Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interesting things I've learned in Japan so far, Part 2...

I know I already did an "Interesting things..." post already, but I've picked up a few more facts that I thought was interesting.

Smoking in restaurants
When we went there, restaurants had smoking and non-smoking sections. Even though we only sat in non-smoking sections, we could, at times, smell the smoke lingering. This was really off-putting for me- guess we got spoiled here in the States where all restaurants are no smoking. If the smell of smoke was too strong, we left and looked for other places to eat.

Metric system and military time
In the States, we're used to miles, ounce, Fahrenheit... in Japan, they use the metric system. So now the mile is replaced with a km, the ounce is replaced with gram, and the temperature is read in Celsius.
Also, start getting used to reading military time, especially in train stations!

Japanese store doors
The majority of Japanese doors are sliding glass doors. Space is limited in Japan, and doesn't this make so much more sense? Why waste space pushing/pulling doors when you can slide it from side to side? Most storefront doors in Japan are automatic, but you need to push the button for it to automatically open. Thus, if people walk by the front of the store, the doors won't automatically open and waste energy... this is especially handy since, in my opinion, most restaurants have the plastic food display menu outside and people are standing in front of the store wondering if they should eat here- and the doors won't open as they stand in front of the store to review the menu.

Japanese grocery carts- I love how there are hooks on this shopping cart- perfect for placing your purse!

"Doggy bags"
I feel like we're constantly eating here, even when we're not hungry because we don't want to miss a food opportunity. Well, this leads to some meals where we can't finish our entire meal. I hate wasting food and leaving it behind, and while this isn't an issue in the US since we have "doggy bags", I've seen no leftover/take-home boxes for meals here. I inquired about this on my tripadvisor forum, and indeed- Japanese do not take home leftovers. Apparently, they are worried about food contamination issues. Not sure why they can't just place it in the fridge when they get home, but nonetheless- the point is to only eat what you think you can eat or else it's a goner.
Do you see this portion? I forced myself to eat about 3/4 of it and called it quits

What you see is what you get
Like I mentioned before, many Japanese restaurants display their menus with (very realistic looking) plastic food and its respective pricing. Darin and I both commented that what you see outside is what you get inside. In addition to this, the price that is displayed on the menu outside is the exact price you pay- taxes are already included (and remember, there's no tipping in Japan). I like knowing exactly how much I'm going to pay (without having to calculate taxes and tipping.)

No tipping!
There is absolutely no tipping in Japan- not in restaurants, not for services (haircuts, etc), none. Darin and I both commented that albeit the no tipping rule, Japanese service, quality, and hospitality don't suffer. At all. (And as I mentioned earlier, the hospitality, presentation of food, and service are top notch.) We both assume they take tremendous pride in their work and their work ethic.

Walking alerts
In my last "Interesting Things..." blog post, I talked about the yellow bumps on the ground that assisted the blind to be able to walk independently. Japan has also installed a "speaker" system that makes a loud repetitious noise that alerts the blind when the signals turns to "walk". We didn't notice it at all traffic locations, but it's definitely a distinctive sound and is the same throughout Japan. Here (though it is difficult to see), there is an orange speaker above/to the left of the "stop"/"walk" sign.

Japanese convenient store food
.. is really quite good!! The prepared food is made daily, and it is so fresh and good. This has saved us when we've had an early morning commute to our next city since many of the restaurants and shops didn't open until 10am. You can buy all sorts of prepared foods here and we haven't been disappointed. Believe me, it is nothing like the food you'd see at a UDF or a convenient store. While they are good in a pinch, it is definitely not something we could sustain on or eat for consecutive days at a time.

Did the bus just turn off?
When we rode the Kyoto City Bus for 2 days, we noticed that the bus seemed to "turn off" at every bus stop station (to drop off or pick up people) or at a stop light. Then it sounded like the driver would turn on the bus when he proceeded. This is actually true- the bus is turned off to prevent engine idling, and for environmental concern (since leaving the engine on is bad for the environment). Interesting....

Train and Bus "Priority Seating"
Every train and bus has a "priority seating" section for those who have special needs- pregnant, disabled/injured, elderly, or those with a young baby. Also known as "silver seats", this special seating area is located near the train/bus door for those needing to get in/out easily and safely. These seats are easy to locate since the fabric color is different from the rest of the seats on the train/bus. I was really impressed to find that- despite a VERY crammed bus- there were a few "priority seating" left and no one would take it (since I assume no one "qualified" for it).

Same brands, different cars
I've seen a lot of Japanese cars here- many Toyotas, Hondas, and Lexus. However, although we have the same brand of cars back home, there were so many models we don't have back in the states. For instance, the Nissan Juke (which I find out now that it's coming to the US)

Elevators: Open and Close buttons in kanji
Some elevators have "open" and "close" diagrams. However, some elevators have them only written in kanji. This was an issue one time when Darin went into a crowded elevator and the doors started shutting on me, and Darin couldn't tell which button was to "open". So you can avoid this situation, the button/kanji on the left is "OPEN", and the kanji on the right is "close". An easier way to remember is to look at the kanji- the kanji on the left looks like a Japanese "torii", which marks an entrance/opening to a shrine... thus "open"ing.

Love the sensored escalators- We saw that some of the escalators weren't moving, and assumed it was due to Japan's power-saving mode. In reality, some of them was due to this, but others only moved if it sensed movement. Thus, you need to walk past the (2) silver posts, and the escalators will sense your movement and start moving immediately

Japanese taxis are ¥¥¥
A taxi ride from Shinjuku to Nakanoshimbashi (10-minute taxi ride) cost us ¥1,500 ($19). I think any base ride starts at ¥700 ($9). Despite the high ticket price, the taxi drivers we've had have all been very nice and polite. (Again, no tipping in Japan.)

Don't hand them your money...
... Use the money tray. One of things that struck me about Japan was the use of a little rectangular tray for your money when you pay for something. For having a reputation of being so technologically advanced, nearly all shopping transactions still use cash. After the cashier tells you the total amount purchased, you place your Japanese Yen in the money tray- you don't hand them your cash directly

Japanese text messages- Now, this could be just my family, but all of them use all sorts of pictures and graphics in their text messages. My cell phone has lots of emoticon graphics, but not to the extent of what I've seen on my Japanese cell phone. One of my text messages I received from my family had 8 icons in it!

Japanese cell phone charms- In my last blog post, I made a mention of Japanese cell phone charms. Here is another example of these charms... and believe me, some of the charms are NOT small. Here, this woman has (2) Duffy plush charms in addition to several smaller charms. I don't know how they don't get in the way?

... And more charms

All hung by the hook located on Japanese cell phones

Video cameras in elevators?!
While Darin and I were waiting for an elevator, we looked up and noticed a TV screen... and it shows a real-live camera of the elevator in real-time. Word of caution: Only PG-rated behaviors in these elevators!

Japanese cash registers- I didn't see this in all stores, but a lot of the bigger chain stores and department stores had these. When you give the cashier cash to pay for your purchases, the cashier doesn't open the register and give you change... the register spits out the exact change. Thus, if your purchase cost ¥2,800 and you give her ¥5,000, she "feeds" the ¥5,000 bill into the register (like how you would feed a vending machine a dollar bill to buy a Coke), and the machine will automatically spit out ¥2,000 in bills and ¥200 in change (and the register never once opens)

No free Wifi hotspots?
For being known to be so technologically advanced, I was surprised to learn there aren't any free Wifi hotspots- not in restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, or stores. Even most hotels rooms we were in had wired internet in the room- not wireless.

Tons of vending machines but no trashcans?
You could be walking on an isolated road surrounded by rice patties and fields, and I can guarantee you will find a vending machine- they are everywhere! Although there are many vending machines, I wondered why trash receptacles were few and far in between. From what I've been told, some years back, there was a terrorist attack where someone placed poisonous gas in one of the trashcans at a train station, which ended up injuring many people. Since then, the government has been pulling trash receptacles everywhere to avoid this situation from occurring again. Granted, it's not like Japan is void of trash cans, but we normally had to carry our trash until we got to a train station, and then we had to go on the hunt for one.

"Eat all your rice kernels!"
The kanji for rice is 米. When you "pull apart" the kanji, it shows 二 (two), 十 (ten), and 八 (eight)= 28. The saying goes that it is a 28-part process to make 1 grain of rice, and it is considered "bad" to 
leave any rice in your bowl. Thus, Darin and I ate every last kernel of rice.

Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation"
Darin and I watched this movie before we stayed at the Park Hyatt, and we laughed out loud when we saw Bill Murray in the elevator- when he looked around, all he saw were the top of heads. Darin said he felt the same way in elevators, at stores, etc- he was always a head taller than everyone else.

As a result of the recent tragic events, I saw many posters, signs, and name pins that had words of encouragement for Japan. The kanji above reads "Hang in there, Japan! With one heart, hang in there Japan!".

Commands that are "lost in translation"
There are some commands that we use in Japan that are not used in the States:
  1. "Kiritsu, Rei, Chauseki"- When a teacher enters the classroom, a student is assigned to yell "kiritsu" (all students stand), "rei" (students bow to the teacher), and "chakuseki" (students sit back down). Teachers and bosses are held in high respect in Japan, and this is a form of respect. When I was a child, we did this at the start of every class when the teacher walked in
  2. "Tadaima", "Okaerinasai"- Whenever you return home, you say "tadaima" (which indicates to the people in the home that you're home), and the person at home (either your mom, your brother, whoever is in the house) says "okaerinasai", meaning "welcome home"
  3. "Itadakimasu", "Gochisousamadeshita"- Before you begin eating a meal, you say "itadakimasu" ("let's eat") and when you finish the meal, you say "gochisousamadeshita" ("I've enjoyed the meal")

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