I’m going to japan. Who would’ve thought.. Not me, at least not the me three days before the scheduled flight. As always things got very hectic at work and I was considering, once again to drop it all and just stay in the safe comfiness of my bed for the two weeks that I was supposed to be travelling to Japan.  So preparation was non-existent and I’ve walked completely unprepared into a world that appears insane(ly amazing). There are so many things that are so different here, that it’s hard to grasp it all and for the first few days one feels like an alien. As if we’ve discovered a new planet and are looking at their inhabitants with amazing disbelief. At least I did. It’s been the strongest cultural shock I’ve ever had. Also because communication is very limited.

There’s the fun things, like the toilets. When we landed, my colleague ran to the toilets to have his first ‘japanese toilet experience’. I followed only to discover it was a ‘normal’ toilet. Our hotel, then, had the real deal. It even opened the lid when you opened the door. I spent a couple of minutes pondering the wonders of the toilet. In particular how it is possible that the toilet lid opens automatically at every entry if it doesn’t close automatically upon exit and why the spray thingie is different for men and women. One thing I found out the experimental way is that the waves shown don’t symbolize water, they symbolize air..  The flushing is usually a completely different interface.

Or, the other day, I bought a little rice cake wrapped in nori(seaweed leaves), upon opening, I discovered the packaging was such that you automatically removed a fine plastic sheet between the nori and the rice. Keeping the rice from making the seaweed soggy. Ok, I can see how this would be hard to pull of with a Jelly-toast, but wouldn’t it be awesome if it was possible?
There’s the strange things (to me, obviously) like the train personal bowing to everyone every time they enter or leave a train car and they pass through every minute. In general there’s a lot of bowing involved in daily life and an amazing friendliness. One of the first nights we went out, we entered a less touristy place where a group of elderly gentlemen were having dinner (and a lot of sake).

Immediately one of them jumped up, walked over to us and said in perfect English “Thank you for visiting Japan”. He then proceeded to have us try their food so we could see if we liked it (we did. A lot!) and helped us order with the cook who spoke no English at all.. Unfortunately they left soon after before we finished ordering and it got a bit more complicated. But we had great food and lots of fun.
And then there’s scary things like the notes displayed everywhere warning you about upskirting and the apparent need for ‘women only’ train cars during rush hour.

One thing that may be scary to some, but made me feel right at home is their relationship with alcohol. When they party, they part hard. At the end of a ‘happy hour’ with all drinks for free we were asked by the host “Did you drink as much as possible?”, which is quite a different concept from “As much as you wanted”. It was a fun evening though and even though I definitely didn’t drink as much as possible, I drank as much as I could enjoy!

One thing I’ve been tremendously enjoying is the fact that Japan is smoke free, smoking in public is forbidden with the exception of restaurants and bars and the smoke boxes, which look a bit like prisons. It seems weird coming from a country where it’s basically permitted to smoke everywhere except for restaurants. But it is so much more enjoyable and the smoke in the restaurant becomes much less bothering if you’re not constantly exposed to it elsewhere. There are much more rules to follow, smoking in public is forbidden, as is littering, solicitation and probably a bunch of other things I’m unaware of. However, as a tourist, you have a sort of immunity. Nobody expects you to know how to behave and people are very forgiving. They’re also very helpful, even if this is often limited by the amount of Japanese I speak (and their amount of English). Unfortunately they’re also not always prepared for the foreigners huge feet or gigantic height. I’ve been banging my head daily in the ryokan.

In the cities, things are usually very clearly labelled and you get arrows on the street or signs telling you where to go and stand. (See also the next post about the metro).


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