And other random trivia about japan...
Greetings from Minnesota!
Just after I touched down in Minnesota last friday, the captain told me everything I needed to hear, "Welcome to the twin cities where it's a bit chilly this afternoon, outside it's -10 farenheit and -24 degrees celsius." This wasn't music to my ears, but like a true Minnesotan I managed to walk the dog and breath the fresh air as soon as I got home. I had forgotten how unpleasant it was to feel sub zero wind temps blowing against my face. No matter how cold it was, it felt good to be back in the north woods and even better to be at home.
Although I was flying high all the way home, I wasn't naive enough to think the high would last forever. But before I wrap of the blog experience I intend to milk every last ounce of inspiration from my trip for one final entry. A few days before catching a direct flight to MN I grabbed a notebook and started jotting down as many observations as I could about my surroundings, namely things that felt some how unique to Japan. These observations are of course subjective to my experience; however, many of these topics surfaced in conversations with Ana. And after getting to know a few of her friends from the University (also foreign exchange), I got the impression I wasn't the only foreigner feeling out of place.
Before I completly surrender to the rat race, here's a list of 50 final notes from the observation deck:
1. Japan is a mecca for sea food. My advice is try first ask later so you can avoid the pain of knowing what you're about to eat.
2. Cars drive on the opposite side of the road and the steering wheels are on the opposite side of the car.
3. When at the bookstore minding my own business, I looked down and noticed all the bindings were on the opposite side of the books. That means all the covers are on the back and all the backs are on the covers.
4. People walk on the opposide of the street. I adapted quickly so as not to disturb anyone's Zen, but once I started running, things got out of hand. When people were supposed to go left they went right and vice versa. Eventually I took matters into my own hands and ran offensively.
5. Japan is empowering the canine population to extreme heights. It's common to see dogs being pushed in strollers, dressed like babies, and treated like royalty.
6. Ordering food in a restaurant could be very challenging at times for one main reason: in half of the restaurants the entire ordering process was facilitated using either a machine in the door way, or a touch screen at our table. This would not have been a problem, had I known how to read simultaneously all three alphabets: Kanji, Katakana and Hiragna.
7. Horse meat is offered on most menus.
8. I imagine Japan being a nightmare for any vegetarian or a practicing Muslim, as meat and fish is served with just about every meal. If you're one or the other and planning to visit Japan, learn how to explain in Japanese that you can't eat meat (or learn how to say 'kosher') before embarking on your trip.
9: Tipping is not standard ettiquette.
10. Tax was always included in the price on the tag; unless of course we eat at a restaurant. Restaurants charged 5% of the meal cost for what was explained to me as, "a table rental tax."
11. Customer service in Japan was exceptional. When transacting at a convenient store, restaurant or train station I always received a smile, a light bow and a thank you (all while maintaining eye contact). I was very impressed.
12. It took being in the east to make me realize what being from the west was all about.
13. Silverware takes a back seat to chop sticks in Japan. Get used to it, go for it and trust me the cherades for needing silverware is second nature.
14. Japan has amazing toilets. They have heated seats with cushions and spray action for your backside. They also have double barrel flushing capebility, offering the user the option to flush big or small.
15. The Japanese do not jaywalk. It doesn't matter if there are no cars in either direction for as far as they eye can see...they're not going to cross the street until the pedestrian light turns green. That didn't stop Ana and I from jaywalking every chance we got, we just ignored the dirty looks.
16. Coffee cups and beer glasses were rarely filled to the brim. This drove me bananas as both are a part of my diet (and very expensive!). I tried and failed miserably at the cherades for "Aghm, mind topping me off?"
17. Big cities in Japan are built in layers. It was common to be in the subway system and feel the train below my feet, hear the rumbling of the subway above my head, and then realize there's a main street and two bridges above that.
18. Women cover their mouth when they laugh.
19. The 'peace' sign is the Japanese trademark when taking photos.
20. Talking on the telephone while on the subway or train is strictly prohibited. The irony is that everyone still uses their phone to text, play video games and watch tv while riding the train.
21. The Japanese love to package products in as many separate plastic wrappers as possible, almost to the extent that it has be a source of national pride. This made mondays mornings my favorite garbage day of the week.
22. Green tea is included in every meal restaurant.
23. Removing my shoes was mandatory in many buildings, as was offering me a pair of slippers that was too small.
24. Slippers for general areas and for bathrooms are not one in the same. There are always separate sandles for bathroom use.
25. You don't have to speak Japanese to survive in Japan, but they greatly appreciated an honest effort to speak it. They also exercised serious patience when my cherades failed miserably.
26. The Japanese have very healthy and active population. According to a Jan 23rd article in the Toronto Sun, Japan has the oldest population and the highest life expectancy. It was inspiring to see so many active senor citizens and middle aged parents dancing in the parks, flying kites and playing catch or kicking soccer balls across an open field with their kids.
28. It's illegal to carry a pocket knife in Japan with a blade longer than 2.2 inches. I marched around japan (mostly Yokohama and Tokyo) for 6 weeks before I realized the gravity of this consequence. In 2009 a 74 year old tourist was arrested and jailed for 9 days in Tokyo when the police discovered he was carrying a pocket knife that measured 1cm too long.
29. Baseball is huge in Japan. There was a ball field in every neighborhood I visited and there was alwaus people playing catch in the city parks.
30. Japan has turned garbage disposal into an art. 5 different days of the week, 5 diffferent kinds of garbage was picked up at a communal location in our neighborhood.
31. Japan is by far the safest country I have ever visited, including the United States of America.
32. Japan has a beautiful natural landscape. Mt. fuji was located about two hours S.W. of our apartment by train and very easy to see from our neighborhood on sunny days. Also within a couple hour train ride it was easy to find 300 foot waterfalls, dense forests, the Pacific Ocean on the east and the Sea of Japan to the west.
33. Buddist temples and Shinto Shrines are a common feature of Tokyo and Yokohama communities. Mixed between high rise condos, towering apartments and suburban homes it was easy to spot the roof tops of these ancient buildings.
34. After investigating the heavy sound of a military chopper over head I learned there is a strong U.S. military presence in Japan. I also learned that our most useful navy base located outside the U.S. is in Yokasuka, a town approximately 30 minutes south of where I lived.
35. Japan closed to international relations for the entirety of the Edo Period (1600-1850's). It didn't open to tourism or major international trade until 1857.
36. Kareoke is king of the night life activities.
37. Wearing the surgical mask is common place in Japan. The main reasons for wearing it include, but aren't limited to: protection from spreading germs, prevention of getting sick, keeping their face warm, and for the younger generations it was becoming the trendy thing to wear.
38. Although it's becoming more common to read in the western style, the traditional Japanese method is to start reading in the upper right hand side of the page and then downward.
39. English is found on advertisements, street signs and menus all arond town. The only problem is they often have misspelled words or any lack meaning
40. About once every week I woke up to a tremor in the middle of the night. Once the original "We're all going to die!" feeling subsided I was eventually able to roll over and go back to bed. No matter how low the crime rate is in Japan, the threat of natural disasters is always high.
41. If you ever visit Japan in the winter bring lots of layers for sleeping. The temperature in the city reached a low of only about 32 degrees, it was drafty and cold in just about every building. I even managed to see my breath some mornings in the apartment.
42. Netflix is not available in Japan!
43. The Yokohama/Tokyo area is expensive. A small cup of American coffee at Starbucks (mind you it will only be 2/3 full) cost 320 yen, or about $4.00.
44. Hello Kitty should be the mascot for Japan. Hello Kitty is drawn on cakes, jackets, backpacts and all kinds of Jewlery. I made sure to pick up a pair of chop sticks and a guitar pick with Hello Kitty on it before heading home.
45. One word: METROSEXUAL. The standard fashion for business men in the city includes a man purse, a smart suit, hair gel and for the younger generation a pair of non-prescription eye wear was pretty common.
46. I had to forfeit my idea of 'personal space' within a few hours of landing in Tokyo. If you're from New York this probably isn't a big deal to you, but being i'm from Minnesota this was like giving up my right arm. I now know what claustrophobia feels like.
47. Slurping noodels is common. Noodles are hot when served right? So why not reverse whistle and suck em' down the hatch. The first time I sat down with a bowl of wide noodle raumen and brown curry (what turned out to be my favorite Japanese food), I gave it hell and slurped until my bowl was squeaky clean.
48. The rumor I heard was everybody smokes in Japan. I can't say I found that to be the case. In fact we saw several designated smoking areas out doors as well as signs on the sidewalks indicating smoking was not permitted while walking.
49. My experience with Japanese people taught me they are very humble. Although at times their pride for Japan was abrasive and it was easy to feel like an outsider, most people tried very hard to speak English.
50. 36,000,000 people live in the Yokohama/Tokyo area of Japan. That is 1/4th of the population of Japan...talk about being packed like sardines. This makes a busy day at the Minnesota State Fair a walk in the park.
I wish I could have brought home every possible souvenir (especially Ana), but what souvenir could be better than a new outlook on life? I got to live life as an observer, explore an interest in writing and sleep a few extra hours. I made some new friends, saw a little bit of Japan and gained a new perspective. If any one is thinking about visiting Japan, I have some advice: Go with an open mind and be prepared to experience culture shock. You will also enjoy your time a lot more if you learn a little japanese before going. Even if you're a terrible speaker, they will respect you more for trying.
Thanks for taking the time to check out life in Japan. I always looked forward to reading your comments. Be well and Kan Pai!