Friday, September 21, 2012

10 Things I Didn't Know About Japan

Okay, there are obviously more than 10 things I didn't know about Japan. Here are the most significant surprises I've encountered, though.

1. It's Hot. I'm not talking like 90 degrees hot. I'm talking 100 degrees and 100% humidity (exaggeration). But really, I break out in a sweat multiple times a day - walking to school, walking to from class to class, walking outside my door. People here wear special clothes that don't show sweat. They carry fans and hand towels around with them everywhere. In America it's weird to just be sweaty and uncomfortable, here it's pretty much accepted. And on top of all this, they rarely use air conditioning, at least not to its full potential. Sorry about that electric bill, but it's hot.

2. Cell Phone Charms Are Still a Thing. Yes, this is #2 on my list. Not only do the preteens in Japan have cell phone charms, everyone has a cell phone charm. Your mom, your grandma, your teachers, your friends, the head of your language department, the president of the university you're studying at (actual true story). I haven't quite comprehended the whole thing yet, mostly because my phone doesn't have the little compartment where you put the cell phone charm on and I feel just a little bit excluded from this nationwide trend. But how weird is that?? Cell phone charms.

3. Bug Bites. Why did none of the 600 pre-departure blogs I read say anything about bug bites??? The first one scares you. It's HUGE and red and itches like crazy. Once the second one comes you start thinking "Maybe this is the measles" or "Is leprosy as prominent as cell phone charms in Japan?" But no, fear not. They're just bug bites that will cover your legs and  make you miserable and itchy all day long. Better than leprosy, I guess.

4. "Everyone Will Speak English" Ah, yes. I really did believe this one. Recently more people have just broken out in perfectly good english around me, which leaves me to wonder why they didn't help the train wreck of a question I just asked a native speaker, but I digress. For the most part, though, no one speaks much english. We all joke that we'll be amazing at charades when we come home. That will be a great addition to my resume! But trust me when I say, it's hard to get by if you don't know Japanese (start studying, fam!).

5. Vending Machines. This one was included in the pre-departure blogs. There are vending machines everywhere! They mainly have drinks and some I've seen have cigarettes. I've been playing this great game where I get a different drink every time I go to one. I've yet to repeat a drink and I have about 500 more trips until I do. I haven't even tried a drink I didn't like. Most of the drinks are soda but there's also beer, water, flavored water, juice, coffee (frappuccino-like drinks), and tea. It's a pretty awesome concept that really drains your coin purse, if you know what I mean. Just to give you an idea of how many there are, I live in a pretty much suburban area and I walk to school through neighborhoods. On my way I pass about 5 vending machines (around 10 if I go a different way). Imagine what it's like on the city streets!

6. Commuting. As I mentioned above and a few times before, I walk to school. This is extremely rare though in Japan. If anything, you'd bike somewhere. Bikes, buses, and trains are the main modes of transportation, even though once you get off the train you usually have to walk about 20 minutes anyway. This is extremely different from what I'm used to at home, but here it's completely normal for everyone to do. This means that the train system is also really reliable (take that, septa!). They come right on time, every time. And if it's late you get a little excuse note for work or school that says the train was late. So while commuting over an hour is an every day way of life for Japanese people, it has also resulted in a great public transportation system.

7. Dryers (Laundry in General).  As a follow up to the very popular picture of the washing machine, I am pleased to inform you that I've conquered the laundry system here! Okay, I press one button and hang dry my clothes - easier than I thought it would be. But that's what's hang dry all your clothes, all the time! The dryer costs money and is pretty weak, so they told us not to even waste our money. This means that I got a clothes line to hang on my balcony and lots of clothes pins too! After my laundry is done every surface in the room is covered in drying clothes (like right now, for example). The Japanese do everything small, so my friends in homestays have their laundry done every day by their moms. Small loads multiple times a week are pretty time consuming, but just another little adjustment to make things easier.

8. 7-11. Oh, the 7-11. Keeper of everything. Literally everything. There's the typical items like drinks and snacks, but then there's also food. Dinner-worthy food. Alcohol, toiletries, some groceries, basically everything you could ever want in one place! Not to mention there's a 7-11 just about everywhere you look. In general, convenience stores in Japan are extremely prominent. There are also 100 yen stores (like dollar stores in the US) that have just about everything you could need too. I got some dishes and all my laundry supplies at the 100 yen store. Even some socks and usually my water. Convenience stores are a huge aspect of everyday life and you can really see why after you find yourself stopping at one at least once a day.

9. Pastries! If there's one thing that really takes me by surprise daily, it's the pastries here (how pathetic is that?). I never expected a place like Japan to eat so much bread and be so good at making it. It's pretty common for people to eat specialty bread like bacon and cheese or onion and mushroom that's baked into a roll for lunch. But I'm not talking about the lunch pastries, I'm talking about the sweets! I've yet to try a dessert I haven't liked. Luckily, they're located in all the convenient stores placed on the corner of every single street. So whether you want a melon pan from 7-11, a chocolate croissant from chococro, or a sugar doughnut from starbucks to go with your iced chai tea latte (guily pleasure #1), you'll never be far from a delicious snacking experience.

10. Smoking. This is still coming as quite a big culture shock to me. There's still smoking sections here. I'm not sure if that's my sheltered, east coast (as my west coast friends would say) point of view, but that's just not a thing we do. Even though there are designated smoking areas in restaurants and malls and train stations, it's still really surprising to see them. SO many people smoke. It may have something to do with long hours they work or the stressful lifestyles they lead, but if I don't stop getting headaches every time I got to a restaurant, I'm officially filing a complaint with the US Embassy (just kidding).

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