Bits of Japan.

This post will detail interesting points about Japan (or at least things I find interesting). New additions will “bump” it to the top of my feed.

  • Circle K Sunkus recently merged with Family Mart to become an even larger convenience chain (though they seem to all be keeping their respective names for now). I only noticed because Sunkus’ hot food changed from their own unremarkable fare to Family Mart-branded stuff.
  • Waiting areas here, be they doctor’s offices or casual restaurants, are nearly always stocked with manga.
  • Many smaller Japanese households keep their clothes washers outside on the porch or balcony.
  • At some point in the past, it was considered rude to eat or drink and walk at the same time. That’s no longer the case, but you can still sometimes see an old man walk up to a vending machine, buy a drink, then stand there until he finishes it before moving on.
  • Everyone in the city seems to carry a bag — even men. A lot of guys here carry, for all practical purposes, purses. Hell, men sometimes carry nicer-looking, more expensive purses than the women here. As a Westerner, it still looks odd to me.
  • The Japanese often gargle. The same signs that encourage people to wash their hands to curb disease tend to also advocate gargling as well (which means I’ve learned the verb for it without having to try).
  • JR has rolled out a handful of new Yamanote train cars. They feature three monitors where the ad space used to be and an updated display screen, as well as a patterned floor.
  • Despite his advanced age, Ultraman is still popular in Japan, having transitioned very smoothly from a pop culture figure to a household name. He still appears in advertising and promotional work, and every so often gets a movie. A friend once asked me to send him Ultraman stuff “if I could find it.” I told him later that would be like asking an American for Superman stuff “if he could find it.”
  • Japanese bacon is basically Canadian bacon, which is basically cured ham.
  • Toll-free numbers in Japan are often only free if dialed from a landline. Mobile calls use a different number and are charged as normal.
  • English-speaking toddlers say “no.” Japanese toddlers say 「いやだ」(it’s unpleasant). The sentiment is basically the same.
  • Going by the numerous ads on the train, hair removal seems to be big in Japan. I actually learned what the compound 「脱毛」 (hair removal) means because I’ve seen it so often.
  • If you own a television here, whether or not you use it to watch actual cable TV, you owe a “Television License Fee” to NHK (a major TV station), a fee backed by the government. It costs somewhere around twenty-five hundred 円 per month. Quite the racket. Even if you don’t own a TV, NHK personnel may then claim your smart phone is capable of streaming, so you still owe. Ridiculous.
  • It’s impossible (or nearly so) to find Pepto Bismol or an equivalent liquid antacid in Tokyo. From what I can find, they tried selling it in Japan over a decade ago, but it must not have caught on. They have pills and powders, but no liquids.
  • Kinko’s, which seems to have all but vanished from the U. S., is oddly alive and well in Japan.
  • Similar to Western bars’ last call, Japanese restaurants designate a time for “last order,” after which you can’t order food any more.
  • While earthquakes are relatively common here, they rarely cause any harm. What they do cause, however, is inconvenience in the form of stopped trains. What’s interesting is that the first trains that seem to resume operation are the subways. Regardless, a moderate quake can force some creative train changing if you need to get somewhere.
  • Despite the vast amount of native animation here, Disney is bizarrely popular in Japan. It’s not just Frozen, either; the main Disney characters, Pixar characters, and (even stranger) Stitch are common decorations on all sorts of merchandise.
  • As proud as the Japanese are about having four seasons — which much of the rest of the world also has — they’re by no means even. Summer weather starts around mid-spring and runs through about mid-fall. That’s six months of heat and humidity everyone has to endure in this part of 本州.
  • The stretch of the Yamanote between Shinagawa and Tamachi is apparently the longest one on that line, so they’re supposedly building a new train station between the two. I’m genuinely surprised; I didn’t think they built new stations in Tokyo any more, except at the edges of the city or the tail ends of smaller lines.
  • Convenience stores and banks have an unusual anti-theft device: a ball filled with insoluble paint. The idea is that when the robber flees, you throw the ball and it splashes paint on him, making him easier to find. Since guns aren’t really a thing here, the chance of retribution is pretty low. (The lady who always works at my local Family Mart said robbers here tend to carry knives.)
  • In Japan, the clown who acts as the McDonald’s mascot isn’t Ronald McDonald, he’s Donald McDonald. I imagine this is for easy memorization, but when you consider children and adults across Japan can name hundreds of katakana-written Pokémon, the mascot of the most popular burger joint probably didn’t need a one-syllable name change.
  • Sometimes, beer in Japan isn’t. The government has different tax rates depending on the malt content of alcoholic beverages, so some breweries make what’s known as 発泡酒 (happoushu), which is a lower-malt beverage. It’s a good bit cheaper because of that, and while it would never be mistaken for a high-quality brew, the taste is about the same as your average cheap beer.
  • What Americans call “strollers” and Englishmen call “prams,” Japanese call “baby cars” (ベービーカー).
  • In addition to the usefulness of being able to bank with the post office in Japan, you can also pay your bills at convenience stores. It has to be cash, but that’s it — they scan a barcode and ring you up. Convenience stores here really are.
  • The number of people who cough or sneeze without covering their mouths here is much higher than I would expect in a country full of people so attentive to their physical health.
  • Japan starts putting out Halloween merchandise really early, much the same as Christmas merchandise appears early in North America.
  • Pictured: Background scenery.

    All of the escalators in train stations and subways in Tokyo have signs asking people not to walk on them. That said, the unwritten rule is you stand on the left and walk on the right (reversed in Osaka). It’s kind of like the train announcement that asks people to silence their phones on the train and turn them off near the priority seats: people may keep their phones quiet, but no one actually turns their phones off.
  • Japanese cars are often outfitted with a dash-mounted GPS, which sometimes links to a rear camera for backing into spaces. What it can also have is something unexpected: television. Yes, you can have the TV on while driving. I’m told the TV cuts out if you go over a certain speed, but it still strikes me as bizarre; if we had this in America, the number of accidents would skyrocket.
  • Dr. Pepper, courtesy of the local 100円 shop.

    You can find Dr. Pepper in Japan, but it’s somewhat rare. Convenience stores in Akihabara tend to stock it due to the popularity of Steins;Gate, but otherwise you just have to run across a machine or 100円 shop that has it. (Photo: Dr. Pepper, courtesy of the local 100円 shop.)
  • You can buy corn dogs at convenience stores, but they’re not called that — the label reads “American dog.” They’re not even corn dogs; it’s more of a pancake batter. Disappointing.
  • Instead of a “Like” option on Facebook, Japanese instead click 「いいね!」I find this really amusing.
  •  In Japan, the Logitech brand is called Logicool. I think there was already a company here called Logitec.
  • I’m saving up for something big.

    Customer loyalty is important here, so nearly every store has a point card. Some of them even work in places you’d never expect — for example, the Lawson card also works at KFC and when shopping with HMV. As a result, my wallet is stuffed with them. (Update, 6/8/16: A more detailed entry can be found here.)
  • A lot of Japanese pedestrians have an odd habit: while walking, they’ll just stop dead, pivot, and start walking the opposite way — right into the flow of foot traffic. More than once have I had to sidestep someone who unexpectedly started to turn and walk directly at me.
  • Japanese banks, as I learned yesterday, are far less efficient than American banks in terms of cards and such. First off, they still use passbooks. Second, you have separate cards for the ATM, for debit, and for credit. I told Takashi and the banker who opened my account that in the US, a debit card can also work as a credit card and in the ATM, and they both said something to the effect of, “Wow, I wish Japan would adopt that.”
  • I always knew Mini Stop was one of the smaller convenience store chains in Japan, but it’s never been so evident as in Tokyo (or at least the parts I’ve seen). So far, I’ve seen exactly one Mini Stop, and that was in passing while Takashi and I were driving around. (I miss Mini Stop’s fried chicken and pastries.) The different stores offer slightly different options in terms of drinks, foods, and kuji — for example, only 7-11 seems to carry Coke Lemon here. (No, I haven’t yet seen any Pepsi Twist.)
  • The crows here do not sound like crows. They sound like humans yelling, “Caw! Caw!” I am not kidding.

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