You’ll hate it to begin with, but actually, you’ll end up loving it. To start with, I just couldn’t get used to all the ceremonious bowing – you find yourself bobbing up and down every time someone enters a room, or leaves a room, or does something in a room. It’s endless. My bows were always half a beat behind all my co-workers, and never the head-to-toes karate snap at the waist, bending impossibly in half with hands neatly folded. No, my bows were more like a sort of sideways dip, a fruity curtsey (if curtsey’s could get any fruitier) while trying to keep eye contact, resulting in a sort of lilting sway with a freakishly craned neck. Why did I do that? Well, eventually I cottoned on and have learnt to bow like the rest of them, and without complaint. These days, when I bow I feel both humble and respected at the same time. So if the bowing is doing your (upside down) head in at the moment – stick with it, you’ll soon learn to live with it.
Seriously, what do Japanese people do with their rubbish? Are the insides of their coats lined with plastic bags into which they carefully compartmentalise their trash, concealed on their person and carried around all day long? For a country so clean, I just don’t get it – public dustbins are pretty much unheard of. The only place you sometimes see them is outside convenience stores. In Japan I’m constantly shaking crumbs out of my bags and pockets because I’ve nowhere else to store my rubbish.
To say that Japan is country that loves recycling and looking after the environment, they sure do love their packaging over here. It goes beyond the realms of absurd. Your doughnut is wrapped in cellophane, then it’s sealed in plastic, then the whole thing goes into a plastic bag. Heaven forbid you should refuse taking a bag – then the checkout girl has to go through the whole rigmarole of sticking little bits of tape onto all your items instead. Seriously – it’s just not necessary. Not to mention those little ‘do not eat’ packets that you find in pretty much everything here. If I buy a packet of crisps, do you know why I’ve bought it? Because I’m going to eat it. Right now. As in, I’ll be halfway out the shop and most of the packet will have been reduced to crumbs already. The little moisture absorption packets are totally not necessary.
You never know where you stand with a Japanese person. They say one thing, but is that their true opinion? Perhaps they are just saying that so as to cover all bases and not offend anyone. Japanese people hate to be thought of as rude – they’d rather say nothing at all than risk upsetting someone. I like how polite Japanese culture is, but sometimes I just want people to talk to me straight – none of this going round all the houses and trying to say things in the most inoffensive way. Most of my colleagues are quite cosmopolitan – they’ve known many foreigners and lived abroad. So when they ask me a question, my response is always ‘Do you want me to be honest?’ They know I don’t want to offend, but they also know I want to tell the truth and give my true opinion on things. They say this is how they want me to be, but perhaps that too is part of the elaborate game of politeness, and really they just wish I’d keep it to myself. Who knows?
I’ll never get used to people cycling on pavements – worst of all is the fact that there seems to be no common understanding of which side of the pavement a cyclist should take. Even at crossings where the pedestrian and cyclist lanes are clearly marked, it’s a free-for-all and cyclists weave in and out and all over the place. Though saying that, if I had a bike I guess I would rather cycle amongst the relatively harmless pedestrians than next to cars and trucks, so… I’m in two minds.
I love the food in Japan, but there are just a few things that, even after months of re-trying them to give them another chance, I just can’t get on with. Red bean paste, pickled plums, large amounts of seaweed, natto… admittedly the list isn’t very long (far shorter than the list of Japanese food that I love) but all the same, sometimes, I’d readily swap the strange slop for a big plate of fish and chips.
Run out of money? No problem, just walk over to the ATM and get some more cash… oh yeah, no I can’t do that, the ATM is closed. I mean, what? I still think this is bonkers. I mean, it’s an ATM. It doesn’t require manual operation, it’s automatic. So why do they close? Answers I’ve found all seem to be a little redundant – in a country as safe as Japan, things like security aren’t really an issue. But anyway, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, so to avoid ATM’s driving you nuts in Japan, make sure you plan your cash withdrawals in advance. Also, try to avoid use in early evening time and on weekends – it costs extra then.