Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Quick cultural notes.

I'm going to post something about my day, but I wanted to clear up a few cultural/societal differences between America and Japan that I've found.

*Service: Service in Japan is worlds better than America. If I go to a convenience store and they don't welcome me, I'm a little surprised and put off. This, however, can be quite intimidating. I'm a bit afraid to go into an empty store, as I'll be the center of attention, and when attention towards everyone is so high, it is often unwelcome. And banks? Even more attention. I'll get to that in my next post.

*Foreigners: Whenever I talk about 'foreigners', I am referring to non-East Asians. I know that the largest minority group in Japan are the Chinese people. I can tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean people most of the time if I pay attention, but considering that it's not instantly apparent , I just assume everyone's Japanese. But, when I say things like "I saw very few foreigners" or "The crowd was almost entirely Japanese", it could be that I'm seeing lots of Chinese and Korean people. I got thinking about this when I was in Yokohama's Chinatown, as I had little to no clue if the people there were mostly Japanese or Chinese.

*Small large stores: Sometimes companies build giant mega stores in Japan, which are overwhelmingly huge. Sometimes, they don't have the room to do this, so instead they open several stores in the same area with different specialties. An example would be Sofmap in Akihabara. They have a store for new computers, used computers, games, used games, Mac products, and so on. They even have one that seems to just sell media like CD-Rs and DVD-Rs. Another example is Disk Union in Shinjuku, where they have stores that specialize in one genre instead of a massive store that would require more room than is available.

*Cell phones: These are not a luxury in Japan, but a necessity. I didn't have a cell phone in America until January, and even so, I didn't use it much. Here, I use it a lot. First off, I am not at home as much here as in America, nor do I have access to internet wherever I go. Having the ability to get and receive emails is crucial. The ability to actually talk on the phone is something that is a luxury, however. I hardly ever do that.

*Smoking: People smoke so much around here, it's unbelievable. And it seems like the city/companies bend over backwards for smokers, offering smoking rooms and smoking areas in parks. I guess it's better than having them smoke wherever, but considering the few places in California you can smoke, this is a surprise to me.

*Payment: Japan is very much a cash based society. This is not a big deal, but it sure is different. The amount of money I have in my pocket depends on what I do that day, and I've stopped trying to figure out if the shops and restaurants I go to take credit card, because they probably don't. However, some convenience stores and vending machines take Suica, which is a pre-paid train pass that you just touch to the sensor and it lets you through. Oh yeah, and I can get my phone to act as Suica, but I don't know how, and the only difference is weather I tap my wallet or my phone to the train gate, and I prefer to tap my wallet.

*Rainy days: Everyone uses umbrellas here. Almost nobody uses rain jackets or parkas. I don't know why this is.

*"Downtown": There is no real "Downtown" in Tokyo. There are dozens of large neighborhood areas and countless small neighborhoods. By my house is "Ontakesan" which is just a few shops around a train station. The larger neighborhoods are areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara, etc. Anywhere else, they could all individually be their own downtowns, but that's not how it works here.

*Neighborhoods: My neighborhood really feels like a small town. There are a few shops and restaurants, but not many. There is a obviously an Ontakesan "Main street", and it the rest of the area kind of reminds me of the old residential areas in Santa Rosa by downtown, but more crowded. The only difference is here it doesn't seem to stop. It just goes from one neighborhood to another, seemingly forever.

Well, that's all I have to comment on now. If anyone has any questions about life here, I'll be happy to answer them.

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