Japan, it’s been real. But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. I will miss all of Japan’s unique features, which is too many to name. This isn’t a complete list, but just a few things that come to mind when I look back on our experience here.
• Old and New: One of the reasons I was really excited about Japan was that it seamlessly blends tradition with the future. You can just tell there is a great appreciation for the past as they look forward. It is not uncommon to see women in traditional kimonos commuting alongside everyone else in business suits on the morning train.
• Walk like you drive: People drive on the left side of the road and as such, they walk on the left side as well. This isn’t a surprise, but it took time to get used to it. We usually realize we’re walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk when it feels like we are salmon swimming upstream in a river of Japanese locals. When crossing the street, we look to our left (out of habit), which may be an issue if a car, truck, or bicyclist is speeding down the road coming from the right! Our trip, and perhaps even my life, was almost cut short when I was crossing the street in Nara. I looked left as I normally do in the States and began to cross the street as a bus was barreling down the road. Luckily, a fellow tourist screamed for me to watch out for the bus. Crisis averted!
• My, look at that package: Japanese people love packaging things. Want two mochi balls as a snack? Here you go – two mochi balls individually wrapped in cellophane. Want a piece of fruit? Okay. One individually wrapped grapefruit to go! It’s cute and all, but just give me the damn thing already.
• No littering: If you have ever been any Disney park, you will notice how pristine the place is. Not a single piece of trash on the floor. How do they achieve this? By having garbage cans everywhere. They are literally all within 20-30 yards of each other by design so people will have no excuse to litter. Tokyo, like Disneyland, was very clean. Seeing litter on the street was like spotting a rainbow colored unicorn. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the litter infested streets (okay, I’m exaggerating) where I’m from. However, Tokyo, unlike Disneyland, did not have public garbage cans in sight. So if you have a piece of trash while in public, you’ll have that damn thing in your pocket until you get home. Or just hold off on eating that delicious looking mochi ball snack wrapped in cellophane you just purchased until you’re in the comfort of your own home and garbage can.
• Don’t be weird: After a week in Tokyo, I noticed Japanese people tend to keep to themselves in public. Back home, it is quite common for strangers to strike up conversations with each other with one another – we just can’t help ourselves. If it’s 70 to 80 degrees outside, then we must proclaim it as such to the person next to us, “It’s nice today, huh?” To which the stranger would reply, “Yes! As a matter of fact, it is quite nice. Hi, my name is (insert name). I have three kids, ages 6, 8, and 12. My blood type is AB.” In Japan, you would just get a blank stare in return. I may be generalizing, but I shared my observation with Yuichi, our Airbnb host in Tokyo. He confirmed that it is “weird to be too friendly” in Japan. Japanese people tend not to socialize with strangers unless they absolutely have to.
• What about your friends: This led me to ponder: If strangers don’t talk to strangers, then how do people meet each other? How are friendships and relationships developed? Through friends of friends of course. As Notorious B.I.G. wisely put it, “Tell your friends to get with my friends. And we can be friends.” Yuichi explained that it is quite common for friends to bring friends along for dinners/drinks. However, when they’re out and about eating and drinking, they usually keep to themselves. People will not seem friendly in public, but they are! It’s just not part of Japanese culture to be like “ HEY! Look at me! I’m friendly. Come talk to me!”
Japan has been unforgettable, and Vic and I are already looking forward to the next time we come back. But for now, it’s sayonara Japan!