesomeness of izakayas (Japanese styled bars) and karaoke establishments but there are many other times in which I’ve thought if only America had this, or I’m going to miss this when I go back to America. Since the only thing I’ve done since my last blog is start new classes, I’m dedicating this blog to “awesome things in Japan”.
The first item I’m going to talk about is izakayas. Now I know I’ve mentioned these before, but honestly they are worth mentioning over and over again. It’s not about having a place to get drinks (there are plenty of those in America, or so I’m told) but the atmosphere of these establishments. Essentially it’s a restaurant style bar where you can order drinks and appetizer-style foods that the group shares. The atmosphere is relaxing yet fun and you can stay at an izakaya with friends for hours just hanging out and talking. These types of places are almost always bustling with people and conversations are everywhere, ages range from older men to college students, I even saw what looked like a young couple meeting with their parents. And there is no age limitation (soft-drinks are included in the all-you-can-drink menus). And then one of the best parts is that to get home, the train system is available. That’s means everyone can have a drink or two and have fun without worrying about having to drive safely afterwards.
These leads me straight into the train and bus travel systems in Japan which are very thorough in that most of the time you can travel within a five minute walk of wherever you’re going. The travel system is expensive, which can be annoying, but it’s also very efficient and easy to use. Being a student in Madison I mostly stay on campus all the time because I don’t have a car or bicycle and whenever I want to go home for the weekend I have to catch a ride with someone or my parents have to come pick me up. In Japan you can go anywhere by train and/or bus so planning a trip in Japan is relatively easy. Trains (unless it’s the shinkansen) don’t have reserved seats, but buses do so planning ahead is advised, however, because of the popularity of uses buses for long distant travel there are a plethora of companies and buses can be found even the day of departure.
Relating to trains, I’ve heard there is a problem in Japan with sexual harassments on trains because everyone is squished together so close during rush hour. I haven’t experienced or witnessed anything of the sort but a friend of mine did, plus it appears often in manga and anime. As a solution to this, on the busier lines there is a “female only” train car that is, obviously, restricted only to female use. This is only valid from around 7am to 9am because those are the peek rush hours in the morning. In the evening there is no particular rush time, trains are just busy from around 5pm until the trains stop around 12am or 1am. Though the one time I rode in the only female car I felt like a giant because I’m 5’10” and the average height for females in Japan is like 5’2” or 5’3”. Yeah, people came up to my shoulders. Anyways, I think this is pretty sweet.
This doesn’t really lead anywhere, so now I’ll jump back to KARAOKE! Karaoke in Japan is awesome. You can go on your own or with friends, there’s no worry about singing in front of strangers. The song collections are all encompassing including Japanese songs as well as many American, Korea and European songs as well. You can order drinks and food (though that can be expensive) and make a party out of karaoke. You can go for an hour or go all night if you want to. At night the price becomes more expensive, but during the day there are places where you can sing for an hour for under five dollars. Both karaoke and izakaya establishments would be popular in American, in my opinion, and I’m really going to miss the two when I return.
The next point has to do with advertising in Japan. Many commercials in America are serious or on topic, often serious commercials that I skip, gladly and freely. In Japan, I’d say at least eighty percent of advertisements (commercials or posters on the trains) are actually entertaining. They either include humor or animated characters that actually draw my attention and I don’t mind watching commercials.
The above leads me nicely to number five, the thoughts surrounding manga and anime (Japanese comics and cartoons). In America, the general connotation is that comic books and cartoons are for children and adults who watch cartoons or read comics are sometimes considered childish or immature. However, in Japan comics are actual made for all age groups, from children’s manga to teen manga to adult manga, essentially every type of novel there is in America, there is a manga form in Japan. And everyone reads manga here, I see people of all ages and both genders on the train reading manga or watching anime on their phones or gaming devices. This is awesome because I feel like I can freely say I love Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z as a 21 year old and not be judged as “childish”.
Another “cool” thing in Japan is the toilets, the western style ones. This may seem a super weird item to talk about, but they are awesome in Japan. I’ve included a picture below of a version of the control panel on many western style toilets. As you’ll see in the photo there is a spray button that will actually shoot (not super strongly) water to help you stay and feel clean. You can change the strength of the spray and the water is actually warm. Plus, have you ever been in America in winter and sat down on a cold toilet seat? Well in Japan, these types of toilets have heated seats! Which, don’t lie, is awesome.
Some things that I see and want to pat Japan on the back for are related to the culture of Japan. For example, I joined the girls basketball varsity club at my university. After every practice we get out the brooms (not the tiny sweep brooms but the wise push brooms) and clean the floor, we put away everything we took out of the storage area, we put the hoops up for the next team, etc. Each team takes responsibility for everything they used and then leaves the gym in the original position for the next team to use later on. I’m not saying this is never done in America, but the care with which it is done in Japan is commendable and I feel like a better person for doing this.
Another awesome thing about Japan has to do with advertisement by handing out flyers. Of course you have people who simply hand out flyers for different events and such but at least half of the time they hand out flyers by using tissues/Kleenex. Essentially there are little bags with 5-10 tissues inside and the company will stick their flyer into the pouch of tissues and then hand them out. So not only is the company happy because more people are taking the advertisements but the people are happy because they get free Kleenex (at least I’m happy about it), and not only do I get free Kleenex, but it’s in a little pouch for convenient use to carry around in my purse or bag.
Another thing I love about Japan is that “cute” style is acceptable. In America I feel that everyone is trying to be “mature” or to look more grown up and I think there is pressure from society to put away the childish “cute” image. Well I like wearing cute things, like bows in my hair, and that’s okay in Japan, cute style is just another style of clothing that people tend towards and it’s not seen as childish or immature.
In America, if someone wants to build a road somewhere, or put a wall somewhere, there just take out whatever is in the way, plants, trees, level the ground, etc. In Japan I feel like an extra effort is made to preserve the nature that is left in such a people cramped city. For instance there are many sidewalks or paths that actually just kind of “accept” the trees, for instance the path goes around the tree as if the tree was originally supposed to be there. If a wall is built there are dips in the wall where a tree branch is overhanging or the wall is built over a root or something. Trees that are in danger of falling are actually propped up by a sort of simple wooden crutch. There are pictures of this that I’ve included as well. And if a branch is overhanging a path, instead of cutting down the branch, a support is built to hold the branch higher or to stop it from drooping. So even though Tokyo is such a metropolitan area with super tall buildings everywhere and apartment complexes and having a front or backyard is super rare, there is still a sense that nature is respected and is in harmony with the man-made structures. Even the river walkway by my dorm that is a concrete structure has a sense of being part of nature with fish and ducks swimming around naturally and curving river banks where earth has built up and plants flourish.
Next has to do with customer service. There is no tipping in Japan!! No need to calculate in your head or wonder where to leave the tip or try to work tip in when you have a budget.
So tipping in itself is a pat on the back so I’ll continue in a new part my original point. When you go to an ice cream place or a fast food place and you get omochikaeri (takeout) they make sure that you get your food home in a convenient way and in the best state possible. For example, if you get a setto (a meal) at McDonalds, they will put your hot food in one paper bag. Next they will put your drink in a cup holding thingy (like what usually comes in fours if you order a lot of drinks in America) and then in a separate paper bag. They then put the two bags into a larger plastic or paper bag for you to carry. No need to worry about being able to handle everything along with any bags or backpacks you’re already carrying. If you get ice cream somewhere, they will ask you how far away you’re going (time wise). They then put dry ice into the bag, an amount equal to the time you have to travel, so that when you get home to enjoy the ice cream it’s still in a delicious cold state and not melted over everything. I think generally speaking you do have to pay for the dry ice, so they give you the option to decline if you like to eat melted ice cream.
Convenience stores are awesome as well when it comes to “protecting” the food. For instance, they will ask if you want your hot and cold foods in separate bags. (I also got asked this when I went to a backery and bought two items, one was just out of the oven while the other was more room temperature.) If you buy a microwave dinner or something that needs to be heated before eating the clerks will ask you if you want them to heat it up for you. Behind the counter they have these super high wattage microwaves that heat up food in 15-20 seconds so you don’t have to wait long. They then put the item in a separate bag to keep the warmth or to stop your other items from becoming warm. Another awesome convenient thing at convenient stores is that they give you any utensils you might need to consume the items you bought. For instance, you buy cup ramen and they give you chopsticks, you buy a spaghetti dinner and they give you a fork, you buy an ice cream treat that doesn’t come on a stick and they give you a wooden spoon thing, you buy a carton drink (such as tea or orange juice) and they give you an appropriately sized straw.
At restaurants where you sit down, there is often a box on the table with a button on it. This button is to call the waiter/waitress when you’re ready to order. This is a wonderful thing that would be AWESOME in America. Instead of having to awkwardly call someone over when you’re ready to order, you press the button and your table number comes up on a screen in the back of the restaurant so they know you need something. This also means that you don’t have the waiter/waitress coming to your table asking if you’re ready or how your food is or if they can get you anything, you can enjoy your meal in peace. And then there isn’t that awkward moment when you’re talking about something private or unusual and the waiter/waitress comes by and catches a snippet before you realize they are there…
Speaking of customer service, if you go to a book store they will ask you if you’d like your book covered. I haven’t come across this with textbooks, but if you buy a novel that you pay perhaps read in public, you can get the book covered and no one will know what you’re reading.
Cool thing number something, to pay bills in Japan you simply take the bill to a convenience store and pay the bill there. From what I understand you can set up direct deposits through your bank account, but for those of us who are only here for a short amount of time it’s very convenient. Plus, when you order stuff online you can chose the option to pay at a convenience store as well, no need to risk putting credit card information online. I pay my internet bill, my national health care bill, and my electricity/ water bill at convenience stores every month and I appreciate the ease of this, not having to send checks or cash somewhere.
Purikura!!!!!!!! Essentially purikura are picture booths, but they are so much more than the mere photo-taking sometimes can chose backgrounds that I’ve found in America. These are pick crazy backgrounds, effects, and decorate photo booths. You pay, then have your photos taken alone or with friends, then you get to choose different backgrounds for different photos and you can add stickers, writing, borders, essentially drawing whatever you want on the picture. Many booths also have effects, such as making your eyes super large (kind of creepy looking) or your skin paler or darker. Some booths even have costumes or fun props that you can take pictures with. Then you get to pick the design of photos you want, for instance two big pictures and four small ones, or all big pictures and they have different numbers/sizes that you can choose so if that if you have two people, you get two copies of every picture, three people you can choose three copies of every picture (the pictures do get smaller as you choose more). Purikura is super fun for commemorating dates with friends, birthdays, parties, holidays, etc.
In an effort to encourage people to consume less plastics, at super markets you often either have to pay for plastic bags (only 2-3 yen a piece, like 2-3 cents) or you get a discount for bringing your own bag. I think this is a great idea because it’s not enough to really inconvenience something if they forgot a bag, yet it still encourages people to bring their own.
Speaking of recycling, in Japan there are four different options when you have something you need to throw away. The first is combustible, like paper or plastic, the second is for PET bottles (like water bottles) and you actually have to take the cap off and put the cap in a different basket, the third is for non-combustibles like aluminum cans, and the fourth is recyclables like newspapers or cardboard boxes and such. Sometimes there is also a fourth division for glass and ceramic items. At first dividing my garbage was annoying and difficult because what I’m used to is “garbage” and “recyclables”, so the division was pretty easy while is Japan I often wonder which spot something goes in, for instance, how do I dispose of batteries? But once you get used to the process it becomes second nature and you feel like you’re a better friend with nature. (Fyi, batteries go in the non-combustible container.)
I don’t know if this is particular to Japan or simply to my college but when you’re signing up for classes you have a week to pick out and register which classes you would like to take. Then there is a week where you attend classes, but attendance is not counted. This is for the students who are choosing between two classes. They have a week so they can attend each class and then make their decision to take the class or not. During this time one can easily drop courses or add courses online. After the week is up, it is difficult to join in a class, and paperwork has to be filled out in order to drop. I think it’s very handy to have this week, especially if one is unsure of the course load or the style of the class.
One of the first awesome things that I came across in Japan is vending machines!! There are, literally, vending machines on every street or sidewalk in Japan. They have coffee, soda, tea, juice, water, etc. They have cold and hot drinks, mostly cold in the summer but they change to hot in the winter. The vending machines are super convenient because you don’t need to find a store or wait in line when all you want is a coffee drink or a bottle of water. There’s a walking/biking path near my house that I often take and there are vending machines along the path or slight off the path on the road side. If I forget to bring something to drink I don’t have to worry about waiting until I get back to my dorm, or wondering off the path and getting lost.
The last thing I’m going to finish up with is that Japanese people don’t take things that aren’t theirs. For instance, if I was in the library and needed to make a cell phone call outside, I could be gone for over an hour, then return and find my stuff exactly where I left it, including the hundred dollar electronics left neatly on top of my pile next to my purse. This was one of the things I had reverse culture shock for when I returned to America for a few weeks over spring break. I was at a shoe store and went to see if there was a different size for the shoe I was trying on. I left my purse on the ground and walked maybe 20 feet away then around a corner, down an aisle. My mom was with me and as I turned the corner I heard my mom reminding me that in America you can’t just leave your purse lying somewhere. That’s dangerous, but apparently it’s safe in Japan.
If you have any questions about Japan that you would like answered, or any topic that you are curious about, please leave a message at the bottom of the page. I would love to encourage or stimulate your interest(s) about Japan.
Thanks for reading ^^
P.S. We have officially failed the curry challenge. We made it to level 7 where we both decided to avoid death by spice and give up. It was a sad moment.