We’ve been in Japan for about 2 weeks and I’ve observed some very curious things. Odd enough that I wonder.. is it me, or these things just plain weird. You be the Judge!
1) There are lots of very bent over older people. I mean almost C or U shaped – not just hunched back. We’ve been asking folks and using Google to get an idea about why we see so many folks like this, and have gotten some rather curious answers. As per Google, living thru the war, living thru the hardships of after the war, and diet are all contributors. The tour guide at the Edo-Tokyo Museum agreed that older folks are very hunched over, and told us her mother also suffers from this. But she thinks it’s due to the Vegan Diet that as Buddhist’s, most Japanese enjoyed. And as evidence, she pointed out that as the government put on pressure to change the diet – starting in 1869 with the Meiji Government, the number of severely hunched people decreased. But her mother continued to follow the traditional Buddhist teachings – and her daughter feels that’s why she’s now deformed.
2) Japanese toilets are amazing. Often they even offer bidet functions, and a choice of sounds to cover the sound of you doing your thing. But what they often don’t offer is a way to dry your hands. The better the store or restaurant, the more likely you are to get a hand towel or at least an electric hand dryer. But go a bit down scale, or public – no way to dry your hands. Most Japanese deal with this by carrying small towels at all times – but isn’t this curious?
3) Napkins – the kind you put in your lap when you eat – are also not often provided. And even if they are, they are tiny. Way too small to cover your lap, let alone provide any protection for your clothes. I was told that you should use the warm wet towel provided upon entering to clean your fingers before and during the meal – but how do you protect your clothes? And trust me – when eating with chopsticks – I need clothes protection. Only in one restaurant – a very fancy Teppanyaki place – were ‘Napkins’ provided – and they were in the form of full size aprons.
4) Locking Umbrella stands are the norm. If you go to a museum of any size, you’ll see locking umbrella stands. Since most umbrellas, at least in Tokyo, are similar – rounded handle, with a clear, white and black umbrella part – figuring out which one is yours is a challenge. And there is no question that locking umbrella stands solve the problem – but isn’t it curious?
5) Coloured Hair Clips so you can recognize your shoes. Japanese school kids wear very similar shoes. Black loafers being as much a part of the uniform as the uniform. And since you must take off your shoes constantly – how do you know which ones are yours. Some museums have shelves that have letter and number ids – but we watched a group of high school students solve the problem in a very cute way. They used coloured hair clips to clip their shoes together – and thus there was a rainbow of clips attached to a flood of black loafers. They still had to remember their clip colour and approximate shoe location – but in a sea of similar black shoes – those hair clips really stood out.
6) Japanese business people stand in circles when they chat in a public space. At first I thought – how odd. But when I watched carefully, I noticed that every group of business people I saw always were standing in a circle. We decided that it makes it harder for one person to ‘outrank’ another, and maybe it’s easier to hear each other. But it is curious.
7) Japanese babies are generally very quiet. We’ve seen a lot of young kids out – and I have yet to hear a tantrum. The closest we came was one child who refused her mother’s first offering of food – and the mother quickly gave the child an alternative. The result – quiet and a grateful smile. I wish my kids had been so well behaved. I wonder how they do it.
8) Here’s a real puzzler. In Tokyo, folks always stand on the left side of the escalator , letting folks that want to walk up the escalator do it on the right. I noticed because it is so unnatural to me – and the Intrepid Traveler had to constantly remind me to stand on the left. But in Osaka – and in Kyoto – everyone stands on the right side, leaving the left side to the climbers. How curious is that? Do folks from Osaka feel as awkward as I do in Tokyo? Or do they just automatically adapt?
9) Why do so many young people ‘sleep’ on the subway and buses. The Intrepid Traveler and I think it’s to avoid eye contact with seniors so they aren’t forced to be polite give up their seats. But maybe they really are exhausted.
10) Eating outside seems to be very limited. Folks don’t eat or drink on the street or while riding the subways and buses. We’ve seen folks in parks having a picnic – but there are No Starbucks Coffee Cups, no grabbing an energy bar – no eating at all in random places. And there are lots of ‘take-away’ places. So where and when are folks eating the food they buy that way? We’ve had to search long and hard for a place to sit down and eat lunch – and sometimes never found it. Definitely Curious.
11) Japanese toilet paper isn’t perforated. It took me a long time to figure out why I kept getting toilet paper shreds when ever I tried to tear off a strip – and only after a week (I’m a slow learner) did I realize why all Japanese toilet paper holders have a metal piece across the top. You just hold down the metal piece with one thumb while thought tear upward – and perfect strip of toilet paper results. Isn’t that neat..
12) Kyoto Parking lots are different. Ok – in Canada there’s a gate or an attendant, you drive in, you park, you pay – the gate or the attendant makes sure you have paid before you leave. But here in Kyoto – it’s different. Even a tiny patch of flat cement can be a parking lot – with as few as 3 spaces. So each space is guarded by a device that is sensitive to weight. You drive in to the space and the device pops up – putting a barrier under your car. To release the Barrier – you must pay at the pay station. That action makes the barrier fold back into the pavement – and you drive away. Cool, eh?
13) Last – but I’m sure I’ll think of more as soon as this blog is posted – there are very few public garage cans. Almost none in fact. And this is a society that loves to wrap things up in an extra layer of paper or plastic. You buy a sandwich from a vendor, and it comes in a plastic bag, wrapped in a paper holder – and if you aren’t fast enough – there’s an outer plastic bag as well. But when you finish lunch – where do you put all that plastic. Answer – apparently you carry it around in your purse or pocket until you find one of the extremely rare garbage containers!
Enough Curiosities – Don’t forget to share yours with me!
Signing off – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid traveler
>Most Japanese deal with this by carrying small towels at all times
Actually, it’s the other way around. We don’t carry towels because of a lack of paper towels…but paper towels aren’t really needed because everyone has a hand towel. Japanese people are often surprised that people in other countries don’t carry a small hand towel. They’re useful after washing your hands…and also drying your brow on hot summer days!
>put in your lap when you eat
Do many people in Canada put a paper napkin on their lap?
>Japanese business people stand in circles when they chat
Not only “business people”. All groups stand in a circle to talk. How else can everyone talk to and hear each other? How do people stand to chat in other countries?
>We decided that it makes it harder for one person to ‘outrank’ another
Well, actually, in Japanese culture, all social settings have a kind of hierarchy. It’s not oppressive or anything…just makes interacting easier.
>Do folks from Osaka feel as awkward as I do in Tokyo (regarding escalator etiquette)? Or do they just automatically adapt?
Yeah! Why do people in western Japan stand on the “wrong” (right-hand) side?? I guess they feel it’s awkward at first…but get used to it. I know, as for me, when I visit Kyoto, it feels weird to stand on the right-side…as I’m used to Tokyo-style.
>Folks don’t eat or drink on the street or while riding the subways and buses….We’ve had to search long and hard for a place to sit down and eat lunch
It’s bad manners to eat or drink on moving vehicles…or to eat while standing (and especially walking). This is because there is a risk of spilling (possibly onto someone else). Many people in Japan will sit under a tree or somewhere out of the way of other people. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed people in Japan doing so.
>there are very few public garage cans. Almost none in fact.
Many visitors to Japan say that. But I guess it’s relative. For us who live here…it feels that there are plenty of public garbage cans.
(By the way, I have a blog about Tokyo: https://tokyo5.wordpress.com/ )
Hello back at you! Thank you so much for your comment – I LOVE feedback! Thank you so much. I love your comment. Our host has other explanations for some of the things we wondered about. He says that public trash cans were removed following a bomb explosion many years ago – and most were never put back. However, there is always a public garbage place at all convenience stores. Good to know! As for it being bad manners to eat or drink on moving vehicles – I totally understand the logic. But it is so different in North America. We think nothing of eating and drinking in these situations, in fact – not holding a take-away coffee cup is unusual. In North America, having large napkins that cover your lap is the norm. This keeps food off your clothes for starters. But isn’t it interesting how little things can be so different from one place to another. Which is why we travel!
>I love your comment.
>Our host…says that public trash cans were removed following a bomb explosion many years ago
Not a bomb…but a deadly gas attack in a Tokyo subway 24 years ago. Yes, there had been many more public trash cans before that than there are now…after that, ALL trash cans were removed. Eventually many were replaced, but not as many as before. My point was…for those of us who live in Japan, we feel there are enough trash cans around.
> Which is why we travel!
How long will you stay in Japan? If you have a question, feel free to use my blog’s Contact Me form to ask me