Try to use a Japanese computer if you don't know the language properly, haha.
I will never forget the first day I landed on the Tokyo International Airport in Narita. Already during the landing I was pretty exited, I couldn’t believe that I really did it...I was in Japan. But when I was stepping out of the plane the first welcome was different then expected. The warm air hit my face and seemed to push me back into the plane. From one microsecond into another my body started to sweat. My Japanese professor warned me not to go to Japan in August, now I understood why. The air humidity was just incredible.
Little bit later I was passing through the passport control.
The officer looked first at my passport, then looked at me and asked „wakarimasuka?“ I don’t know if there was something written in my face saying that I did some Japanese lessons before. He just asked me if I understand (Japanese). Of course was my Japanese worse then bad and I decided to point that out in his own language: „wakarimasen“. ( I don’t understand). He laughed and gave me a sign to pass. The first communication challenge and I managed the situation without problems, hehe.
In Japan I was supposed to participate on an international workcamp for young people in a small town called Hanawa in the Fukushima prefecture. It was starting the day after my arrival and I had to get there somehow on my own. OK, that was the challenge for the next day, I decided to take everything step by step. Where would I sleep the first night? I had no reservation, no real plan, anything.
I just knew it wouldn’t make any sense to go to Tokyo directly as Hanawa was opposite way of Narita.
So what to do when you need help? Right, the tourist information center is a gooood option. The nice smiling ladies there asked me what kind of an accomodation I would prefer, showed me 2 options and after I chose one they called there to come to pic me up. I recieved as well a map of Narita on which they marked the tempel area if I would like to do some sightseeing later.
About 20 minutes later I was sitting in a pickup driving me to my hotel. The world outside of the car seemed so different to what I was used to, like if I entered another dimension or...a different planet. I mean, of course there were houses, streets, cars, trees like everywhere else in Europe, but it looked different though.
And I felt somehow like a strange „element“ in this different world. Not really in a negative sense...I looked just visibly different, haha. The situation reminded me on Sting’s song where he sings „ I’m an allien, I’m a little allien, I’m an Englishman in New York“ I felt like a little allien as well.
Next day I was waiting for my train to get to Hanawa when I noticed how little kids nearby stared at me and laughed within their little group. I was the only foreigner, the only „gaijin“, around and they seemed to have seen Westerners only on TV. This wasn’t Tokyo, this was Narita, a little town 6o km far away from the capital. And I noticed another thing. The adults seemed to be interested as well on me, but they were too polite to show it. I just percieved some stolen looks, haha. So how are the Japanese really? Here are some of my impressions and experiences:
- There are almost 130 milions of people living in Japan on an area slightly bigger then Germany but with lots of mountains.
The Japanese are usually very polite people who don’t like very much to show their individualism within the community. Their politeness can be percieved as exagerated by Westerners and I had to learn step by step what certain behaviour really means. For example...Japanese have often a problem to give a negative answer, to say a direct no. Especially towards foreigners. Words like the popular „maybe“ or „we can see later“ or even sounds like „hmmm“ are meant as a no. It’s not supposed to give you certain hope that it might work anyway if you keep asking, haha. Foreigners tend to improvize, to go against certain rules if there’s no other possibilty, Japanese not. A rule is for them a rule which is supposed to be followed.
Otaru on Hokkaido.
- The „politeness“ is very strong in the custommer service in Japan.
You enter a shopping center and there are often young girls in uniforms bowing and shouting “Irashiamaseeee” welcoming you. The customer is always the king whatever he buys. Once I needed just a cable for the secondhand TV I bought before and a Japanese friend took me to a shopping center. The cable cost maybe the same like a big bowl of instant noodles from the convinience store, but I got a service as if I bought a plasma TV at least. During my last trip in Japan my Fuji digital camera got damaged the second day after my arrival in Tokyo. Actually I got it borrowed from my dad, that made the situation even worse. The screen showed only some red and pink stripes and I wasn’t able to make any pictures. My friend Jun took me to a Fuji store in Shibuya and I already expected to pay a lot of money to get it repaired.
With Japanese friends.
They told us there that they can send the camera to their center and let it repair, but it might take several days I didn’t have of course. But then they mentioned a technical service center in Tokyo where I could get it repaired within 1-2 days if we go there personally. Great. They printed us even a map from the internet how to find the place. It took us a bit to get there, but there we were. The lady at the desk took my camera while Jun filled out a sheet with his details. We were asked to come back in about 30 minutes, they would tell us then what’s wrong with the camera and how much it will cost to get it repaired. So we did. And the result? Within a very short time the technician found out that the problem was a little chip that got broken, but as it couldn’t be my fault they exchanged it for free. For free!!!! The camera was already visibly 3 or 4 years old and I got it repaired for free, because an old chip stopped working!!!!!!
With my friend Nobu.
- When you buy something in Japan and you’re supposed to pay, the selling stuff expects you to put the money or your credit card on a little tray.
Not directly into their hands. Sometimes I noticed that the selling stuff takes the tray and held it in your direction so it’s clear enough where to put the money.
Hmmm, loved this.
- Common Japanese are usually very honest people and wouldn’t even think about cheating. At least the big majority of them. In Osaka I went to the top of one of the skyscrapers to get a good view above the city. As I had a small backpack with me which was little bit heavy I decided to leave it in one of the coin lockers. I put the backpack inside, put a 100 yen coin in and closed the door. Honestly, I didn’t expect to get the money back.
It wasn’t so much anyway. But when on the way back I took my backpack out and started walking towards the exit, I heard a voice behind calling me “Mister, mister”. It was one of the uniformed ladies from which I bought the entrance ticket. She was holding my 100 yen coin in her hand saying “you forgot to take your coin”, hahaha. I heard different stories about foreigners who forgot their wallets or suitcases in the middle of a public place and when they came back their stuff was still there. Sometimes even being guarded by a policeman so nobody would kick into it accidently. Believe it or not, I wouldn’t even wonder if these stories were true.
A school excursion.
- Japanese are often very helpful.
A lot of them had English classes at school, but their teaching system is concentrating on memorizing words and grammar and they practice almost no conversation. That’s the reason why many Japanese people feel too insecure, too shy to speak with foreigners in English. But sometimes they try it anyway, especially if a foreigner looks lost. That happened to me several times especially during my first trip. The railway system in this country is very good, but Japan Railways, short JR, have one negative side. Even for relatively short distances you have to change the train several times. When I was heading from Narita to Hanawa I had to do it 4 times. OK, in my case it was 5 times, just because I got once into a wrong train. I realized my mistake about 20 minutes later, hopped off and got in a train going back. Tickets are not controlled anyway in the trains but when you enter the platform area. Every time I had to change the train I had a problem to find out which my platform was. Once I was staring at a board showing the different destinations written in Japanese when a man asked me if he could help me out.
Expensive Japanese toilets.
His English was quite bad, but his effort was heart warming, haha. I explained him where I have to go next and he nodded. He brought me to the right platform, waited with me for the train, got with me in, waited till he was sure I couldn’t miss my station anymore to get off and said goodbye. Incredible. Just because he wanted to help me he traveled with me for a couple of minutes in a direction he didn’t have to go. Later on I met another nice people who helped me a lot, but he was the first one and that’s why he has a place of honor in my memories.
Tokyo's Rainbow bridge.
To be continued.
My cellphone had no English menue, aaarrrggghh.