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.

A day in Kyoto – Shrine visits

Greetings from 34000 feet above above the Pacific Ocean! Please excuse the poor quality of the picture, the built in camera on my netbook can only do so much in such low light!

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It has been an awesome trip culminating in an eventful side trip into Kyoto. With Saturday being the only full day we had in the historic capital of Japan, we set to work visiting several shrines in the area. Our first stop was the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is most famous for it’s numerous gates along the walkway built into the mountain.

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Since schools are in session on Saturday in Japan, we ran into several large groups of students out on school trips. The main street leading up to the main entrance was crowded with locals and students. Compared to some of the other places we visited that day, there were far fewer tourists in the area. First though, a quick stop for some breakfast at a small restaurant along the way.

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Saying goodbye to Japan

It is another beautiful day in Kyoto, but sadly I won’t be enjoying it fully today. It’s time for me to take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and bid farewell to Japan. It has been an awesome week, with all sorts of great experiences and stories. I still have some more content to put together from yesterday’s walk around Kyoto, though that’ll probably wait until I get back to the United States. Before signing off, here’s a look at what I’m having for breakfast today. Cream filled melonpan, tea, and some roasted beans from Fushimi Inari Shrine.

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Thank you Tokyo and Kyoto for all the great memories, hopefully we’ll cross paths again in the future!

Kyoto Day 1 – Traveling to Kyoto

This afternoon we left Tokyo behind and jumped on the Shinkansen for Kyoto. It had been a great week in the biggest cities in Japan with a lot of sightseeing and shopping, but it was finally time for some R&R.

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It would be about two and a half hours by train to go from Tokyo station to Kyoto station, which is pretty impressive considering the 300+ mile distance between the two cities. We got to the station a little early, so we ended up looking around for food and generally taking it easy. Eventually, the train did arrive and we got on. This is my first time on the Shinkansen, so I was pretty excited and grabbed a window seat.

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Tokyo Day 7 – Washinomiya Shrine

Weather in Tokyo yesterday was probably the best it’s been all week, with sunny skies, mild temperatures, and low humidity. It was the perfect day for taking the train out to Saitama for a shrine visit. Today however, it doesn’t look like we’re so lucky. One again, the commuters in Shinjuku have their rain protection employed.

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Fortunately for us, we’ll be on the Shinkansen bound for Kyoto for the first half of the day. Yesterday was very eventful, starting out with going to Washinomiya Shrine in Saitama, making a quick stop in Ueno on the way back, and then finally Ginza for Kabuki theater and shopping. Before leaving Ginza, we stopped in a bakery for some sweets.

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This particular melonpan was filled with some sort of melon flavored custard, which (according to Shana) borders in blasphemy. I, on the other hand, think it’s quite delicious and want to figure out how to make it. Umai-ki!

Enough about today’s breakfast, it’s time to talk about yesterday’s main event: Washinomiya Shrine in Saitama.

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Tokyo Day 6 – Ghibli Museum in Mitaka

It looks like it’ll be another cool and cloudy day in Tokyo today. There wasn’t any sign of rain when I woke up this morning, so hopefully it’ll be a dry day for our excursion into Saitama.

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Breakfast this morning consisted of a choco coronet that I bought yesterday in Nakano along with some coffee in a can from the vending machine. Jiji decided to join me as well this morning and he enjoyed looking out the window at the commuters going to and from the train station.

Speaking of Jiji, he decided to come home with me after I saw him at the gift shop at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. It was a bit of a journey to get out there, but it was well worth it.

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Tokyo day 4 – Tokyo Tower and shopping in Akihabara

In a slight departure from normal, this will be a light update. Not as much photography this year, although there may be a Photosynth coming in a couple days. We got a relatively early start this morning (left around 10am) to go see Tokyo Tower. Since it is scheduled to be replaced in a few years, we decided now was as good as time as any go up and visit it.IMG_5686 After seeing it blown up in so many different anime, it was nice to finally visit this landmark and see it in person. There was a bit of a haze today so visibility was limited.

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Tokyo day 3 – Harajuku and Shibuya

It’s another beautiful day in Tokyo! After yesterday’s entry, I went out for a walk to take some photos around the hotel. What resulted is a beautiful 314 photo Photosynth set of the plaza outside of Shinjuku station…

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It was off to have a quick lunch at the station and then off to the Harajuku area. It’s known as one of the trendier districts in Tokyo and is full of boutiques, clothing shops, and some of the most interesting fashion I’ve ever seen. Sundays are typically the day when the younger folk get dressed up and go hang out in the streets. Cosplayers are no exception here, and they typically hang out on the bridge next to the station…

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Tokyo day 2 – Tokyo Game Show

Good morning from Shinjuku! I’m happy to report that the jet lag is slowly going away, and I slept most of the way through 6am this morning after going to bed around 10pm. After a quick run to the convenience store for some breakfast items (I had no idea what I bought, to be honest), I’m ready to do a quick rundown of yesterday’s events!

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Yes, that is Saber Lily, more on her later. ^.^

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