Reflections on Japan

It has been a week since I came back from Japan and I’ve had some time to reflect on my experiences there. I got a good dose of the day to day operations in one of the largest cities in the world, as well as a large helping of Japanese culture.

Busy Shibuya crossing

There was a lot to learn and absorb, so here are some of things I took away from the trip…

  • There is an expected code of behavior for everyone who is out in public: No one does anything to inconvenience another human being
    • Everyone is extremely courteous
    • Drivers let pedestrians cross in front of them at the cross walk
    • There is almost no litter anywhere
    • Things like smoking in the streets is almost non-existent; everyone uses designated smoking areas
    • Despite the courteousness of society, the Japanese have almost no sense of personal space – they will cram onto trains, busses, elevators, shops, and try to use space most efficiently
      • Because of this, there are train cars specifically for women to use during peak times
  • The whole of society is very rule abiding
    • Almost no one crosses the street when the light is red, even if there are no cars coming
    • Drivers are conscientious about the speed they are driving, each lane on a motorway has an implied speed that everyone travels at
  • I felt extremely safe in Tokyo, I had no fear of being pick pocketed, mugged, or otherwise fall victim to crime
  • No one talks on the phone on public transport (trains, busses) as it is considered extremely rude and infringes on others’ senses (texting is the norm on trains)
    • I’ve seen conversations end as people come on to the train with “I’m getting on the train, I’ll call you later or text you”
    • Those that do have to take a call on the train do so in a very discrete manner
  • Every single store clerk, from major department store to street vendor greets you when you come in… “irrashaimase~!”
  • It’s pretty easy to get help in a store or train station, just yell out “sumimasen!” and someone will typically come to tend to your needs
  • Store clerks are very transparent during a transaction, they will acknowledge that you’ve given them money, count the amount out loud, announce that you will be receiving change, and then proceed to count out the amount of change out loud
  • It is still a very cash oriented society, most places (save for the big department stores, big electronics retailers, fancy restaurants, and hotels) do not take credit card
  • Everything is extremely punctual – the train system is almost always on time to the minute… you can set your watch by it
    • You can plan a rail journey from one side of the country to the other, make multiple connections, and know exactly when you will arrive
    • In 2003, the average delay on the entire Shinkansen network was 6 seconds (source)
  • Technology, while pervasive, doesn’t stand out
    • Mobile devices are built into everyone’s daily lives
    • Devices aren’t necessarily more advanced than what is in the rest of the world, but the infrastructure and capabilities are
    • Most phones are connected to data, but I saw very few full featured smart phones
      • Flip phones are extremely popular
      • Data is extremely pervasive, and easy to access on a mobile device
      • With something as simple as a phone number, someone could look up all the relevant information about a business (such as a hotel)
    • Broadband speeds are pretty amazing, wired and wireless; the wireless broadband is faster than my home internet connection, while costing the same or less
    • GPS units, on the other hand, are very advanced… streetview with rendered buildings and landmarks, ftw!
  • Being a tourist (especially somewhere like Tokyo) is extremely easy; If you are recognized as a foreigner, the locals understand and will try to help you out
    • Conversely, if you look Asian (like I do), it is assumed you speak Japanese… this caused no end of problems and amusement in stores
    • Many restaurants in Tokyo (and other tourist hot-spots) have English or picture menus for tourists to use

That’s all for now, I think. I’ll finish this up with one of my favorite souvenirs from Tokyo: printouts of all the local rail trips I took using my Suica.

Suica!

As you can see, I’d been to Akihabara a few times, though my favorite of all was when I went to Washinomiya. The rail fare for that trip cost about 1000 yen in total one way.

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on Japan

  1. I have to disagree about the technology angle. That it doesn’t “stand out” is why it stands out. It’s ubniquitous, and we’re all used to it as “Normal life”.

    I still remember life before cell-phones, and when my dad, who worked in Motorola for 17 years, had one of the earlier cell-phones.

  2. >>There is an expected code of behavior for everyone who is out in public: No one does anything to inconvenience another human being

    I have to disagree. The number of times I saw Japanese plunk a ton of bags on the seat (or seats) next to them on the train, instead of placing them on the floor, or on the racks above was mind numbing, even during peak hours. The only difference is no one tells them that’s a jerk thing to do. There were also plenty of rowdy kids on the trains who though they weren’t on the phone were loud enough for everyone on the train to hear. And lots of pushing and shoving on and off it. I thought it was pretty much like China in those aspects. Except the bags on the seat thing, in China, someone else will move it for you if you don’t do it yourself 😀

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