Japan: Some Observations

I am writing this post from a train while baby wearing my sleeping little monkey. She’s three months old. The man to my left has fallen asleep and is pressing on my left arm. The train is moderately packed. Everyone has about a foot of personal space. Packed reduces to either physically touching your neighbor when standing to 2-3 inches of space. Anyhow, I want to remember this experience so many of these are just for me to remember our time in Japan. I intend to add pictures later.

1. It’s Just Different

That’s what everyone said when we moved. I would say that seems obvious but it’s a good thing to keep in mind when you get lost, can’t pay your rent due to a translation error, or can’t figure out if you’re ordering for four people at $50 a pop (total bill $200) or four people for $50 (total bill $50).

2. Face Masks

Let’s just get some of the quick ones out right off the bat. People wear face masks when they’re sick but also when they don’t want to be sick. It’s common to see people of all ages wearing face masks. It does not mean there is a epidemic!

3. Convenience Stores

7-11 is basically where I do everything. I can pay my utilities there. Get yen (which is key because I haven’t found other convenience stores –such as Lawson or Family Mart — take my American Debit Card). I can purchase (a good!!!!) dinner/lunch there. I can purchase baseball tickets and other such tickets. I can get alcohol, milk, eggs, treats. Basically I’m not sure what you can’t do there. It’s amazing.

4. Trash

When walking around you will notice a distinct lack of trash cans. If you’re out and about and have a drink…there is no trash can to throw it in! The convenience stores have trash cans (in general). Don’t forget to separate your trash!

5. Silence

I’m on the train as I mentioned above. If I dropped my pen, everyone on the train would hear it. People do not talk on the train! I believe it has to do with the Wa or cultural idea of maintaining harmony. However if it’s Friday night…people seem to loosen up some and talk on the train some.

6. Sunglasses vs Umbrellas

I would say that most people do not wear sunglasses. It seems people carry umbrellas for rain or sunshine.

7. Make-up/Suits

I never thought that people in other countries wear their make up differently but apparently I was ignorant. It seems like most women’s make-up is perfectly applied, always. (Oh and it seems like 95% of women wear sheer or nude stockings) From what I can tell, it seems as if blush is applied closer to the eyes horizontally slightly above the cheekbone. For men…a lot of men wear white shirts/black suits to work and may unbutton their top button and remove their tie when the PM (?) unbuttons his collar and removes his tie. Women wear a skirt version of this suit minus a tie.

8. Trains

Again. A significant delay probably has an official definition but I’d guess that it might be 30 seconds late? The trains are incredibly punctual. They have music that plays you on the train to help encourage you on/off the train in a timely manner. Oh. Obviously don’t talk on your phone on the train.

9. Google Maps

I have no idea what I would do without Google. Apple maps have gotten me lost. Google maps help me with trains and roads. Now the directions might be something like “in 500 meters turn left.” When that left turn has three options and you take the wrong one…just sigh and know it’s just different.

10. Streets and Skirts

Sometimes I feel like I am playing chicken with oncoming traffic, pedestrians and bicycles. The streets near our house do not have side walks. Children walk to school by themselves from age four (these same four year olds travel on the trains by themselves). So watching the street mirrors is imperative. What might seem like a one way road is often two ways. I think I passed within 2 inches of a taxi this past week. It seems like there are no rules for where pedestrians walk. Sometimes the street is just packed with people. I have hardly seen people use their horn. Maybe they don’t want to disturb the wa? It was also a shock to me to be driving somewhere and seeing school aged children clothing. The boys and girls shorts and skirts are so short for my Puritan infused ideals that I was shocked the first time I saw skirts that by no means met the finger tip rule. Maybe a wrist rule and maybe an inch or two above? But apparently it is inappropriate to wear a low cut top.

11. Google Translate

So let’s just say sometimes the translation is approximate. We once translated something and the result was “cheese stain.” Ok so maybe a cheese spread? But don’t be surprised when it’s just not what you were expecting 😀. Again, just part of the fun!

12. Children and Parenting

It seems to me that Japan does Attachment Parenting. Baby wearing is done. Children to the age of 4 kind of just do kid things like temper tantrums and it’s expected and frankly understood. I cannot tell you how amazing this country can be when you have children. Just evaluate taking your big stroller on the train! You might get a wall of shame.

13. Open Container Laws and Chu-His

Not to put drinking right after parenting but…If you are in the mood for some amazingly refreshing beverage…Chi-Hi’s are where it’s at. Well it’s cheap, delicious and stupidly accessible. For about $2 you can have a melon flavored amazingness or a grapefruit…My personal favorite are the Suntory brand ones…they’re also only about 3% alcohol. Be careful! Some of them are 9% alcohol and that will sneak right up on you.

14. Did we already say we don’t have a dishwasher? No garbage disposal? A tiny washer/dryer? A fish oven? A pantry in the floor of the kitchen?

15. Parking

You can spot a non-Japanese owned car by looking at the parking lot. From my experience, every Japanese person has ninja skills when it comes to parking or driving backwards (both of which I’m very bad at). Japanese people back into their parking spots. You can spot non-Japanese by the one car that pulled into the spot. Mine. I mean I try to maintain the Wa but I really don’t want to hit your BMW (I feel like everyone drives a BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz etc…anything other than my $500 beater :)).

16. We’ve also probably already mentioned that the Japanese drive on the left. So when you travel to Korea…try not to get hit! After a year of retraining my brain to look the opposite direction when crossing the street…being hit is a definite possibility.

17. Street Mirrors

Often I feel like I’m playing chicken when I am driving on the back streets near my house. I do drive the speed limit but with the people all but blocking the street, the taxi’s whipping by, it’s slightly terrifying particularly when you have a bend in the road and you can’t see oncoming traffic. You quickly learn to rely on mirrors. There are large circular mirrors at most (key word most :)) bends in the road…so check them to see if you see a car coming the opposite direction.

18. Car Seat Safety

For me, it’s a terrifying thing to see a car seat front facing in the passenger seat, but I see it with some regularity. It seems like seat belts and car seat laws here are significantly less stringent (or people just ignore them).

19. People

I have been reflecting lately on what my initial impression of Japan was based off of…the train and driving. So if I were to go to the US and judge the US off the way drivers drive etc…you would probably leave immediately. Same difference. People are in a rush to get to wherever they’re going. So it’s not uncommon to have someone yell at your driving ability (code for me being lost) but then help you cross the street.

20. Kindness

Before coming to Japan I was told the people are so incredibly kind. It’s true… Just don’t hold their rush hour madness against them (everyone gets busy). Recently, I was having a “bad” Japan day. One of those days where something just didn’t make sense but should have and therefore caused a bit of strife in my mind (code for I was REALLY MAD because maybe the Security guard let my neighbor drive out down the road during the restricted kids-go-to-school hour but wouldn’t let me because…I’m not Japanese????…and I was told it was okay for me since I live here…). So we were all packed up and heading to Tokyo (an hour away). As the train became progressively more packed, I was standing baby-wearing Baby E with Sweetpea in her stroller. Baby E decided she needed to eat. So standing up in a packed train this time, I breastfed our little wonder (while muttering in my mind something like sorry-not-sorry). Then as if to prove to me that Japan is actually awesome, I had to get from one side of the train to another through a solid wall of people. I said excuse me to a gentlemen indicating at the next stop I needed to get out. Maybe each person had 0-2 inches of personal space (put it this way my dad traveled during rush hour in Japan and was literally picked up off the ground because there were so many people in his car) so getting off the train with a stroller, a diaper bag, and a baby can be really hard. This gentleman who I said excuse me to moved people out of the way to ensure I got off in time with two kids, a stroller and a diaper bag. Not only did he clear the way, he lost his place on the train and had to wait to catch the next train. That is Japan, 100%. People will go out of their way to help you in an instant.

21. Help

If you ask for help, be prepared to receive help. Just as that gentleman kindly got people out of the way for me, if you ask for help it’s almost like you are putting someone in an alert status or something. They will ensure that the problem is resolved and that whatever you needed help with is 110% fixed. This was a shock to me.

22. Saying No

Before coming here people had said that the Japanese don’t say no. Talk about a mind shift. If someone breathes in sharply through their teeth that is no. But they won’t say it. This has been a hard one for me to comprehend. I asked my neighbor recently if he was available to take our dogs out during lunchtime (he’s a dog trainer). Instead of saying yeah I’m really busy right now, he started describing how many dogs he had but that he could probably do it. To me it sounded like yes, then I had to apply what I know of Japan and realize he was saying no. I’ve had to learn to ask questions that the answer is Yes and not No. So if I want to know if Sweetpea is ready to do dance class I can’t say “do you think I should let her do dance class?” (she lays on the floor face down at dance class……)…I should say I think Sweetpea should do dance class in about a year…what do you think. The answer to that is yes :).

23. Locks!

Maybe this is only my house, but door locks are reverse from what I’m used to! To me, a door is locked the locking device is vertical…nope not here. A door is locked when the element you turn to lock the door is horizontal.

24. Car Magnets

Apparently there are magnets you put on your car to indicate if you are a first time driver, hearing impaired etc! Who knew.

25. CROSSWALKS

These are no joke. The Japanese OBEY their crosswalk signs. If it says don’t walk. 99.99% of the time they don’t cross the street. But if it’s green, bikes, children, people walk regardless of whether you have a green light or not. So be CAREFUL!

26. Rain

Apparently there is a rainy season. Any by rain, just realize it might rain for 4 days straight. So just put on your boots and get out of the house.

27. Kid train etiquette

Kids should take their shoes off if they stand, sit on their feet on the seats on the train. (Also you should not eat or drink on the train but this rule is flexed for kids it seems). Also if your kid is having a complete meltdown. It happens…just try to make an effort to help your kid calm down.

28. Adventure time toilets

Teaching your toddler to use Japanese toilets is fun…if you have 20 minutes. Oftentimes there is a western style toilet but sometimes there are none.

29. Speaking of bathrooms

The public bathrooms often do not have trash cans, paper towels, soap or hot water. So you rinse your hands off in cold water and wish you’d remembered your little hand towel you bought but left at home for the last hundred times.

30. Clothes drying

It seems that most people dry their clothes outside on porches. I think when I let our dogs lay out on the porch, I surprised my neighbor. I guess the porch function is to dry ones clothes…period? I’m not 100% on this one.

31. Pride

Someone recently said the Japanese take things from other cultures and perfect it. I would agree that this is true from what I’ve seen. They seem to be the most meticulous, detail oriented people who take absolute pride in what they do. I recently returned home from picking up Baby E to find a cement mixer coming from the street I live on. They accidentally spilled cement on the road. Maybe this would be true elsewhere, but they asked me to wait and proceeded to clean up the wet cement before I drove to my house. This type of pride in what they do seems normal. There were hoses (that appeared from nowhere it seemed), multiple people helping, it was quite the production.

32. Toll Roads

You don’t have to take tolls but I’ve gotten myself significantly lost without them. (That 25 minute drive took me 2 hours and $40 in tolls :)). Toll roads aren’t usually just a dollar or so…for me to go about 30 minutes south and back is about $25. That adds up.

33. Credit Cards vs Cash

In used to city town, I never carried cash. Today…there are often times where a vendor does not take credit cards. I’ve been told I’m wrong about this but in my experience if you’re not carrying cash and you just ate lunch…avoid the embarrassment and just carry some cash (yen).

34. TV Content

You know your favorite show that you get via Netflix, Hulu or such? You might not have access to it out here. Purchase a VPN service…Side note, to me the internet is insanely fast.

35. Flowers

The Japanese seem to love cute things…from their traffic cones to their cherry blossoms. Frankly, I love the flowers. Cherry blossoms are actually a newsworthy event! People track which ones in what area are blooming! Oh and Starbucks has a signature coffee mug each year to celebrate the Sakura/cherry blossoms.

36. Festivals and Fireworks
Apparently both are amazing! I read one show had something like 30,000 fireworks!

Japan has definitely been an incredible experience. There are days when I have frustrations but as a whole I am so incredibly happy to have had this experience.

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