November 17, 2012

10 Thoughts on Japan

Because not even the greatest writers in the history of written word could make today sound interesting, I will instead present to you a random collection of 10 thoughts, curiosities, and discoveries about Japan. If there is a particular order to these, it's lost on me:

  1. The population of the Tokyo underground (that is, all the people in the malls, tunnels, subways, and office spaces underground) must be larger than the population of most small cities.
  2. Considering the train cars are so crowded, they're also very quiet. Most people do not talk to one another on the train, and if they do, it's in a hushed tone. Japanese people are quiet people. And if they get excited, it comes out in rate of speech, not in volume. Also, babies do not seem to cry here. Not a peep out of them on the subways, and there are lots of them.
  3. It appears that in most urban areas, people leave their homes and then do not return until days end, which results in a few things:
    • Men carry bags. Not briefcases, not backpacks, but bags. Beautiful bags too. They're basically equivalent to a purse, but it makes sense since an entire days worth of goods must be kept on everyone's person. People here do not use cars, nor do they have the convenience of running home throughout the day, so what has resulted is a culture where men carry beautiful purses. 
    • Also, because of this, everyone has a portable phone charger. Come late-evening, everyone's phone is wired into some unseen object in their purse/murse.
    • Because so many people in urban areas travel by foot and train, there are literally hundreds of eateries and stores. And what's even more strange, is shopping, particularly clothing shopping, can be found in virtually any location. In America, if you want to go to the Gap, you drive to your local Gap, which is either in a mall or some designated shopping location. In Japan, however, you'll be transferring from one train line to another and pass a Gap, two Uniqlos, a suit store, and a sock shop. Japanese people purchase clothes the way Americans purchase lattes: on the go.
    • Also, the lack of cars mixed with the dense urban landscape means that convenience stores, such as 7/11 and Lawson are incredibly valuable. Besides the usual snack food, you can also shop for groceries, pick up fresh baked goods, mail packages, complete your banking, and purchase tickets for various events across the country.
    • The lack of cars also means that grocery stores tend to spring up around train stations. And because people travel by foot, groceries are purchased in small quantities, usually only enough for 24 hours. This seems to also be a result of limited space in Japanese apartments for large refrigerators. Many are the size of my dorm-room mini-fridge, so only a few products are kept at a home for very long, while the rest are purchased daily.
    • This entire network of on-the-go shopping has lead to a few easy ways of payment. My favorite is the Suica/Pasmo card which can be loaded up with cash for trains, vending machines and many restaurants and stores. You literally tap your wallet against a rubber plate and the funds are deducted from you pass. Quick and efficient.
  4. Of the people I know who are fluent in Japanese, none can quickly tell me what meat products are in certain products. I'll find something at the store and bring it up to them, and it will take them a good 10 seconds to figure out what is actually in the product. Americans are very concerned with labeling and being clear with what exactly is in a dish (this is pork, this is salmon, this is vegetarian) but people just don't seem to give a fuck here. Which is frightening for someone whose mouth is so easily offended.
  5. The women are incredibly submissive. It's no secret that Japanese women are not outwardly confident, but I have been taken back by just how submissive they are. It's hard to describe, but a combination of body language, lack of eye contact, and manner of dressing all combine into one beautifully packaged by poorly presented person.
  6. Also, on that, chivalry does not seem to be a thing here. I guess people just can't take the time to open the door for someone else or let a lady go first because of how busy the cities can be, but I get the weirdest looks when I open a door for  a woman, followed by very apologetic "sumimasen! sumimasen!" (excuse me! excuse me!).
  7. This is odd considering the society is so polite, but there is a big difference I have discovered in being polite and being kind. Politeness can be externally regulated: the bowing of employees when they enter or exit a room, the rehearsed "welcome to our store!" you get every time you enter a building. Kindness is a trait that comes from within and while I would not say that Japanese people, on a whole, are not kind, I will say that the rehearsed politeness really effects my perception of the genuine kindness.
  8. The thing you don't hear people discussing, with regards to Japanese obsessions, is stationary. But boy do they appreciate a good pen and some paper! 
  9. And cats. They fucking love cats. I've started to see woman in berets, bowlers, and beanies, all with cat ears.
  10. The Japanese also love tripods! Many of the temples I've entered have signs that read "No tripods" "No unipods". It's not uncommon to see a dozen people at any given historic site with a camera and tripod. And not just big groups, families and couples will use them too!

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