The Oddities of Japan

SAM_1234I got back from Tokyo a few days ago, so when I say oddities of Japan I really mean oddities of Tokyo. I went with a friend I’ve known for nearly ten years and I also realised just how odd she is as well, but we might get to that later if I feel like risking getting skinned alive.

The first thing you’ll notice when you go at this time of year is that it’s warm and doesn’t rain all that much – a welcome blessing after coming out of England’s April Showers season. We went up Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree at night (in my opinion the only way to do things that let you see lots of the city because all the lights make it really pretty) and came out of both at around nine-‘o’-clock and were fine in thin cardigans. Thin cardigans I tell you! It was lovely and warm. Of course the locals looked at us like we were crazy.

And you will get looked at if you’re obviously foreign. Immigration laws are really tight over there. You can only move over to Japan if you have a degree. They don’t much care what degree you have as far as I know, but you have to have one. That means they don’t see many foreigners. My friend and I were pretty much the only pasty white girls we saw and that was a staring point. Add onto that that my friend has dyed hair (dying hair is still frowned upon in Japan) and I have curly hair. Like really curly hair. Think Merida from Brave, but brown and shoulder length. All of that was reason for people to stare which was odd. I think having the Olympics will do them some good in that way. A high influx of tourists everywhere for two weeks, all with different values and attitudes.

The government has already had to say that people with tattoos can’t be refused hotel rooms. Yeah, the Japanese still associate tattoos with gang culture. Hotel owners can refuse to let people with them stay in their hotel which surprised the hell out of me.

As did the necessity for women only carriages on the metro. From the first train of the day until 09:30, the first couple of carriages are for women only (and disabled and their carers, and young school kids) so that they don’t get groped on the way to work. The fact that the carriages are needed at all is astounding. Add onto that it doesn’t seem like anything else is being done about it… Well.

It might be because feminism isn’t really a thing in Japan. Women are expected to leave work to look after children and a movement to change that has only just started. Add it that that some of the school skirts are micro-minis… It’s so odd. Wrong. True, in many ways in the west women are still fighting for equality (until recently there was a tax on sanitary products but not men’s razor blades and a host of other things I won’t rant about), but well… Women aren’t expected to stay at home forever to look after their children. Schools get annoyed if the skirts are too short (though that’s an issue of its own I really could get stuck into). We don’t need women only carriages on any of our trains.

You’d think that Japan of all places would be up to date with the rest of the world on this.

But now let’s find a happily odd thing to talk about….

Ah, yes.

Crossroads and zebra crossings. You know how crossroads work here. You push the button, wait for the green man. Nothing comes at you.

Not in Tokyo. Oh no. There’s no button to press, it’s all automated which is fine but unless a blind person has a guide dog I have no idea how they’re supposed to know when to cross because there’s no beeping sound or a thing to touch that moves when the green man is on. For the rest of us it’s still a pretty simple wait for the green man and then go. There’s even an indicator for how much time is left before the light’s going to change colour which my friend and I found more than helpful.

What we didn’t expect was for cars to be able to turn left onto the crossing we were using as we were crossing it.

Now, it’s nowhere near as bad as France where cars will cross and completely ignore the lights and the fact they’re not supposed to be going. No. The Japanese wait for there to be no pedestrians before turning into the road, but still. Why not just… wait?

When it happened the first time, my friend and I were really surprised. Even 12 days later when we left it was still unnerving. But we didn’t get hit. My friend would have been really annoyed if we did, not because of the accident but because she doesn’t like how boxy their cars are and didn’t want to have to tell a story about being hit by a very square car.

The last oddity I can think of right now (apart from the awesomeness of private karaoke booths) is how tiny some of the people are. Especially the women. I’m not tall. 5 foot 6. Kind of on the short side. Some of the women didn’t even reach my boobs. And I had a whispered conversation I never thought I’d have.

Friend: Did you see that tiny women?
Me: Yeah. I was trying to not trip over her!

Seriously, they’re that short. I thought my friend was exaggerating when she came back from her first trip to Tokyo and told me about how tiny the women are. She’s vindicated herself now. I still can’t believe it and it’s about a week later.

Also, I nearly asked if people going to school on Sundays was normal when I saw a boy in a suit. It was actually a thirty-something man going to work.

But Tokyo… for all its oddities, is a great city to visit. It’s the largest in the world so when you fly over it you get bored waiting for it to pass by even though when it’s all lit up its like someone’s thrown fairy dust at the Earth. The tube is easy to use and nearly all of the stations have English signs and all of the trains have English announcements as well as Japanese. There are vending machines on every block which is great for when you’re dying for a cold drink, it feels safe no matter where you go (as it should it being the safest city in the world) and everyone is really pleasant and helpful.

Some market stall owners were interested in where we’re from, some practiced English with us, others we had to use broken English (though my friend speaks some Japanese which was really useful but some things were beyond her), all were just really friendly.

And you will come back bowing at people. And maybe saying thank you very much in Japanese as well.

So long as you don’t do it at work I think you’ll be ok.

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