Some Surprising Facts About Everyday Life in Japan

As a foreigner I’m constantly aware of how different Tokyo is from where I’m from in America.

Here’s a few facts about my daily life in Tokyo that most people wouldn’t notice unless they get a chance to live or visit here.

You might be surprised to learn that:

  • Crows are humongous here, and are known to swoop down and take small pets. I’ve even seen them attack people if the person has food.
  • You can find a vending machine almost everywhere you go. There you can buy hot and cold drinks, some depending on the season. In the winter you can buy hot canned corn and sweet bean soup, and they’re delicious. It’s not very expensive, usually less than 200円 (less than $2 USD), but those costs do add up over time if you’re on a budget.
  • There is a convenience store at almost every corner, and the food they sell is not only cheap and edible…it’s also delicious.
  • But… you can rarely find a trash can once you leave the store. People carry their garbage with them until they get to the next こんびに (convenience store) or train station, etc.
  • Many Japanese people do not use paper towels in the kitchen, they use washable cloths. They also call paper towels “kitchen paper.”
  • Most homes do not have a dishwasher.
  • Homes usually only have a clothes washer, but not a clothes dryer. Most everyone hangs their clothes and bedding out to dry.
  • It is more convenient to ride a bike, walk, or take the train than it is to drive and park. (within the city, anyway). Parking costs money and paid parking lots with an open spot are sometimes hard to find if you don’t have one of the fancy car navi systems that shows you open lots.
  • In Tokyo most Japanese people hurry- even employees. They will actually run to go open up their cash register,  help a customer, etc.
  • Often English is used as a novelty… not as an indicator of what kind of business it is. For example, there is a place near me called “Flamingo Saloon” with an old-west style sign. It’s a hair salon. This can be very confusing for a new person who can’t read or search online for services in Japanese. There’s a learning curve, for sure, and sometimes that curve is going to the place, realizing it’s not what you thought it would be, and leaving.
  • You can find the kcalorie content on pretty much everything, and sometimes it’s even listed on the menus. This helps when trying to decide what to grab to eat when you’re out and about.
  • Inanimate objects “sing” to you, or make other such noises…and I love it. My rice cooker plays “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” when you turn it on and when it’s finished cooking,  my hot water boiler plays “Fleur de Lise” when it’s finished boiling,  the trash truck plays a song the entire time it’s driving, the floor waxing/buffing machine in the train station also plays a song… the list goes on, and on. I think it’s really interesting and pleasant.

Of course these are just a few examples of what  I’ve experienced while living here. I  might jot down a few more later, or write a new post about it. I’m not sure yet.

What did you find surprising when you lived in or visited Tokyo?

Added 3/12/16

  • Japanese packaging is so easy to open- from onigiri to shipping boxes. It’s very convenient!
  • Surgical-style face masks. How could I have left this out of my original list? People wear face masks for many reasons. Sometimes they’re sick, sometimes they’re worried about getting sick, and sometimes it is due to allergies.
  • There are so many choices for shampoos and conditioners that many drug stores will sell trial sized packages of most of the popular brands on the shelf.  This is great when you’re not sure what to buy-especially if you can’t read all of the package. It is very cost effective compared to buying a large size of a product that you might end up not liking.

 

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Challenge: Choose Only 2 Things That Represent Japan

Yesterday a Japanese person asked me what 2 things I would pick that best represent [my impression of] Japan.

I found this to be a difficult question because so far I love everything about it.

Choosing just 2 aspects of life in Japan was very challenging, but after some thought I was able to pick 2 that best represent my experience here:

1. The Train System

I think that Japan’s train system is a metaphor for modern Japan culture.

I’ll often see women in kimono as they go to and from work, which is a reminder of how rich Japan’s culture is and how seamlessly the past blends with the present here. On the same city block you will see a mixture of old wooden homes alongside modern structures, so the blending of past and present is something you will instantly be aware of.

The trains are efficient, on time, and reliable. The signs are in English, which shows how willing the Japanese people are to accommodate travelers who speak other languages. The station is packed with delicious smells and foods, gifts, convenience store items, grocery stores, and sometimes even department stores, so you’re never at a loss for something to buy that you need or want.

The passengers are quiet, respectful, and keep to themselves. I find that the majority of people follow the established rules of the train system:stand on the left of the escalator and walk on the right, no talking on your phone in the train, move quickly, and don’t stop the flow of traffic. To me, this behavior shows how disciplined, respectful, and orderly the Japanese are- and I love it.

Then you have those passengers who sleep on the train. Many Americans I know think this is very funny (for some strange reason), but I think that these sleeping people represent the long work day and diligent work ethic that Japan culture celebrates.

2. Gadgets That Make Your Life Easier

Japanese gadgets never cease to amaze me. Every time I see a new one it makes perfect sense and I wonder why I haven’t seen it before now. I think that Japanese gadgets (for the kitchen, organization, storage, bathroom, and the like) are a perfect example of the efficiency and ingenuity of the Japanese culture. These products exist because there was a need that wasn’t being filled. Sure, there are some products out there that are probably useless, but there hasn’t been a single product I’ve bought that hasn’t helped make my daily life easier.

If you had to choose 2 things that best represent your impression of Japan, what would they be?

Tokyo Sakura (Cherry) Blossom Season 2014

We just experienced our first Sakura (cherry) blossom season here in Tokyo and it was more beautiful than we expected.

While we didn’t get to see every hanami (Sakura viewing) spot we wanted to see because of our very limited free time (David now works 12 hour shifts overnight), were still able to enjoy Hanami at a few places.

Sakura at Yokota AB

Sakura at Yokota AB

The Sakura near where we live on the base in Fussa are already bare from the high winds we’ve gotten lately, but I have enjoyed riding my bike through the falling petals as I run errands around the local area.

I work at an English cafe in Hamura on the weekends David works and the owner has become a good friend to us. He is a widower and has tried to go on local bus tours by himself, but going alone just isn’t the same as going with friends or loved ones, so when he asked if we would be interested in going with him we were very excited.

The bus tour Ken-San booked for us was a Sakura tour around Tokyo that included all-you-can-eat tempura and sushi for lunch.

The locations we stopped at were:

  • Tokyo National Museum
  • Yasukuni Shrine and (matsuri) festival in the area before the shrine
  • Shiratama Inari Shrine and Hotel Chinzanso (a popular outdoor wedding area with a waterfall and hidden restaurants and shrines along the paths on the hillside behind the hotel

Ken-San did an excellent job of telling us about the places we visited because the entire tour was in Japanese. We learned many new things and visited places we wouldn’t have discovered on our own. The tour was rushed, though, because traffic caused us to get behind, which meant our time at the locations was cut short.

Yasukuni Shrine

The standard Sakura at Yasukuni Shrine

Hotel Chinzanso

Hotel Chinzanso

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think my favorite Hanami was when we actually had the time to take a picnic lunch and relax under the Sakura by the Tama river in Hamura. We stumbled upon a small matsuri (festival) and I tried some fried uncooked spaghetti that was covered in sugar. I don’t know the name of it, but the booth was very popular so I decided to try some. It was good, but very messy. There was powered sugar everywhere!

Lanterns lined the path around this section of the Tama river, and this particular spot felt very dreamlike to us.

Hamura Sakura Festival

Hamura Sakura Festival

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Humura Sakura Festival at Sunset

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Hamura Sakura Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We went back to Ueno Park to see the nighttime Hanami, and we were delighted to see so many Japanese people relaxing, drinking, and having a great time with their friends and co-workers.

Next year David plans to take leave so he will be able to enjoy the Sakura during the day.  I certainly look forward to next year’s Sakura blossoms!

Do you have a favorite Sakura viewing spot?