10 head scratching moments of life in Japan
30.12.2012 9 °C
Greetings and Happy Holidays to everyone!
You are all in my thoughts and I wish you a happy holiday with friends and family.
Although i've settled in to Japan quite well, some things still seem impossible to wrap my head around and continue blow my mind. Here's a list of 10 reminders that i'm not in the United States. Some of them were quite frustrating, while others have become a channel for adventure:
- 1 Navigating the subway was a challenge, but after checking out a 90 second tutorial on You Tube I had it down to a science. The machines that dispense the tickets have a special button for people like me, it says "English". Once you touch it, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
- 2 Disposal of garbage is a process. Garbage is not picked up once a week, it's picked up once a day. Combustible items are on picked up on Sat and Tues, plastics on Mon, recyclable paper is on the 1st and 3rd Wed of the month, and cans and bottles are picked up on Fri. Besides figuring out which days of the week are appropriate for said piece of garbage, there is a certain way to bundle everything together by using twine or a transparent plastic bags. Even garbage disposal can be an art form.
- 3 Using the toilet has taken some practice and patience. Very rarely do I encounter a typical western toilet with a normal seat and simple switch for single flush action. Most toilets have double barrel flushing power. Dial the switch to the left for "big" and to the right for "small". This was extremely confusing the first day I arrived, as the toilet switch in our apartment is hooked up backwards. The big flush was tiny and the small flush was heroic. Vwoosh! That's just the half of it, I saw a toilet at Starbucks in Chinatown that had heated seats, butt washing capability and an emergency "panic" button (i'm not exagerrating). Then there's the eastern porcelin toilet that has a dish on the floor. Nature hasn't called when I've been in the vicinity of one of these thrones.
- 4 Most restaurants use a machine to facilitate the food ordering process. Either you order from a machine (and pay the machine) immediatley upon entering the restuarant, or you're seated by a host/hostess and order from a small digital screen at your table. After using it once or twice it's not so bad, but it's quite a nightmare the first time through. These little machines do not have an "English" button either. Lucky for us at least one member of our group always knows more Japanese than we do.
- 5 I was running the other day when I saw an older woman fall down in the crosswalk. She was in her 80's or 90's I presume. It was raining, cold, and only a few other people were around to help. Fortunately they rushed to her side and I didn't have to do anything. The problem was, I wanted to help. Since I don't speak Japanese, have a phone to call for help, I felt quite useless. Eventually she got up, but this served as a reminder of the importance of knowing the language.
- 6 Trying new foods has become an adventure. It might not be as rowdy as bungee jumping or walking across hot coals, but it's exciting and i'm constantly surprised at how much I enjoy it. Since most foods come in small quantities, it's easy to taste and not get stuck eating the whole plate if it doesn't agree with you. Here's a list of a few things i've tried along the way that were new to me: squid, octopus, raw salmon, sardines, fried chicken cartilage and several other kinds of fish (some raw some not). I've also had ta-ko yaki (octopus in a fried batter) onigiri (rice, veggies and ham rolled in sea weed), tama-wo-raki (eggs, spinich, sugar amd green onion rolled together) and chi-dash-i (traditional japanese rice). The best part is that i've enjoyed the majority of it.
- 7 The "Onsen" (hot springs) was pretty amazing. We walked into the building, slipped off our shoes, paid the machine and made our way into the changing room. The pools are separated into two areas, one for males and one for females. Rule #1, no bathing suits. Rule #2, bath before entering the hot springs. Bathing does not mean standing in a shower stall, it means sitting on what looks like a small plastic bucket infront of a little mirror and washing up. Next to the mirror are a bottle of soap and shampoo, a small bucket to rinse a razor (if shaving) and a removeable shower spout from the wall used to rinse off the soap. The onsen had 6 hot springs inside, 4 outside and one sauna. Equal amounts for both the men and women. The water was between 39 and 41 degrees C which is very similar average hot tub temps.
- 8 The flea market near Ueno Station in Tokyo was a mad house. I'd compare it to the midway at the state fair on the busiest day of the year, just in a smaller space. This market has the cheapest prices for all kinds of food, clothes, jewlery, etc. I'm not sure our feet hit the ground when we passed through this alley. There were so many people, crammed so close together, we sort of floated from one end to the other letting the current of people take us down stream. All the while workers were shouting their prices for delicious seafood caught earlier that day.
- 9 The other night we had dinner with 3 of Ana's friends. We did Izakaya at a restaurant in Yokohama. It's a very common in the Japanese culture. It involves drinking for two hours while eating small plates of food. When we finished, we headed back to the subway. On the way we encountered several people in the street offering deals to sing kareoke. After some tough negociation the 5 of us rented a room from 11:00pm-5:00am for 3,000 yen ($36), all drinks included. The first thing they gave us when we got in the room was a small digital box we would be using to place our orders.
- 10 To get to Tokyo or anywhere outside of Yokohama you have to go through Yokohama station. It's the central station in Yokohama that is two stops away from our apartment. Life around town is pretty smooth until you have to pass through this station. Fortunately first floor is where we do most of our walking because the 10 floors of restaurants, shops and 1/2 dozen different train lines passing through here are overwhelming. One thing never changes at Yokohama station, the feeling that it's the day before Christmas and all 35,000,000 people decided to shop here for their last minute gifts. Picture a dozen school of fish coming from all different directions heading towards the same location. You are in the middle of that location. They race towards you, colliding and weaving through one another only to vanish around the corner and out of sight.....that's life at Yokohama station.
Thanks for taking a minute to check out life in Japan. We're getting to know the city better, meeting new people and enjoying our time together. Have a safe and Happy New Year! See you soon!