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The ’90s in Japan

14 Apr

I have been living in Japan since 1990. I know what the 1990s and 2000’s were like in Japan much more than America.

Japan was quite different in 1990! I wrote a post last October about some of the differences...click here to read it.

I found a website by a man who took a lot of photos of Tokyo in the 1990s.
It’s very nostalgic for me!

Here are some photos of Tokyo in 1990 (This was Tokyo when I first came here):

This is the large, busy Ikebukuro train station in Tokyo in 1990. There were no automatic ticket gates back then…station workers punched and collected tickets manually!

 

This is the largest, busiest train station in the world…Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station in 1990. There were many payphones on platforms and station entrances back then!

 

Inside a train in Tokyo in 1990. There were no cellphones back then. Everyone read, slept or sat quietly on the trains here.

 

Only-in-America

10 Dec

I’ve lived in Japan for most of my life now, and I have only been back to visit America a few times. In fact, my most recent visit there was over ten years ago ( Click here to read about the reverse-culture-shock I experienced on that trip.)

I was thinking about some things that seem normal to most Americans…but are actually unique to America and kinda odd to people who don’t live there.

1. Flags everywhere / “Pledge of Allegiance”
Every country flies their national colors. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the American flag is flown everywhere, everyday in the U.S. Even car dealerships and in school classrooms.
Speaking of school classrooms, American children stand with their hand on their heart, facing the flag in the classroom, and recite and pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag.
A bit like North Korea.

pledge

2. “Sales tax” –
By this I mean, the price shown on the products in stores in America is the pre-sales tax price.
To be honest though, it was the same way in Japan when I first arrived here. At that time, sales tax here was 3% and the after-tax price wasn’t listed on the price-tags. (Just before I came to Japan, there was no sales tax here at all!)
But in 1997, the law was changed that all stores in Japan must show the after-tax price on their products (the sales tax went up to 5% that year too. (Currently, it’s 8%)).

3. “Toilet stalls” –
When people from other countries visit America, the public restrooms are quite a culture shock! The doors are too small! It’s disturbing when you’re using a public toilet but don’t feel like you have privacy.

public-bathroom

4. “Tipping” –
There is no tipping in Japan. When I visited America, I was never sure who to tip or how much! I had to check my guidebook. Waitresses, taxi drivers, hotel staff, bartenders, et al. It felt like, no matter how mediocre the service, I had to tip everyone! And after tips were factored in, the cost for many things in America were actually higher than in Japan.

5. “Guns” –
Besides the police and military, there are virtually no gun owners in Japan.
All of the gun-related violence in America that is reported in the news is sad and shocking.

6. “Alcohol rules” –
In America, beer can’t be enjoyed outdoors in public. And there are hours (and even certain days) that stores don’t sell alcohol.
Why?

There are beer vending machines in Japan.

I’m not putting America down.
I’m just pointing out some peculiarities about the culture of the country of my birth. Every country has them…and sometimes it takes stepping outside the country and experiencing a different culture to see them.

What are some unique cultural peculiarities about America, Japan or any other country that you’ve noticed?

Two dozen years

17 Oct

Today is October 17th, 2014. I came to Japan on October 17th, 1990. Twenty-four years ago.

I was born and grew up in America. But I only lived there for twenty years. I’ve lived most of my life in Japan now.

I’m sure you can imagine, Japan was pretty different 24 years ago.
Even Japanese people in their twenties or younger can’t imagine if I tell them what Japan was like when I first came here!

One big change is that there was no internet or cell-phones when I came here.
Everyone, including me, had phone cards for pay-phones in their wallet. If it was announced that a train was running late, suddenly everyone on the platform would line up to use the payphones (that used to be on every train platform) to call their office to tell that they might be late.
Nowadays, people take out their cell-phone to either call or e-mail their employer if the train is late.

Also, train stations didn’t have escalators or elevators like they all do now.
If someone was in a wheelchair, the train station staff would carry his wheelchair up or down the stairs!
When my kids were babies, my wife and I had to carry their strollers up and down the train station stairs when we used the train.

Now, all train stations in Japan have automatic ticket gates and IC cards (I wrote a post here about them).
But when I first came to Japan, every train station…even the big major ones…had staff with hole punchers at the ticket gates.

To enter the train station, commuters would hand their ticket to one of these guys and get the ticket punched and handed back to them.
Then when they exited, these guys collected the tickets…and they’d tell you if you owed more money on your fare.
They were really fast! Especially at busy stations like Tokyo Station or Shinjuku Station!

Punching a ticket

As I said, there were no cell-phones or email in 1990. Nowadays, if the person you’re meeting is running late, you can just call or email their cell-phone. Life wasn’t always like that.
When I first came to Japan, there were chalkboards at every train station that anyone could use to write a message to the person they were waiting for.
There were always messages on them such as “To ____, I went ahead. I’ll wait for you at the restaurant.” or “To_____, you were late so I went home.

These were commonly used in Japan before cell-phones.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in Japan since 1990. I wonder what changes the next decades will bring!

Japan’s Batman

2 Sep

In the Chiba area of Japan, near Tokyo, is a superhero who looks identical to “Gotham City’s” Batman.

The Japanese counterpart is called 「千葉ットマン」 (“ChiBatman“).

chibatman

He has been cruising the streets of the Tokyo area, not fighting crime, but bringing smiles to people since the March 11th 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake…but wasn’t famous until a junior high school boy noticed him and took a photo and tweeted it.

That photo was re-tweeted thousands of times (including by me). Of course, with that many re-tweets the international media noticed. And there have now been reports about ChiBatman in many countries’ news sources…such as the BBC.

Telegrams Are Still Sent In Japan

14 Aug

Read this article that tells about the enduring popularity of telegrams in Japan.

Big Bird came to Japan

31 May

I didn’t know that there was a Sesame Street special that had Big Bird visit Japan.

image

He and his dog got seperated from their tour group in Tokyo which led to a number of cultural misunderstandings … such as Big Bird thinking people were telling him that they were from the U.S. state of Ohio when they greeted him with “Ohayo” (‘good morning’)… until he was helped by a mysterious woman who turned out to be “Kaguya-hime” (a famous Japanese folktale “Bamboo Princess”) and she helps him and his dog get back to Sesame Street in America.

image

Here’s the special on YouTube:

Japanese tips for visiting America

21 Feb
America and Japan are quite different.  There are many books and websites that give advice to Americans who plan to visit Japan.
And, of course, there are similar books and websites for Japanese who plan to visit America.
Actually, even though I’m an American, I’ve been living in Japan for most of my life now and I have only visited America a few times.  Before the most recent visit (in 2004), I bought one of these books for Japanese visiting America!  I wasn’t sure who to tip or how much I should give, I had never rented a car in America before then, etc.
Anyways, the website MentalFloss has translated some advice Japanese people have written on various websites for their fellow Japanese planning to visit the U.S.
Here are ten of their tips:

1. There is a thing called “Dinner Plates.” And what goes on them is a mighty disappointment.

In Japan, each person eating gets as many individual dishes as needed for the meal. Sometimes more than 10 dishes per person are used. In America, there is a method where a large bowl or dish is placed in the middle of the table, and you take as much as you like from there, and put it on a big dish said to be a “dinner plate.”

In Japan, meals at home are for eating, because your stomach is vacant. At an American’s dinner, there is food, decorations on the table and tableware, and music to produce a fun atmosphere. It is a time for maintaining rich human relationships. Therefore, the meal is as long as 40 minutes. In addition, often the decorative tableware has been handed down mother to daughter, two generations, three generations. In addition, there are even more valuable dishes used for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

American food is flat to the taste, indifferent in the subtle difference of taste. There is no such thing there as a little “secret ingredient.” Sugar, salt, pepper, oils, and routine spices are used for family meals. There is no such thing as purely U.S. cuisine, except the hamburger, which isn’t made at home so much. There is almost nothing special to eat based on the different seasons of the year. Basically, they like sweet, high fat, high calories things.

2. Beware Rough Areas Where the Clothes Demand Attention

In Japan, hip hop clothes are considered stylish. But in the United States, it is wise to avoid them, as you might be mistaken for a member of a street gang.

The entire United States does not have good security, unfortunately. However, the difference between a place with good regional security and a “rough area” is clear. People walk less, there is a lot of graffiti, windows and doors are strictly fitted with bars. And young people are dressed in hip hop clothes that say “I want you to pay attention to me!”

3. But You’ll be Pleasantly Surprised by American Traffic Patterns.

Manners with cars in America are really damn good. Japanese people should be embarrassed when they look at how good car manners are in America. You must wait whenever you cross an intersection for the traffic light. People don’t get pushy to go first. Except for some people, everyone keeps exactly to the speed limit. America is a car society, but their damn good manners are not limited to cars.

4. Nobody is impressed by how much you can drink. In fact, shame on you.

In the U.S., they do not have a sense of superiority if they are able to drink a large amount. Rather, if you drink a lot, there is a sense that you cannot manage yourself. There is something close to contempt toward someone who must drink a lot to be drunk. To drink alcohol habitually is to have alcoholism. Alcoholics are weak people mentally, to be one means you have spanned the label of social outcasts that can’t self-manage.

Non-smokers are more important than smokers in the US. Smokers capture the concept that they are not able to control themselves, and are the owners of weak character.

5. They Have Free Time All Week Long!

In America, whether you are a student, working person, or housewife, you carefully make room for leisure time, weekdays and weekends. Most people are ensured free time, always. During the week they use it for walking, jogging, bicycling, tennis, racquetball, bowling, watching movies, reading, and volunteering. On the weekend, they enjoy even more freedom, and take liberal arts courses and have sporting leisures.

In Japan we believe that there is no free time during the weekday. Only the weekend. We spend the weekend watching TV, hanging around home, working, studying, and shopping, or listening to music.

6. Knowing how to use sarcasm is a must to communicate with an American.

If you put your bent middle and index fingers of both hands in the air, you are making finger quotation marks. It means you do not believe what you are saying. You can also say, “or so called.”

7. They tend to horse laugh, even the women. It’s how they show they’re honest.

In Japan, when a woman laughs, she places her hand so it does not show her mouth. It is disgraceful to laugh by loudly opening the mouth. Adult males do not laugh much. There is the saying, “Man, do not laugh so much that you show your teeth.”

In America, when men or women laugh, they do not turn away. They face front, open the mouth, and laugh in a loud voice. This is because in America if you muffle your laugh or turn away while laughing, you give the impression that you are talking about a secret or name-calling. It is nasty.

8. You won’t be getting your groceries anytime soon, so checkout lines are a great place to make friends.

Cashiers are slow. Abysmally slow compared to Japan. I get frustrated when I’m in a hurry. Americans wait leisurely even if you’re in the special checkout for buying just a little something. I thought Americans were going to be quite impatient, but in reality they are extremely laid back. I thought about what I should do with my time while waiting in the grocery matrix, and began to speak at length with other guests.

9. Their vending machines are ridiculously limited and dishonest.

Vending machines in the United States just give carbonated beverages. Coke particularly. If you try to buy the juice from a vending machine when you’re thirsty, it’s just all carbonate. I pressed the button and thought it would be a nice orange juice, but carbonate came out. I love carbonated, but there are times when it will make you sick indeed.

10. But darn it all, they’re so weirdly optimistic you just can’t stay irritated at them.

In Japan, there is great fear of failure and mistakes in front of other people. It is better to do nothing and avoid being criticized than to taste the humiliation of failure. As a result, there are things we wanted to do, but did not, and often regret.

In America, you can make mistakes, fail, and it doesn’t matter. It is a fundamental feeling that to sometimes be incorrect is natural. In addition, rather than thinking about mistakes and failures, American’s have curiosity and say, “Let’s try anyway!”