Random Observations

These are some random observations of Japan that I thought might be worth writing down.

Hot springs, or onsen, are extremely popular, especially in Aomori, which has the highest number of any province. It seemed like a popular thing to do with friends. If you only have one person of a particular gender, though, find a different activity, as the genders are separated for obvious reasons. Bring a toiletries kit with you that has a washcloth, soap, and shampoo, as you are expected to wash before and after the bath. (Especially before, if you are a Westerner, because you are extra dirty)  After you finish washing yourself, wash yourself two or three more times, since the Japanese seem take an unusually long time about it. The bath is a little disturbing to Westerners, as you are naked among quite a number of other people, but you can use the washcloth to cover yourself (and even some Japanese do). Baths are quite hot; boiling one might say, but once you get used to it, American hot tubs are rather tepid. To judge the quality of a bath, look to see if the water is overflowing the bath. Real onsen drill down to the water and continuously pump it into the bath, where it overflows onto the floor and into a drain. Mere public baths just recirculate the water. If the water is a funny color, that is good, too (it means there are a lot of minerals in it).

Drink vending machines are everywhere and always the same price. Coca-cola (which had a lot of Japanese style drinks), Suntory, and the company that sold Poccari Sweat seemed to be the most frequent. My personal favorite was Boss Coffee (“Suntory Boss is the Boss of them all since 1983"), just because the Boss reminded me of a British crime boss. The coffee was not really worth 120 yen, in my opinion. I did not see any fancy vending machines that spoke to you, either in Aomori or in Tokyo, although the highway rest areas did have some that dispensed both hot and cold drinks.

News anchors actually read from their scripts, instead of from the camera.

Girls and young women try to make themselves look younger, especially in their hair styles, as contrasted with the U.S., where girls want to look older and more mature (e.g. wearing makeup earlier, wearing ear-rings, etc.)  (This was an observation by Mr. Ghent).

Everyone in Aomori has a car. And everyone in Japan has a new car because it costs a lot more to have old cars inspected.

Houses were big (or at least reasonably sized) in Aomori. I think Tokyo conforms to the Japanese house stereotype better than the Aomori countryside.

The shinkansen that I rode, leaving Tokyo station.
The shinkansen (bullet train) is worth the extra price, at least once. It is an exceptionally smooth ride. All other trains in Japan appear to use disc brakes, so they lurch while stopping. The shinkansen, however, smoothly accelerates and decelerates so that you hardly notice it. It has a peak speed of 200 km/hr (120 mi/hr) and when it reaches the top speed the air begins whistling with a similar sound as air going by an airplane wing, only without the roar of the engine. Make sure you get there on time, though, as the train only waits maybe two minutes (maybe even 30 seconds at the smaller stops).

Akihabara Electric Town, the section of Tokyo with all the electronic gadgets that people go to see, was kind of underwhelming. It was pretty much the same stuff that the department stores carried (MD players, CD players, cell phones, laptops) only a larger selection. The prices seemed reasonable, although since I could not read Japanese to decipher specs I am not sure whether they are cheaper or comparable to prices here, but certainly not low. Maybe I was disappointed because I was expecting something new, some new gadget or technology that I had not seen before.

Aomori was very reminiscent of Ohio (when compared to Texas). Similar lush greenness and large trees. The climate was similiar to Ohio; it actually got a little chilly at night (the only thing that cools off Texas is October).

There were foreigners (Westerners) everywhere. I think I saw four or five every day in Tokyo (of course, as one missionary noted, all Westerners ignore each other.1). I even saw a few in Aomori. The express train system and the shinkansen had messages in both Japanese and English, and the Tokyo train system had train stops in English (well, romaji).

Itayanagi Town played some hymn-like song at 6 am, 12 noon, and 8 pm. Our Japanese teammate said that this typified country living. You know you are in the country when you hear the songs being broadcast. Other than the fact that I wanted to sleep at 6 am, it was repetitive but not bothersome. They would also have public announcements from the same loudspeaker system in the morning and evenings occasionally. Apparently they are mostly announcements about missing persons, usually older people who forgot what they were doing.

There are no freeways; all highways are tollways. It costs about $100 to drive to Tokyo from Aomori, not counting gas. The speed limit is roughly the same as in the U.S., but the cars are equipped with little bells that ding at you when you speed. Apparently some actually talk to you.

In the U.S. trucks that are backing up will beep; Japanese trucks talk when they are backing up, in a polite female voice (because trucks are ever-so female). I only understood “please”, but I assume they say “This truck is backing up; please get out of the way”.

Engrish t-shirts are commonplace. My favorite was one that said “Voice of god of the myself” on the top and bottom edges and “When act promptly if prohibited weapon is used” in the middle. (See http://www.engrish.com for some examples)

Boss Coffee images from Suntory.

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1  I think Westerners are a little embarassed to be polluting the homogenous population, partly because many are in Japan for the Japanese experience, and seeing another Westerner both dillutes their experience and reminds them that they are “race polluting”. But maybe that’s just me...