Monday, 2 December 2013

Japan ~ The Land of....

So in roughly six days, I will have spent one month Japan and I must say that I’ve had myself a handful of experiences and in such a short amount of time no less. There have been highs and lows – typical things that come with being a foreigner in a strange place. And I’ve had to navigate my way about quite a lot in these last few weeks. I wonder what I would have done had it not been for my maps and the wonderful Hyperdia. But while Japan does have a lot to offer in terms of splendour, beauty and other opposites from London town, some things just seem a little “standard procedure” even though for a foreigner like me, it’s a little different. But it wasn’t like I wasn’t expecting a complete overhaul. After all, I’ve heard from Japanese people in my own country that they could not believe how unclean it was. Culture shock for the win. But in the same way that my life back home had these typical characteristics, Japan has its very own version as well.

Train Lines

I can’t speak for the rest of England but in London, we utilise two systems – the underground (or the tube) and the overhead trains which frequently lead outside of the city and all over the UK. For someone coming in, it seems rather complicated. There are many lines on the underground and various service providers for the overhead crawlers. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in three cities already – Nagoya, Osaka and of course, Hiroshima – and it seems like every city has its own subway and overhead trains which lead into other cities with their own subways and overhead trains. Osaka was particularly chaotic for me (although I’ve heard Tokyo is worse). I’ve been very fortunate however in that most train lines and their stations provide information in English (I can’t fathom how people navigated the systems all those decades ago). But when a subway station has a Hankyu line and a Kintetsu line counterpart, both of which are called different names and you need to take this train to get on this line to get to Nara and then another line to get to Kyoto, it starts getting a bit hazy. And then of course, there are the famous JR lines which are not for the faint of heart.

In London, when a train is going to split and terminate at separate locations, the destinations of both stations will appear on the screen as well as an explanation both on screen and over tannoy. On the JR line, this was not the case for me. It only specified the furthest station so while all the signs were pointing at a specific platform, I was supremely baffled for a good twenty minutes, trying to figure out why platform 9 had seemingly no trains heading back to Osaka. It was only by chance that I heard “Osaka” (amongst other Japanese being spoken) over the tannoy that I hesitated a guess that the train was going to split (I’d nearly been caught out once before). So with limited Japanese, I asked someone if I was in the right place and low and behold, the first three coaches of a sixteen coach train would be travelling to my destination. Imagine that – I had a 13 in 16 chance of heading somewhere completely different.

That said, if I had to go back, I’m pretty sure that I’d be able to navigate the train lines a little better but for a first timer, it was a bit overwhelming.

But speaking of trains…


In London, when a train is going to arrive, you can hear it approaching whether it’s meandering alone the tracks or zooming out of a tunnel. In Japan, when a train is about to arrive, you hear a sweet little jingle. And I think these jingles are different dependant on the station or area. I found these to be quite endearing.

What I also, found was that whenever you stand at a zebra crossing and the ‘green man’ appears indicating for you to cross, it also, plays a sound and more often than not, it sounds like some sort of bird or generic beeping noise. In London, the ‘green man’ is a silent emblem of safety. In Japan, it’s a mini fanfare singing your presence across the street.


His Highness lives about fifteen minutes from my apartment
When I first arrived in Japan, I adopted the ‘fly mentality’. What this means is that I reckoned that anything with bright lights must be interesting. And the bigger and bolder the lights, the more I was drawn to it as Japan has drummed up some interesting buildings. But what I’ve also, come to realise is that most buildings with fancy lights and extravagant structures usually only mean one thing, and this thing is called pachinko. Now in Japan, gambling is illegal. However, as a means of sort of undercutting the rule, pachinko was born and sort of represents what we westerners would call a slot machine. I’m not a gambler in my own country so I don’t understand the game well but from what I can understand, players have the chance to win balls. These balls can then be exchanged for prizes, which can then be taken offsite to be exchanged for money. I tend to find more men in there than women but I have seen to odd old-aged pensioner giving it a whirl. What’s more, they’re allowed to smoke inside and often when I walk passed one, I can smell the fumes five metres away. As I despise smoke with a passion, I think I’ve been giving pachinko a miss. Still makes for some interesting photos nonetheless.

Oh, and if it isn’t a pachinko parlour, it’s probably a karaoke joint. More often than not however, it’s pachinko.

But speaking of karaoke

These places are just about everywhere too. There’s one not fifteen minutes from my front door but I’ve been discouraged from going there due to its limited music selection. I have been to a karaoke bar at least three times however and I’ve had a very good time. I believe they’re regularly used by young people and salarymen trying to blow off some steam. A lot of the karaoke places I went to offered an all-you-can-drink option for a select amount of time (also, known as a nomihodai) so you have the option of wetting your whistle, singing your lungs out, becoming roaringly drunk and drunkenly singing the night away. Unfortunately, however, not all karaoke bars cater to the incompetent-with-Japanese-English-foreigner so the first time I went, we spent twenty minutes of our allotted hour slot trying to figure out how to use the machine. Generally, however, it is true that you get what you pay for so the bigger the establishment, the wider the selection of songs, drinks, options and what have you. The most I’ve spent on karaoke is 1000 yen however for a couple of hours which I don’t think is all that bad…but then I’m not much of a drinker.

So would I go back?

In a heartbeat.


In London, most if not all households will own one bin. They’ll layer it with bin liner, fill it to the brim with all their waste and then toss it into another bin outside which the bin men come and collect once or twice a week. In Japan, the waste system is a bit more intricate. You have to separate your plastics from your burnables and your burnables from your cardboard. If you don’t do it correctly, you can be fined which is a bit much for the foreigner who’s used to chucking things all together at once. So far so good for me however. If I’m unsure about something, I’ll put it on its owned or I’ll head to the local convenience store and chuck it there. What I also, find interesting about Japan is that despite being a relatively clean country, there are no bins on the street so I frequently have to wait to find a convenience store or a train station if I’m out and about, just to drop my trash off there. People don’t litter so much here either which is a good thing but I find the lack of bins a little annoying as who really likes walking with rubbish really? But I understand that the reason bins are few and far between is because they consider them an eyesore here. Understandable because in London, bins regularly become over-flown and someone else’s leavings spilling out onto the street is not attractive in the slightest.


In London, I can comfortably say that more people own a car than a bike. In Japan, I can’t say for sure but I believe that a lot of people own bikes and if they own a car, they probably own a bike too…or at least they know someone who does. In my family, my mother is the only one who owns a bike and actively uses it. In Japan, bikes are everywhere. And instead of riding them in the road like they do back home, they ride them on the pavement - something which is frowned upon in London unless you’re a child. Over here, a bike is looked upon like a car. In the same way that people can be caught out for drink-driving, you can be caught out for drink-riding and the limit for alcohol consumption is much lower here than in the west so just a little food for thought. People are also  encouraged to register their bikes here as it’s not uncommon for bikes to get stolen. You are also, encouraged not to ride and chat on a phone but what you can do is hook an umbrella to your bike if it’s raining. In the UK, I think it would be considered a little odd but it actually makes a lot of sense. Who really likes riding home in the rain anyway?


So yes, just a few things that have stood out to me in particular since I arrived here. I'm sure I'll find a few more regular occurrences, especially in my own city that mightn't be typical of the rest of Japan. 

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