Nippon Express – 80 Days in Tokyo

happenings and experiences during my stay at RICOH Software R&D, Tokyo

The Little Big Differences (Part II) January 29, 2008

Continuing “The Little Big Differences (Part I)“, here are some more interesting and noteworthy observations, again presented in no particular order and without any judgmental intentions. This time, less differences, but more pictures!Coca-Cola corn soup!This is the stuff!

  • Gas stations have a service staff as I only know from 1950s US-American Hollywood movies. If you drive into a gas station, several people will come by and service your car. Again, this shows how well customers are treated here in Japan.
  • The Coca-Cola company sells hot canned corn soup at vending machines (“Bistrone”).
  • Although such a busy city, subways will stop their service at around midnight.
  • There is a Japanese noodle dish which is served cold.
  • Shops like convenience stores, supermarkets and department stores are open on sundays and holidays.
  • Power outlets operate at 110 Volts.
  • Washing machines wash with cold water.This is what you wear in Tokyo!
  • The McDonalds here has the biggest burger I have ever seen — the Mega Mac! Seriously, it puts any Big Mac to shame. I heard Wendy’s has an even bigger one. Sheesh!
  • Every like tenth person or so wears a protective mask over his/her mouth, just like hospital staff does during surgery and stuff (see picture at the bottom). I heard this is either because people who are ill don’t want to spread their germs and potentially infect other people, or because they simply don’t want to catch anything themselves. Considering how crowded many places (subways!) are in Tokyo, I can see why they do that, although personally I wouldn’t want to wear it. So far, I didn’t catch anything (I guess? Whaaa! Let’s change the topic…)
  • If you thought hooded coats and jackets with fur collars are (were?) hip in Germany, then please, come to Tokyo! Literally everyone between 10 and 30 is wearing these here. Seriously, not having one of these really makes you feel like an outsider here!
Protective Masks

The Little Big Differences (Part I) January 16, 2008

It’s been a week now since I arrived in Tokyo, and I begin to notice all those little differences, which sometimes also aren’t so little after all. The following observations I made are listed in no particular order and should be read “as-is” without any judgmental intention whatsoever.

  • Garbage in Japan is separated into combustible and non-combustible trash (the latter of which basically boils down to cans and PET bottles to my understanding)
  • Concerning trash, there are literally no trash-cans in the public. You sometimes find them at train stations, but you have to look really hard. At the same time, despite the many people and the missing trash-cans, it is really really clean on the streets. I have yet to figure out how they do this, but it really shows how positive their attitude is towards keeping their environment clean. I like that.
  • At the same time, people in Japan love packing up things in foil and bags. It’s also fun to unpack things again. That way, you never have to buy trash bags, because I assure you, you’ll never run out of plastic bags here.
  • There are much less people here with weight problems (compared to Germany, that is). One clear indicator for the claim that Japanese food is much healthier than ours (lots of fish, rice, vegetables, not to forget the freshness factor).
  • There seem to be much less smokers here, although you will find cigarette vending machines at every corner. If Japan has as many smokers as Germany does, they are doing a pretty good job at not showing it in the public. I also think restaurants and most (or all) other public places have strict smoking prohibitions.
  • People here love all sorts of electronic handheld devices, particularly mobile phones.
  • There is — no — such thing as Yamba here in Japan. Everyone has rather plain ringtones. One of my favorite aspects I guess.
  • Faucets (water-taps) open downwards, if they are operated using a lever. I’m still having problems with that.
  • Door knobs and locks open counter-clockwise. Ditto.
  • Cars drive on the left in Japan. It’s easy to get run over by a car because you accidentally looked to the wrong side before crossing the street.
  • Pedestrians and bikers share the sidewalk, there is also no clear rule in which direction you have to go or drive, which makes walking on the sidewalk rather… interesting. Dangerous, sometimes, too.
  • At bigger crossroads, traffic lights for pedestrians have a countdown, so you know how long it takes for the traffic lights to turn green again. Oh and, yes, they also have a green and a red traffic-light-man. If the traffic light is about to turn from green to red, it will start to flash. Pretty cool.
  • Unlike in Germany, fast food here is really, really good. And I’m not speaking of Mc Donalds (which I have yet to visit — they have a burger of the size of my entire head).
  • There doesn’t seem to be what we call “H-Milch” (milk that is fresh for more than a week by using heat to conserve it).
  • Speaking of milk-based products, there are much less than in Germany. I think Milk has not had a long tradition in Japan, but it seems to become more popular.
  • You don’t give tips to waiters here. You just pay what’s on the bill.
  • Japan seems to have a tendency to be not very economical when it comes to electricity. Rooms are heated with air conditioning if it’s cold outside, and rooms are cooled with air conditioning if it’s hot outside. That means the air conditioning runs 24-7 (apart from the fact that air conditioners are not very effectice compared to classic heaters). Vending machines for beverages serve both hot and cold drinks, and both are always held on temperature. While I understand that this makes sense for cold drinks (it would be impossible to cool down a drink the second someone buys it), I think at least the hot beverages like canned soup or coffee could be heated on-demand when someone actually buys them (this fact becomes particularly irritating when you find a vending machine in the middle of nowhere — and you will, they are everywhere.). But I guess this just falls into the category “great service”, which is really true for Japan.

So, that’s it for now. More to come.