Updated: July 12, 2007

One can never really understand Japan unless you actually live here. It is almost impossible to explain to somebody but is completely understood between Gaijin (a term referring to one as a foreigner). Japan is a country that will spend the first ten minutes of the news talking about the theft of recycled paper from the garbage collection point and interview people on the street for their reactions. Japan is a country where cute is a national obsession. Construction workers drive pink and purple mini bull dozers. It is like no other place on Earth, however I will try to shed some light into what makes Japan tick in a light hearted way.

  • What's great about Japan?

  • What's bad about Japan?

  • What's strange about Japan?

  • What's great about Japan?:
    • Japan has full service gas stations. Just like a Norman Rockwell painting when a car enters a gas station the attendants all run out and service the car. Once you're done they risk their lives by standing out in the middle of the road to stop traffic so you can pull out.

    • No tipping. It is not customary or expected to tip in Japan. I have not left a single tip for any dinner, lunch or pizza delivery while I have been in Japan. It's wonderful.

    • Vending machines. You literally can not walk more than two minutes in any direction without running into a vending machine. These machines have the standard drinks such as coffee, tea, Coke, Pepsi, etc.
      However the best is that there are also beer vending machines. How can you not like a country that provides beer through vending machines? You might wonder what prevents under age kids from gaining access to these machines.
      Well the answer is this:
      They can't drink until they are twenty, so they just don't.

    • Anime. Just turn on the TV and there is always some sort of Anime on one channel or other. There's even a network devoted to it: Animax.

    • Convenience stores. At seven eleven you can pay for all your utility bills, buy sushi, buy the newest PlayStation game and rent a DVD. Definitely cool.

    • Most cars have a Navigational system (GPS) installed. You can just type in where you want to go and it tells you exactly when to turn right or left.

    • Public transportation. Using the buses and trains to travel around Japan is not only easy but a great way to travel. Never have to worry about traffic. The only bad thing is that you are dictated on when to leave by when the last bus arrives/departs for your home.

    • When ordering food at a restaurant you just yell "Sumimasen!" and the waiter or waitress comes. Unlike western restaurants you don't wait for the server to come around. In many restaurants they provide a button at the table that you simply press and the server immediately yells "Hai!" and comes to your table. I simply love that.

    • Haircuts: It only costs about ¥3,000 to get a haircut in Japan. With the haircut one receives a massage on the legs, arms, neck and back. Also a shave, ear cleaning, nose hair trim and scalp massage. You can't help but look forward to gettting a haircut every month.

    • One thing that I think American schools could benefit from is the fact that the Japanese students themselves are responsible for cleaning the school. Everyday after classes are over the students begin to clean: classrooms, bathrooms, hallways and even rake leaves outside. This not only helps keep the school clean but also gives the students pride in their school. An important lesson that should be noted.

    What's bad about Japan?:
    • Renting:
      Renting in Japan is a huge pain in the ass. What should be an easy task of looking in the newspaper for an apartment and then going to see it yourself is turned into a nightmare. Here in Japan just to get a simple flat involves you going to a real estate agent! A real estate agent!
      Then you have to pay this person up to three months worth of rent for their services!
      If you find an apartment that you like not only do you have to pay a deposit, but you also have to pay for key money. What is this? Basically a gift for the management/owner of the apartment. Key money is usually about two or three months worth of rent.
      So as you can see, just moving to another apartment is like buying a damn house. People put up with this because they don't know any better. One of the negative sides of being so damn isolated. Plus I think the Japanese are a people who are used to being screwed with. Unbelievable.

    • Japan has a lack of ATM access. Japan is a cash based society. I have not seen one check or credit card used here (though I have used my credit card here). Everyone uses cash. So you'd think ATM's would be available 24 hours a day right? Wrong. They close at seven pm on the weekdays and five pm on the weekends. If you forget to get cash by five on a Saturday then you are just out of luck for the night.

    • Trash. The Japanese have a ridiculous system of recycling everything. Batteries, cardboard, glass, cans, tin cans, bottles, plastic, all of which must be separated into their own piles at the community center once a month. So for the rest of the month you are basically storing five to six bags of trash in your kitchen waiting for the one day of the month when you can finally throw it away. God help you if you miss that day.

    • It's expensive. It costs about ¥1,600 (about fifteen dollars) to see a movie. It costs around ¥3,000 (almost twenty eight dollars) to order a large pizza.

    • There seems to be a tendancy to see many men relieving themselves on the road whenever they feel the need. It's a rather disturbing site to see when at eleven in the morning you are walking down the main street of a large city and you notice a man get out of his car and begin pissing into the gutter oblivious to everyone around him.

    • Food Slurping. For some reason the Japanese are a very quiet and reserved people. I don't know why this is but they are. They don't shout at graduation, they don't scream at the car race, but they do have one area in which they do let it all out. Eating. They love to slurp their food whenever possible. If its noodles you better believe that their will be a bunch of slurping going on like you have never heard before. If its hot coffee, yes you guessed it they will slurp it up almost as loud as possible. I almost think that they are in competition with each other to see who can be the loudest. Why they choose this aspect to be loud is beyond me. But it does drive me crazy.

    • In Japan there is a big problem with the birthrate. There are now more people over 60 than there are under 18. One of the contibuting factors is the fact that many married couples are feeling less inclined to have sex, or at least with their spouses (another problem is the high acceptance of having lovers on the side). The term "sekkusuresu" (sexless) is referred to married couples who fit this category. There are actually homes being built with separate main bedrooms, so that married couples can sleep separated. A rather sad development.

    What's strange about Japan?:
    • Umbrellas or The Japanese Revulsion to Rain.
      Japan does have a rainy season, so it is understandable as to why so many people would have so many umbrellas (like 3 or four) but whenever it appears like it will rain everyone has their umbrellas ready or are already using them. If there is but a single drop on the ground then out come the open umbrellas. Despite the fact that it is in no way raining. Japanese love to immerse themselves in hot water, but god forbid if they get hit with a miniscule amount of rain. You'd think they would melt like the witch in The Wizard of Oz. Plus for women here the pale look is very big. So even if its not raining women will use an umbrella to protect their skin from the sun. Even going so far as to wear gloves during the hottest times of the day! I once joked that when Japanese are born they also come with an umbrella.

    • Having to give the peace sign while taking a picture. I don't know what is up with this but everyone is obligated to do something with their hands when having his or her picture taken.

    • Cell phones. Everyone has one. I mean everyone. It's like an addiction to the Japanese. They are constantly staring at their phones typing email to each other or checking their schedules, or something. I have witnessed on many occasions, three or four people sitting at a table in a restaurant and no one is talking to each other. Instead they are all typing into their phones and checking email.
      The cell phones in Japan are quite advanced. They are probably more like a PDA. One can even take photos with their phones and send to friends. Since most Japanese don't have an internet connection at home they tend to use the cell phone for email.

    • Japan is a country (in my humble opinion) that is a cross between the 1980's and five years into the future. People smoke like chimney's everywhere and very few have internet access yet they all have advanced phones, several types of music media (mini discs, CD's etc.) and every game system (PlayStation 2, Nintendo Game cube, etc.). A place where a feminist movement never took place. It is definitely a man's world. A good example of this is at my school. Every morning it is the youngest woman's responsibility to serve everyone in their section tea or coffee.

    • In Japan doctors are not the only ones who can wear masks. In fact everyone here wears surgical masks if they are sick. I guess so others won't "catch a cold". It is a rather odd thing to see but it kind of makes sense and I have to admit that one time when I was sick at school that yes I too wore a surgical mask.

    • The use of the game "Rock, Paper, Scissors" (known in Japan as Janken) to settle disputes or determine who might go first. For some reason or other the Japanese love to settle disputes with a very quick game of "Janken". If there is doubt on who will represent a group then inevitably a game of Janken will settle it. Why this has taken such a hold in their culture is beyond me but the activity is not just seen in schoolchildren.

    • Peeling grapes. The japanese were shocked at the sight of me eating grapes with the skin still on. Sort of like eating a banana without peeling it I suppose. I inquired as to why they peeled their grapes before eating them. Their answer: The skin is too rough.

    • Japanese are very shy about about actually going to the bathroom. In fact it used to be considered very unlady like to even go to the bathroom. These days in the ladies bathrooms they have a device called an oto hime (sound princess). This device simulates a flowing stream of water that covers up any undesriable sounds that might naturally occur.

    • Valentines Day and White Day: In Japan only the girls give chocolates on Valentines Day. It's kind of a relief when you don't have to worry about trying to get the most expensive roses you can afford. Unfortunately Japan has another holiday called 'White Day'. This is a reversal of Valentines Day. This time the boys return the favor and buy sweets for the girl that gave him chocolate on Valentines Day. For OLs (Office Ladies) sometimes they feel obligated to buy chocolates for their boss or male co-workers, this is called giri-choco (obligation chocolate).