にっぽん - July 8
We couldn't close out our trip to Japan without giving an overview of our two weeks spent there. Japan is a very interesting and unique country. It has the feel and size of a major Western nation, but it still holds onto its traditions, heritage and culture. We could probably write a novel on our experiences in Japan (some may even feel we already have!), the attached photo albums should tell the story much better then we can.
In a word, we loved our time spent in Japan! It is hands down the safest country we've been to. It is definitely safer than Canada. We've never felt more comfortable in a foriegn country, and that is a clear testiment to the people. The Japanese are very respectful people and probably the friendliest we've come across on our travels. We were always approached by people eager to help us whenever we looked lost or confused.
Seriously, if you ever visit Japan, open up a map in a train station and act really confused. Then take a look at your watch, it'll only be a matter of minutes before someone will ask if they can help you! The big difference from other Asian nations is that when they are finished helping you, they will wish you a pleasant day and go about their business. There is no alternative motive. They are not trying to sell you something, they are not trying to pick your pocket, they not trying to extort money from you. They are simply trying to help because it is a good thing to do, and I assume it's also hard for them to navigate the massive cities and transit networks (so they feel your pain!). The remarkable thing is that it's like that everywhere you go in Japan... how refreshing is that as a traveller?!
Everyone either rides a bike, motorcycle or uses the train systems. In fact, for a country that is so densely populated there is surprising little street traffic. You'd expect traffic jams everywhere but it really wasn't the case. Taxi drivers all wear suits with white gloves, and they leave the left backseat door open while they wait for a fare. An extremely professional service, unlike virtually every other country where taxi drivers are often only looking to make a quick buck.
Japanese take a lot of pride in their work, even if it is not the most glamourous work... it was actually very refreshing to witness this high level of respect, something we North Americans should work towards. Japanese people are also very obedient and they follow the rules. The police seem to spend more time giving directions then they do arresting bad guys, mainly because people simply aren't causing trouble! (Now how can we adopt that kind of culture?)
A perfect example is that there is no smoking on the streets. People are required to smoke in designated areas even while outside. The kicker is that the people actually respect this rule and don't smoke on the street! Do you think that would ever fly in Canada? The irony is that it is still acceptable to smoke in public restaurants. And some restaurants have a certain time in the day that it is non-smoking, like lunch time. So from 10:00 to 3:00 the restaurant is non-smoking, but at dinner it is permitted. Now what's the point in that... really?
Japan is actually not as 'futuristic' as we thought it would be. There are big bright lights and massive media screens playing advertisements everywhere, but other than that its not much different than Canada. We ignorantly expected everyone to have a mini-computers playing videostreamed programs, etc... not the case. BUT, portable video games are huge for all ages.
Everyone has a similar looking cell phone, but very there are few iPhones and no blackberries. My assumption is that this 'common model' is the equivalent to a Crackberry in Canada? Nobody talks on their cell phones, they're always texting. In fact, it's considered rude to be talking on your cell phone while on the subway or the streets... do you think that would fly in Canada?
Everything seems to be sold in a vending maching, even beer! You get get a hot latte and a cold latte (careful though, they're highly addictive!). You can even purchase your hot dinner from a vending machine, then bring the ticket inside to the restaurant to pick up your meal - very efficient!
Convenience stores are everywhere and are a popular place to eat. They sell a lot of pre-made dinners, like a bento box, which are typically rice and something deep fried. Fast food is very popular in present Japanese cullture, something that has evolved rapidly with the new, younger generations.
There are no benches or places to sit anywhere, which contradicts the trend of eating fast food from convenience stores. It is also considered rude to eat and walk, so what is one expected to do? Surprisingly there are no garbage bins anywhere, which is so odd because the cities are kept very clean.
The Japanese youth try very hard to look fashionable... fashion is a very big part of their culture. Often times the styles just don't seem to work, but then again that may just be me getting old!
Very few washrooms have towels or dryers for your hands after you've washed them. Odd for a nation that is obsessed with cleaniness and germ prevention (riding the subways you'll see many people wearing surgical masks). Public toilets have built in bum sprayers and blow dryers... there is a control panel on the side to adjust water pressure and temperature... a weird experience the first time you try it!
Due to the incredible density, it is common for parking garages to have individual elevators. Picture a dry cleaners conveyor belt for clothes, only for cars! There are even rotating floor panels that spin the cars around before entering the surprisingly tight elevators.
The majority of unmanned outdoor public parking stalls have locking devices. Not only does it ensure proper payment, it protects the vehicles from being stolen. Now why don't we do that? Some personal parking spots even have two stories with a hoist lifting and holding the vehicle above, like bunk beds for cars!
As I sit and write this I realize that I could go on and on. So I'll wrap it up... Japan was an amazing country! We loved it and hope to visit again in the future!