You can cook by yourself in some restaurants...on a hot plate in front of you.
The impressions that a foreigner faces after arriving in Japan are really a lot. Most of them are quite small and he might forget them soon in between the huge impressions. I put a little list together of some of the little things that are so different to what we might be used from home:
- There’s music in the air in Tokyo and most of the bigger cities. Sounds like some myth, but it’s true.
At least at the bigger crossings. Every time the lights jump on green music starts to play. It would be too boring to listen to the same music by every crossing of course, so each crossing has its own melody. For people who are blind this is for sure a big help in the orientation. All they need is to memorize which melody belongs to which crossing.
A little sushi party.
- As I mentioned already before the Japanese food doesn’t consist only of sushi of course. But what to choose if you have no Japanese friend who could explain you what the several dishes are about? No problem, some restaurants have a plastic version of the dishes in the window. I mean, you might still not know exactly what you order, but at least you know how it looks like. Usually you get automatically water or cold green tea for free. And a little wet towel to wash up your hands, the Japanese are very concerned about hygienic issues.
At some places you have a little bell at the table so you can call the waitress, that’s so helpful. I wished they would introduce something like that in Slovakia. Another important difference. The guests never pay at the table. They receive the bill and bring it to the cashier.
In some cheaper restaurants, something like Japanese fast food places, it can get complicated for foreigners. Here you have to purchase your meal in advance using a machine. The problem is…of course everything is written in Japanese on the buttons. First you have to throw in the correct amount (in coins, often the dishes cost around 200-300 yen and the biggest Japanese coin is the 500 yen one), then press the button of the meal you chose…or guessed…or whatever, hahaha. The machine gives out a ticket which you bring then to the desk. At one place in the University campus I was supposed to write a number from a chip on the ticket. I gave the ticket to the cook and kept the chip. When the dish was ready they just called out the number…of course in Japanese. Well, at least it’s a good motivation to learn the basics of the language quickly, hehe.
Foreigners trying on Japanese yukattas.
- A similar problem with the tickets might come up when you try to buy a subway ticket in Tokyo for example. The price of the ticket depends on the distance you’re plan to travel and as a help there’s always a huge map of the city with all the subway stations and the corresponding price below it. Meanwhile the stations are written often in English as well, especially in Tokyo. So…you throw in the machine the right amount of money and push one of the buttons representing the prices for the different distances. And don’t worry too much to get the wrong ticket.
It happened to me on the beginning a couple of times. As you have to keep the ticket till you leave the “ticket barrier” by the exit, the machine will show you if your ticket has the right value. If not, no problem at all. There’s always someone in a desk next to this ticket barrier who will tell you how much you need to pay extra. Japanese don’t really expect all the foreigners to handle the “system”.
This is supposed to be a street policeman watching the traffic.
- If you arrive in Tokyo at one of the big stations like Ueno, Tokyo, Shibuya or Shinjuku get prepared. All this stations are incredibly huge with incredible masses of people moving around. And there are of course lots of convenience stores, little shops, restaurants, etc.
The main problem for a foreigner is to choose the right exit if he or she is planning to go somewhere. In all these big stations there are at least some 8 exits and believe me…choosing the wrong one can mean lots of walking.
- Tokyo doesn’t have a real center, a real downtown if you want. It’s composed of several quarters which usually have something typical Japanese people associate with them. Shinjuku is the “governmental” quarter, Shibuya is the place to go out, Harajuku the quarter of the crazy cloth wearing youths, Roppongi is where most of the foreigners are and Akihabara is the quarter to get the best electronics for good prices.
Actually, a friend told me recently that the role of Akihabara is changing slowly.
On the ferry to Hokkaido.
- A new experience for foreigners is surely taking a hot bath. But be aware of some big DONT’s in Japan. Never, I repeat, NEVER EVER enter the bath before taking a shower first. The bath is to relax your body, not for cleaning it. In a public bath the people sit on little hockers next to each other, soap and shampoo themselves properly and shower everything up. Then and just then they enter the basin with the hot water. Honestly, the water was just too hot here for me, I never managed to stay very long in it. I think my record was somewhere around 5 minutes. I just felt like a cooked noodle in a soup, hahaha. But the best was always the cold showers I took every time I got out, soooo refreshing.
What I’ve never got used to it in Japan was the fact that after attending a party with some Japanese friends I was invited sometimes to take a hot bath at the place of one of them. It was always past midnight when they asked me!!!!!!! It was just too strange for me to take a bath that late.
- If you get out of the bigger cities you might hear a noisy sound all around in the summer: the grills. In Japan they can get extremely noisy, but after a while everybody gets used to it I guess.
What I was shocked about was the size of some insects I saw in Japan. No kidding, I had the impression that some of the flying ones had at least the triple of the size of the insects I’m used to in Europe. Once in the kitchen of my floor in the dormitory building I heard a strange sound when I passed by. I went in and discovered a little flying “monster”. It was something like a bee, but it was sooo big. I don’t know how it got in, but it was trying to get out. I wasn’t afraid of it but I had huuuge respect, hahaha. I took some pictures and opened the window then so it could finally escape. A day later I discovered a little note on the wall written in English: “Be carefull with killer bee” Hahahaha, I was the only foreigner at that floor, so I guess somebody wrote it for me. My friend Klemens was living one floor below, but they had their onw kitchen. The “killer bee” came back again, so I helped her to get out. It was biiig and looked like Godzilla compared to bees I knew, but it was surely no killer bee, hahaha.
- And for the end a little reminder on Japanese services I mention already before.
Staying for a couple of months in Japan I got to a point where I needed to get my hair cut of course. The problem was that according my Japanese friends the price for a common hair cut seemed relatively expensive. OK, I was short of money as I usually spent it on traveling. My tutor suggested me then to take me to a hair dresser where a hair cut would cost only 1.000 yen, he saved me. What can I say? The visit by the hair dresser wasn’t just a usual haircut as I always experience in Europe. The hairdresser treated my hair in such a soft way like he would be afraid that it would be made of gold and would fall apart if he would pull just a little bit. Even if I brush my hair myself I use more pressure then he did. It wasn’t a haircut, it felt like he just tell the long hair to get shorter again, hahaha.
Fooling around with friends.