In most of the exercises, I feel like Slimbach has a very Western/European approach to the way he’s asking some of these things. Most of my responses are opposite of what he proposes. In the first exercise for example, walking around my prefecture of Matsudo, Tokyo, there aren’t any stereotypical street signs. You won’t find any around the local neighborhoods. The best way to describe this is that Tokyo is divided into prefectures, or what I like to call smaller cities. Matsudo or Akihabara for example, very much resemble a bigger US city like Boston or New York. There are 30 million people in the city, so it makes sense that these prefectures are as big as they are. The nearest intersection then would be more or less each train station. Matsudo Station is centrally located and is close to a variety of shops and restaurants. Walking up and down the streets (which is what we do here every single day), people do their own thing. Not many stop and chat, everyone has either errands or tasks or places they need to go and they all do it efficiently. The smells here are fantastic. I’ll be walking down a smaller avenue and smell everything from different spices to local side-of-the-street yakitori stands. (Yakitori is meat, typically chicken). In terms of sounds, there aren’t many. The loudest it gets is down one area where there’re a lot of restaurants and a big pachinko parlor. Pachinko is similar to gambling, and people will sit at their respective stations for hours on end. People are also allowed to smoke while inside. It’s extremely loud from the outside and inside, as machines makes noise. Besides that, I’ve noticed a daily broadcast, if you will, that goes over what seems like the whole prefecture. When I’m in bed and here it, it sounds like it’s coming directly from my bedroom, but only when you’re looking out the window or walking around outside you’ll notice it’s from somewhere else. It’ll start with a cheery tune (cheery tunes are abundant in Tokyo, I’ll get more into that soon), and a woman will speak in Japanese describing different things. The types of building here are tall, city buildings, with offices closer to the top and restaurants, shops, 7/11’s and konbini’s (100 yen stores) on the bottom or street level. Key landmarks include the two rivers near my dorm and the Matsudo train station. There aren’t any monuments or statues around here.
The local currency in Tokyo and in all of Japan is the yen. There isn’t a nearby bank, so everyone uses ATM’s found in 7/11’s or other convenient stores. The current exchange rate is 1 yen to about 0.0092 USD. This is further evident with 100 yen (used with a coin) to about 0.92 USD, which is about 1 USD. Coins are used frequently, with denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500. Notes display prior and current Japanese leaders and come in denominations of 1,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, and 100,000. Most places, shops and restaurants only take cash, so people will travel with anywhere between 50,000 to 200,000 in their pocket at a time.
This brings us to the personal safety portion of the exercise. Stealing and theft in Japan is almost non-existent. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, it’s just far less of a problem than in the states. If you do have an issue arise, seeking help from the police is your best course of action. I’ve found though that if one were to leave an article of clothing like a jacket or something like an umbrella at a bar or if you leave your bike unlocked outside, you can safely know that it will be there when you return. For example, there was one night when I was out drinking with friends (drinking culture is a big thing here in Japan). It was nice outside that night and I happened to leave my jacket at one of the bars we were at. I went back the next day to find it safe and sound, untouched and clean. Typically what people carry on their person is a phone, wallet and if you’re international, a copy of your passport and your city ID, which is issued to everyone who stays here with a visa for a long period of time. You’re encouraged to travel and go out and about at any time of the day or night. Places to avoid though would be sketchy looking alleyways in party districts like Shibuya or Rippongi. This is typically where drugs and even gangs are found. Avoiding drug use in Japan is a huge way to be on top of your personal safety. If you’re found with less than 0.5 grams of marijuana, for example, you could spend up to 5 months in prison.
Food sources are ridiculously abundant across the entire city of Tokyo. In Matsudo, most people visit the daiei, which is similar to that of a Shaws or Market Basket (or ShopRite for those in CT). The daiei nearest to me has three floors, the first has everyday convenience items like shampoo, pillows, towels, etc., the floor above has clothing items and shoes, while the lower floor below ground contains the supermarket. It’s a modern supermarket, in that it has all of your frozen sections, vegetables, meats and such. Other places people will go to are the 7/11’s. Which is weird right? In the US you’d probably head over to the 7/11 as a last resort. Not in Japan, though. Japanese 7/11’s are like mini-grocery stores, as they have breads, frozen foods that are actually regarded as decent meals, and even things like manga, wine and whiskey. Most drink and food items in both restaurants and grocery stores total up to under 1,000 yen, or about 10 USD.
I was a bit troubled with the next exercise, as it doesn’t really work in Tokyo. Most restaurant-goers stick to themselves or with their parties. Granted, there are plentiful places with large, stretching bars that contain people right next to one another, but no one really talks unless you’re with other people. It’s almost considered awkward to casually strike up a conversation with another person. We’re all so focused on throwing into our faces.
Newspapers are all in Japanese, and most of it is in kanji, which is a very difficult level of the language. I can’t read that quite yet. The paper I picked up was 140 yen, which is less than 2 USD. It contains everything in structure that you’d see in a typical US newspaper. The news is also mainly related to Japanese going-ons. I’ll get my US news source from online. Th
e two main things happening right now in Japan are the decision for the 2020 Olympic Games logo, and sadly more recently, the earthquake that occurred in Kamumoto, about 3 hours from Tokyo. It was a magnitude-7.3 and took some lives with it. I’ve yet to feel any sort of thing close to an earthquake in Tokyo although they happen all the time.
Social etiquette and politeness is quite important in Japan. As mentioned before you need to have respect for others, and a common term used by everyone is “sumimasen.” This simply means excuse me, but can be used in a variety of ways. For example, you can say sumimasen to signal a server at a restaurant, when you accidentally bump into someone in the train station, or when you’d like to gain access to information like where to go, sumimasen is a common entry phrase into dialogue with unfamiliar people. Usually when going to an event, meeting or class, showing up 10 minutes prior is expected. When visiting someone’s home, you’re expected to take off your outside shoes. This is something I wish US cult
ure would pick up on. Shoes are dirty! We all use a separate pair when walking around inside like slippers or sandals. It’s a lot more comfortable. Gifts are almost always accepted and are encouraged if you’re an international student or foreigner staying with a homestay family. For greetings, there are different things you’re supposed to say throughout the day. When entering a store, restaurant, or other place, you say ohayo gozaimasu, which is a polite way of saying good morning, konnichiwa for a general hello, used after 12pm noon until it’s dark, when you would say konbanwa, or good evening. The word gozaimasu is very important, as it signifies respect and formality. Seating in restaurants is sort of wherever they’ve got a spot for you. I know of a ramen place on my walk to the train station that has only three spots inside so people are lined up down the street. I’ve never been there but apparently it’s the best ramen in Matsudo.
I was also a little confused by the next exercise. Romantic relationships are more or less similar to the way it is in the US. It’s fine to show affection in public if in a relationship. It’s not like you’ll go to jail for that or anything. Slimbach asks “How do you know when a relationship is becoming more than just a friendship?” How do you think? A topic like this is universal. It doesn’t necessarily apply here in Japan.
Public transit is an interesting thing here. People travel on all sorts of apparatuses, including and not limited to, trains, buses, bikes, taxis and just walking. Most people actually just walk and take the train to destinations more than
half an hour or an hour away. Taxis are available, but expensive. People do indeed take the local bus, but I’ve never wanted to do it. Walking is just so much easier (and healthier!). Although if one does decide to take the bus, exact change is helpful as a lot of people can get on and you’ll only be wasting others’ time. The JR Train system is another story entirely. As I’ve mentioned a few times previously, there are 30 million people moving around Tokyo at all times of the day. The train system is extremely efficient, and is most always exactly on time. If for whatever reason it’s not, the conductor will go over the loudspeaker and personally apologize. The morning is the worst part, there’s not doubt about that. People are trying to make their commute, and it’s pretty much customary to stuff as many people as you can into the train car. It’s annoying a lot of the times, because you’re standing so very close to a large amount of people. If you’re claustrophobic, it might not be the best experience for you. It’s also very strange in that no one talks. You could hear a pin drop on the way to your destination. The best way I’ve described the JR Train is that it’s a “quiet mosh pit.” Nobody will talk, yet you’ll get shoved into people’s backs and forced to close your arms in if you feel uncomfortable standing shoulder to shoulder with people. As per my description, it’s like a concert. There’s a collective feeling to it all.
Also, as a quick note for my travelogue, it’s got history and many of the cultural norms I’ve talked about here in this blog post (which I realize will appear super long on the blog). I’m currently in a Japanese History course with a professor who speaks English but has lived in Japan for the majority of his life, I feel like I’m getting a lot more knowledge from in class than in the reading. The travelogue to me seems like a warm-up or a quick-guide if I’m not sure of some historical aspects of the country. Anyways, it’s still a fantastic journey I’ve been having in Japan. さようなら !