Friday, 28 December 2012

J-notes #1

Personal notes, based on subjective observations, from Tokyo, Japan. Presented in random order.

Tokyo by night.

Mobile data / Prepaid
Getting a prepaid card is not as easy as one would think. I ended up buying a 1GB in 30 days Prepaid Data SIM Card (USIM) from econnectjapan.com. I'm using this with my Google Nexus S, and have had no problems. The price was ¥4,890 including shipping (currently about 325 kr). Seems to be the best option if all you need is data.

iPhone
iPhone seems to be the most popular phone among commuters on the train, but some are even stuck with their old Blackberries. Flip-phones are still frequently in use as well. The Note II, which "everyone" in Singapore had, has not been spotted here very often.

Red lights
People don't jaywalk. When the lights are red you wait, even if there are no cars around as far as your eyes can see.

Bikes
Everyone has got a bike. Many cycle a lot. Most people seem to have the same type of bike, with a huge basket in front. People do not stress when they cycle. You don't have to be worried about anyone stealing your bike. You can place it anywhere, and only use a tiny fragile lock, without locking it to a fence or what have you got. People are very polite, and seems to have high moral. What is not yours you do not take. Period.

Uniqlo
Uniqlo is a popular brand / shop. The clothes are cheap but the quality seems good. Heattech is Uniqlo's own material to fight the cold. Extremely comfortable to wear, however I reckon good old sheep wool is a lot warmer.

Insulation
Despite it's getting cold here (below zero) in winter the houses are very poorly insulated. That means it gets bloody cold inside unless you sit in front of a good heater. Toilet seats are heated though, so even if the room is cold it's nice and warm to sit down to take a dump.

Futon
Futon beds are wonderful.

English
You won't come very far just with just English. However people are very helpful and will normally do their best to understand. Body language and a smile will take you far. Not to forget mentioning Google Translate.

Trains
The public transport and train system is hard to get a grip of. It's difficult to know how much to pay for the rides. Pasmo is the solution to that. It can be hard to find the right train. It can be easy to get lost. Trains are not cheap. There are many trains so you will always end up somewhere.

Splitting notes
When a huge note is split, and you get several smaller notes back, you are (at many places) given these in a wonderful way. The shop assistant will count, holding the notes towards you, so that you can see that you get the correct amount back.

Tray
Money are normally not given directly to the shopping assistant, but put in a tray.

Packing bags
In grocery stores your goods are put into a new shopping basket after you've paid. You take this basket to a standalone table where you get plenty of time to back your goods into plastic bags. A smooth system for avoiding stress, queues and overstraining of shopping assistants.

Girls
The average Japanese girl is very cute.

Cash
Cash is frequently used, and you can not expect to get far if all you have is a credit card. For a foreigner it's not as easy to withdraw cash as one might think. Post offices and Citibank are so far the only places where I've been able to use my MasterCard or Visa for withdrawing.

Music
Ryuichi Sakamoto's World Citizen is still a very nice song.Keigo Oyamada aka Cornelius seems to be doing well in 2012 as well. When it comes to J-pop the girls in Perfume is not outdated. Despite being from South Korea Girls Generation is also frequently played.

Drunk
People do drink, and people get drunk. Despite this, taking the last train home on the weekend is not a problem in terms of disturbances. The trains are so cramped it can be hard to breath. Nevertheless, no one makes much sounds. No one fights, no one screams, it is all quiet. Being drunk, people are still polite. In the taxi queues no one are fighting. No one jumps the queue.

Pickpockets
Pickpockets doesn't seem to be a problem, not in the city and not on a cramped train.

Safe
No matter where you are in Tokyo, no matter what time of day, it seems very safe. This despite it being the largest metropolitan area on this planet with more than 13 million people in inner Tokyo and close to 40 million in the entire metropolitan area.

Foreigners
There are not that many foreigners in Japan. Especially not outside of the city centre. Despite this no one stares at you, even though you're standing out from the crowd. Staring is rude, hence you should not stare back either. Adjust to the culture, and respect the culture. Do not expect the Japanese to adjust their world view to fit with yours, despite such an awkward and backward practice might being what you're used to from your own country.

Food
Japanese food is fantastic, and mainly healthy. It's not even that expensive eating out. Abu-ramen has become my favourite. Just in Tokyo there are around 20.000 ramen restaurants and around 80.000 restaurants in total (2008 numbers).

Home
In Japan people normally do not invite people over to their homes. In stead they go out and meet at a café or a restaurant. This would also be one reason for the very high number of restaurants.

Politeness
Did I mention that the Japanese are very polite? Well, they truly are.

Suicides
Leaping out in front of trains is unfortunately quite common, and it didn't take long before this happened to a train I was on. In two weeks I've experience this a couple of times. Japan is know for it's high suicide rate.

Toilets
Toilets in Japan are bloody high-tech, and comes with a lot of functions. You even get toilets that can be controlled with your smartphone and tracks when you poo. Check out this video for a nice introduction.

Sweets
Japanese sweets (not the girls, but the food) tastes not only well, it's also not that unhealthy.

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