TwinF readers know that we're a bit cynical about the tourist experience and look for the authentic things that make a place unique or different. It only takes a few seconds on the streets of Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto (or even in small towns) to feel that Japan is a very different place. Here are some of the things we've seen (or haven't seen):
Something that has bugged me is that there are very few trash cans in public places (compared to home). I sometimes carry trash around for 10 minutes looking for a proper receptical. The Japanese are very particular about their trash and I think it's a good thing. However, it does mean that some instruction is required.
In every city there are buildings filled with tiny bars. There are hundreds of them and one night we decided to check out a few. Walking into one of these tiny bars is like walking into someone's living room and running one of their friends off the couch. We were not welcome and it was obvious. Signs like this display the bars by name:
Another ubiquitous part of walking around is the prevalance of platic food. The Japanese have mastered the art of creating plastic versions of the dishes served within a restaurant. I rely on them and remain astonished at how good plastic food can look- and it never spoils!
The Japanese have also made life easier for blind folks by providing a raised strip of sidewalk that leads to public transport, toilets, etc. Not really remarkable, but truly ubiquitous. They are everywhere.
In Japan, you might see gas pumps that hang from the ceiling:
Or cantaloupes that cost US$46.00. This is an example of "omiyage", which is a present that someone brings back to friends after traveling. Thanks to omiyage, the Japanese take gift shops to a whole new level. It is the most perfect cantaloupe I've ever seen.
Or these contraptions, which must be some sort of bench. I cannot find a comfortable way to sit in one. Maybe I'm too big.
In Japan, you might even see hotels (often called Love Hotels) that display their rates as such. Love Hotels are (supposed to be) used for couples who cannot get privacy at home, thanks to granny and the kids.
My brother Randy went to Japan and one of his points was that every square inch of land is utililized for something productive. He was right. Outside of the cities you don't see yards beside houses. Instead, you see rice paddies, which are much more productive than plain old grass.
The vending machines in Japan could be a whole other post. Pocari Sweat is a bit like Gatorade and became one of my favorites.
I heard about beer in vending machines so much, but we rarely saw any. We figure a law must have changed. Though, at one hotel we had vending machines for beer, whiskey and sake. I like this quote from punk band The Ramones: "We came across a miracle, there was beer in the soda machine". Some of the best and cheapest food comes from places where you pay a vending machine outside and take a ticket inside to be served.
In Japan, a constant source of hilarity is what some call "engrish", or English translated from Japanese that comes out a bit, um, off. A perfect example.
In Japan, you'll see heaps of young Japanese women struggling to walk with torturous high-heeled footwear. I'm not sure if they don't know how to walk in heels or if their shoes are not meant for walking, but I truly feel sorry for them. Sometimes they fall down.
We're just hours from leaving at time of writing and I will miss Japan. Quirky, beautiful, tasty, fun, Japan has it all. I'll be back.
I always have to spell my last name when making reservations anywhere. Even the French automatically spell it the traditionally correct way - LeFevre. I have to correct them to type in the American spelling - LeFever.
In Japan, the difficulty of this task has come to a new level and we have seen more interesting spellings than anywhere else. Moving from South Japan to North, here are versions 2 through 5:
Now, with my experience with the language, I completely understand the issue of "L"s and "R"s being used interchangeably, as their sound for them is right between the two. However, how do you explain this kicker we just received today as we arrived back in Tokyo?
I'm baffled. They must be too.
The Japanese seem to have a special way of expressing themselves when it comes to signs or placards. While most are normal signs, some are beautiful in their own way, some are hilarious and some are just weird. Here are a few we've seen:
We saw this on the way into a subway. Its design is something I'd like to have on a t-shirt:
Everytime I see this crosswalk sign, I think that we're being warned to watch out for George Washington crossing the street with a devil child.
In Japan, you should be sure to STOP using rocket shoes!
Oh, and in Japan, you should never let Pac-man drink. waka waka waka waka.
Of course, we've seen this one in a previous post, but it deserves another look. Scrape it off your shoe, sprinkle it in your hand and smoke it?
Apparently getting hit with a baseball in Japan is bad for your looks too.
There's a lot of fodder around the thousands of bar names, but I thought this one was particularly pertinent. In Japan, Oil is a Dangerous Party!
In Japan, it is endlessly entertaining to keep an eye out for little things like signs that make it even more charming than it already is. You just gotta love Japan.
We've been collecting some pictures and thoughts regarding the ways in which Japan is different from our home in the US and other places we visit. This is the first installment of the "In Japan" or "In (country name)" series.
One of the unavoidable facts of travel is that travelers will experience the toilets in foreign lands. Compared to India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, Japanese toilets are a clean, porcelain dream. Though, there are difficulties to be had.
For instance, for the first time on the trip, I could not distinguish between the men's and women's toilets.
Hat or bowtie? Which is more manly? Sachi wasn't there to help with the kanji either. The men's room is on the right.
In Japan, some of the toilet seats have nice cotton covers- which is an indication of the general trust in the responsible actions of men, or maybe I was in the girl's room and didn't know it.
In Japan, it's impossible talk about toilets without mentioning the buttons, or more precisely the number of services provided by the buttons. Your basic, everyday toilet has these buttons, with the possible exception of a control for the seat warmer and size-of-flush control. Little water heads actually come out and spray upwards- potentially creating a toilet fountain for those unintitiated.
In Japan, travelers sometimes come across the Batmobile of toilets, like this 17 button beauty:
Among the various bidet style functions, this one has a dryer, controls for lowering and raising the seat and various buttons and a screen that must do very important things that are opaque to me.
I'm conflicted, personally. I like some of the features and I do think some improvements could be made to our home toilet. But, I can't help but think that the toilet features, like the Shinkansen, are a bit gratuitous. In the high tech world I would say that the toilets in Japan suffer from "feature creep"- meaning that the designers were more focused on "could" than "should" - which usually creates a less user-friendly product. In Japan, many things seem to be over-engineered, but that's a different post.