Train manners

Being polite is practically the national pastime in Japan. Along with baseball, being considerate of others at all times is deeply ingrained within every Japanese person. This is one of the many many beautiful things about this country. You never have to endure listening to loud private conversations on public transport, road rage is pretty much non-existent (at least from what I’ve seen) and people are constantly apologising and thanking one another.

It’s all very nice and civilised. It has to be, considering that the population density in Tokyo is like a gabillion percent. It doesn’t pay to piss off your neighbours and fellow Tokyoites.

Public transport is a classic example of where all eschelons of society converge and have to live with each other. The impeccable manners of the Japanese people ensures that the trains are always pristine, punctual and polite. If a train is more than five minutes late you can receive a special note with an apology from JR that you can give to your punctual and polite boss. Amazing.

You are constantly reminded when you are on the train, that you cannot speak on your mobile phone. If you are standing in the general section of the train you must turn your phone to silent, and if you are near the priority seating (the haven of the elderly, the disabled and the pregnant) you must turn it off entirely. In most of the commuter trains in Tokyo you can hear a pin drop. It’s bliss.

It might then surprise you all to learn that the Japanese still believe, however, that everyone must be constantly reminded of the rules of politeness on the train. Even though they are drummed into even the tiniest of Japanese kids. Therefore, you can frequently see helpful and instructive posters on how to behave on the trains. Oddly (or not so oddly) they seem to be centred around the train stations in the foreigner districts. I can’t imagine why.

Here is a very special gem that Tamago and I found the other day on our local train platform…

Zooming in to take a closer look at my personal favourite. I particularly like that the writer has gone for a tricky idiom but somehow pulled it off:

And finally; when riding the train in Japan, always ensure that your seat is only as wide as your bottom. No room for self-esteem issues here…

Carded!

I just went to the supermarket, tried to buy some beer, and got carded for the first time since I arrived in Japan!

When buying booze at combinis (convenience stores) they never ask to see ID; instead, they ask you to press a button on a touch screen which says something to the effect of “I declare that I am over 20 years of age.” Only in Japan would an honor system be an effective means of preventing teenagers from buying alcohol.

Anyway, at my local supermarket, it seems that they don’t yet have touch screen technology, so the very nice elderly lady who was serving me asked to see my gaijin card. When she’d checked it out, she gave me a full-on apology for having asked in the first place: something along the lines of “there is no excuse for my behaviour and I am ashamed”. This isn’t quite as melodramatic as it sounds — it’s just an example of the uber-polite language retail workers have to use when speaking to customers in Japan. I can’t imagine getting that response at a Dan Murphy’s!

Bikkle

… is basically a giant version of Yakkult, I guess for people who want to make the Yakkult experience last longer. Who knew that there was a market for that?

BTW, it is Moon Tan’s job to stop me making stupid decisions like this, but lately she has been letting the team down. She says something sneaky like: “Tamago, hold on a second. I think you’ll regret drinking that”. After that, of course, I have to drink it, to prove how hardcore I am.

Kawaii!!

The Japanese are all about “kawaii“. Loosely translated, it means “cute”, but it’s more of a “y’know it when you see it” kind of thing. Hello Kitty is kawaii. Pikachu is kawaii. Sailor Moon is kawaii. And this:

…is kawaii as all hell. At only 100 yen (about $1.20), it’s also a bargain.

As far as I can see it, there might be three reasons to drink a 135mL beer:

  1. You are a busy executive, and you don’t have time to go to a bar between meetings, but you need a quick beer hit.
  2. You want to feel like a giant drinking a regular-sized beer.
  3. You are a small child.

For me, it was reason #2, plus, of course, the kawaii factor. There is something very empowering about being able to finish a beer in three gulps. How good does it feel? Observe:

Happy times.

Christmas Day

Merry Belated Christmas everyone! We hope you all had a fabulous Christmas Day and that you all ate too much, got spoiled rotten with presents and enjoyed spending time with your family and friends.

Tamago and I had a very successful Christmas together here in Tokyo. A couple of weeks ago we got a tip-off from one of Tamago’s students that you could get Cooper’s beer at a certain mythical supermarket in Tokyo, so a few days before Christmas we went to investige Nissin World Delicatessen in Roppongi. This supermarket is located in the notorious foreigner district in Tokyo. In addition to the bars and clubs it’s famous for, Roppongi and the surrounding area is where a lot of foreign embassies are located (including Australia). Also, incidentally it’s a good spot to go for a gaijin keitai, if the Softbank near the train station has any left. The staff there speak English!

Anyway back to Nissin. As I was saying it’s located in the foreigner district. As soon as Tamago and I got inside we felt right at home. To begin with there were several Australian mums doing their Christmas food shopping with some very cute kids in tow. Considering how few foreigners we see in our daily lives, it was very tempting to give everyone I saw a huge hug. I managed to keep myself under control and amazingly we found everything we needed for our Christmas feast at this supermarket. We could even have had an Aussie steak if we’d wanted, but we decided to embrace Japan even at Christmas time and bought the biggest hunk of Waygu beef I have ever seen in my life for our Chrissy dinner. We also found TimTams, Lady Grey tea in bulk and Western food in general that is just hard to get hold of in average Japanese supermarkets. It was predominantly American brands but some Australian ones were nestled in there which was nice to see. We ventured up to the liquor store level and found Cooper’s beer, some cider for me and even some decent Australian wine.

Tamago and I had an excellent lazy Christmas Day. We got up late and opened presents from each other and from friends and family. Then we had a fabulous bacon and egg brunch cooked by Tamago. Just because we’re not at home being force fed by various branches of families doesn’t mean we didn’t eat big. After that we had to recover for a couple of hours and watched a DVD. We also spoke to our far away families via Skype which was very special and it made it feel like we were still a part of everyone’s day.

After this it was about 5:30 and we still weren’t hungry enough to do dinner justice so we went for a walk up to Shinjuku to check out the scene at KFC, it was pretty busy and there were KFC employees brandishing fried chicken in plastic bags trying desperately to get us to eat there but we resisted. I still kind of want to grab people by the shoulders here and explain to them that no self respecting Westerner would eat KFC on Christmas, but then I realise I’d have to mime the killing and eating of lambs to depict my perfect Christmas dinner and the urge fades.

After we’d worked up a bit of an appetite we trundled back home and cooked our dinner: Waygu steak! As Tamago said, it was the first piece of meat he’d had in Japan that actually required a knife and fork. It was excellent and well worth the walk in the cold.

Finished off the day with some Christmas themed Father Ted. A perfect Tokyo Christmas.

 

Thinking about packing…

In my dreams I am Mary Poppins. I look (and sing) like Julie Andrews, I can jump into chalk drawings, I can make medicine taste like cordial and I can fly using an umbrella with a bird head that talks to me. Oh and I would have a giant carpet bag that CAN FIT EVERYTHING IN IT THAT I WANT TO TAKE TO JAPAN.

Thus far my packing has been shaped by the vague notion that I will be giantess compared to Japanese women so I won’t be able to buy clothes there and the fact that I hear it’s really cold there in the winter. Apart from that I need to pack for all possible employment, unemployment, holiday, onsen, tea party on the ceiling outcomes.

Luckily, in the absence of a magic carpet bag I have the wisdom of the internet which has lead me to the following bizarre must-takes:

At least one months supply of deodorant. There are some mixed feelings about this online but apparently it’s not that easy to get hold of Western style deo in Japan. Strange. Only looked this up after Tamago told me he was struggling to find some. Probably should have made this list before he left…

If I had a tattoo (and I don’t but you might) I would be taking bathers that cover it. Onsens often have restrictions on visible tattoos. It’s something to do with looking like you’re in the Japanese mafia.

Toothpaste? Again some bloggers think this isn’t an issue but others have said that finding toothpaste with fluoride is difficult. This is the stuff that my dentist friend tells me protects against getting cavities. I’m a bit of a fan.

This one terrified me: packets of tissues. Not because you might get the sniffles but because in a big city like Tokyo allegedly sometimes the public loos run out of paper…and noone likes to drip dry. I hope this one isn’t accurate. But hey, tissues are always handy anyway.

Lastly: hole-free socks! Even a raging gaijin like me knows that its traditional in Japan to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home. I’m a huge fan of this and do this at home anyway cos it feels nice on my feet. However I often have holey, mismatched socks (very un-Julie). They are on the list.

Feel free to let me know if any of these are inaccurate or if there are any essentials I have missed that I should take along with the fringed lamp and measuring tape…