10 Observations about Japan (from a white, American tourist)

Pardon the delay in blog updating. Tyler took our laptop for a swim in a backpack full of orange juice. We ruined the computer twice, actually. First, when we decided to walk for 15 minutes through torrential rain. Second, the very next day.

We have a waterproof bag to carry all the electronics in, but it's bulky and Tyler didn't think to put the things in before we braved a storm. When we got to the flat, none of the sound worked on the computer. Tyler, being a mastermind of all things technical, managed to reboot the something-or-another and fixed it. Whew! What a sigh of relief and a narrow miss of mass expense! "Let's be sure to always put the electronics in the bag, we never know when there might be a surprise storm or someone spills something on our stuff." Yes, great idea!

Well, the next day, we went to catch a Shinkansen train from Fukuoka to Kobe. We packed up all our stuff, including the groceries, and made our way to the train. I asked Tyler if he wanted me to put the cardboard carton of OJ -- the one with the flimsy paper opening at the top -- in one of our water bottles so it had a more secure top. "No, it's okay, I'll just keep it upright." To his credit, he did a great job keeping it upright until we got to the train and he started reading his book. This kid is so mesmerized by reading that I think he forgets he is present in this world and he becomes fully engulfed in whatever sci-fi land is being described to him. Three hours later the backpack is on it's side, the entire contents of the orange juice container dumped into the backpack, and we have one helluvan expensive brick in our backpack. 

Naturally, Tyler felt awful. I had the compulsion to do my version of the "I told you so" sentences which, for whatever reason, have to be said. Why is that? I think it was the most mad I've been at Tyler but it was such a depressing moment that there wasn't even escalation of voices it was just, "let's eat something before I make you feel worse than I can already tell you feel." He was wearing his shame and pain all over his face. 

In the end, we got the computer fixed. It meant spending a few extra days in Japan (boo hoo) and a few extra dollars on a computer that we just bought 3 weeks prior, but whatever. We learned a valuable lesson about the importance of waterproof proof bags, we no longer transport liquids around without secure tops, and we got to explore Yokohama which turned out to be a real gem. Things work out.

Since we last posted here is an overview of what we've been up to:

Had a Kobe beef steak dinner: one of the best meals of our life. The chef cuts the steak into smaller, bite-sized cuts which he grills individually on a flat top grill. Each cut gets a different grill time so that it's cooked to it's particular perfection. The taste and texture of the meat is incomparable to anything I have ever eaten.

Do not panic, this steak has not been cooked yet. 

Do not panic, this steak has not been cooked yet. 

Sang a few songs at an open mic in Kobe. Rocked out with an impromptu band and played some originals myself with a borrowed guitar. Met some Canadian ex-pats who have been living in Japan for upwards of 30 years and stay up talking until 1 am.

I managed to not die despite there being saxophones present. (No offense to people who play these instruments, as I recognize how complicated they are to play, but they are the most painful instruments to listen to.)

I managed to not die despite there being saxophones present. (No offense to people who play these instruments, as I recognize how complicated they are to play, but they are the most painful instruments to listen to.)

Colin comes to visit us in Tokyo for a week. We must have walked 50 miles in 7 days, we eat ALL of the food, try all of the snacks and candies, drink all of the beer. Our Airbnb has Mario which Ty and Colin play every day. Colin beats the game. They get me to play and I manage to stay alive through level one. This is a massive proud-moment for Tyler. He took pictures and video the whole time and reflects back on them still, like a proud parent. 

Please witness the professionals at work.

Please witness the professionals at work.

WHO IS DRIVING THIS THING?

WHO IS DRIVING THIS THING?

Visit Mt. Fuji to ride record-breaking rollercoasters instead of hike. You read that correctly. We stayed in a hostel where everyone was waking up and putting on their hiking boots. We were like, "OOOOH LOOOK, MT. FUJI!" and then promptly went one train station the opposite direction to ride on some of the COOLEST, fastest, tallest, craziest rollercoasters you've ever seen -- all with the view of Fuji as the backdrop. It was SO wild. 

The quietest theme park with Guiness World Record breaking rollercoaster rides. 

The quietest theme park with Guiness World Record breaking rollercoaster rides. 

We go to Yokohama for a couple days to unwind. Colin left and we had a couple days to kill while the computer was getting fixed. Yokohama is an hour-by-train South of Tokyo and we needed some R&R. Tokyo can be overwhelming. Yokohama Chinatown is beautiful, calm, and full of incredible food. We ate everything there as well, which was great because we had already eaten everything in Tokyo and needed a change.

Yokohama Chinatown

Once we ate everything in Japan, it was time to go somewhere else, which is why we're currently in Hong Kong. But I'll save that for another post. 

Here's a list of impressions/thoughts about Japan: (in no particular order)

  1. Everything is so quiet it's simultaneously lovely and creepy. For instance, when we went to Fuji-Q Highland, the themepark at the base of Mt. Fuji, it was soundless. No one was screaming on the rollercoasters, no one was making loud noises in the queue. Just quiet. It's quiet on the trains, the streets, the restaurants, the everywhere. I believe this is out of respect for people's personal space (which includes one's sound experience).
  2. The shoes-off thing isn't just for houses. We watched mothers take off their children's shoes before their child sat on a park bench or train seat. At the Giant's baseball game people removed their shoes before sitting down on pieces of newspaper they laid out on the ground. The homeless people (though we saw maybe 15 our whole time traveling) remove their shoes before sitting or sleeping on cardboard or tarps they've laid out. It's fascinating, but also SO clean. Tyler and I have decided to adopt this for our own home when we return. 
  3. Book covers are alive and well. I never saw the cover of any book someone was reading because everyone has a book cover. 
  4. Napping is allowed everywhere. Whether you're on the train or on a staircase outside a bar, if you're tired, nap. I want to know how many people miss their train stop because they are zonked out. And HARD. Like slumped over on their own lap, and sometimes on their neighbor. Drunk business men in suits sleeping on the curb at midnight, hands propping their head up on their knees, or sometimes laid out. No one bats an eye. But I hear that the work culture in Japan is pretty grueling and relentless, so I get the fact that if you're tired, or too drunk, you need to take a beat wherever you are.
  5. Children walk alone at roughly age 5 and up. They take the trains. By themselves. For long distances. They walk on the streets alone. For long distances. Sometimes they are with other small children, other times they are alone. No one troubles them, they have no troubles. This is in Tokyo and also in the smaller towns we saw. Which leads me to the next one:
  6. It is the safest place... ever?  No one steals, no one is violent, no one breaks rules not even unspoken social ones. They won't even break the rules of a menu. They'll take something off of an item, but they won't combine or add. It's "not possible". Women carry their $800 iPhones on delicate chains around their neck. No one comes by and swipes it off of them. Tyler dropped his wallet in the street and a woman brought it back to him with all his cash and cards still in it. You can leave your laptop and camera and wallet on a tabletop in a crowded train-station cafe and go to the restaurant and it will be un-touched when you come back. 
  7. The people are so lovely. Typically, people will give you your space and not interact with you at all. This may seem like they're not friendly at a glance because in America everyone is in your face all the time with the "Hello! How are you? How is your day? Did you find everything okay? Can I get anything for you?" but they're just letting you do you. The minute you have a question they'll do everything they can to make sure you are okay and have what you need.
  8. If people are working, they're HUSTLING. Whether it's a barista, a 7-eleven worker, a construction worker, a person carting something from one place to another, people are On. The. Move. They're operating at this frenetic level where they look like they could burst into a run at any moment. Whatever the job is, they're doing their best. The amount of times Tyler and I have been in Lowe's all over the Bay Area and we 1. Cannot find a worker ANYWHERE and 2. Once we lasso someone, they're struggling to give a single fuck about being alive. What is the deal? What are they getting paid? What is the work culture and dynamic like? I'm so curious to know how people have this indefatigable stamina to do their best at all times. It's brilliant when you're a customer, and a tourist. 
  9. Food everywhere is of the utmost quality & it's perfectly presented. This is next-level shit. Like, we ate meals at 7-eleven and it didn't make us cry and hate ourselves. We went to McDonald's not because we're American and are afraid to try local fare because it tastes different and chopsticks are hard. We did it because it's legit good food. And it looks exactly like the advertisement. If there's a picture of the food, that is what it looks like, every time. Maybe even down to the way the toppings are arranged. It's an art and it's meant to be good for you. High-quality ingredients. I didn't have one stomach ache the whole time I was there. In America, I eat anything and my stomach is pissed off at me. In Japan this whole gluten-free, grain-free BS (which I follow in the states, so I'm not diet-shaming) isn't necessary because they're not using the same bastardized garbage ingredients we are. That doesn't mean you won't still gain weight so pack only expandable clothing. Which leads me to my last, but not least, observation:
  10. Is no one overweight in this country? I counted 6 people in 3 weeks who looked overweight. 2 of them were proper obese. The only fat people in Japan are tourists. I'm going to be judgy and venture to guess they're Americans. HOW? How does their diet consist of 80% carbohydrates and no one is fat?  It also doesn't seem like they're fitness crazed because there's not a lot of fitness lifestyle things around. Gyms are scarce, there's no bootcamps happening in the park, you can't find a Cliff's Bar (or something similar) to save your life. We thought we found one called "Calorie Mate" bars, but they're in the form of buttery biscuits. And old people are still out and about walking from 70 to 120 years old. They're also immortal.

The overarching point is that Japan is perfect and magical and fascinating and one of my top favorite countries I've ever seen. If you haven't been, go. If you're making excuses, knock it off. Let me know if you need recommendations.