Japan Part III: What Was Left Undone
So now that it has been a while since my Japan trip, what are my feelings on it? Do I want to go again? And what would I do if I would go back? What was weird and interesting? What I wished I’d known before I went?
Well, those first few are actually rather silly questions. It was an amazing trip, even if it was incredibly tiring both physically and mentally. It was the first time I was somewhere where I don’t really speak the language at all, and I couldn’t even read the signs unless they also had translations on them. I couldn’t understand what was being announced in public places, and I had trouble getting my point across in English a few times.
But I would go back in a heartbeat. And I already know a bunch of things I would want to do, if I ever actually get back to Japan. Even Tokyo still has things I want to see and do, even though I spent some 8 days there. It is a big city, and there is more to Japan than just Tokyo. I’m not sure how long it would take me to see even just the main things I want to see. There is only one way to find out, I guess, but I don’t know when that might happen yet.
One thing I had planned to do in Tokyo was to get out of Tokyo. Okay, that sounds a bit silly, I guess, but I really wanted to do a day trip somewhere outside of Tokyo. Some nearby town with different kind of sights and maybe some more nature.
One option was to go to Mount Fuji, because that just seems to be a thing you are supposed to do while in Japan. If not climb it, at least try to see it (and hope the weather gods are on your side, as apparently the mountain is not visible all that often). Well, I did see it, in the end, from the airplane window on the way home. Not quite what I had in mind.
My day trip plans were partially foiled by a typhoon that hit Tokyo (and other areas on the same side of the islands) on the night before I had planned to go on my day trip. I checked the weather forecast the evening before and just decided to sleep in and have a bit of a lazy day instead. And since my left knee did not approve of all the walking during the previous days, I think it may have been better to take it easy, too. The weather helped me overcome my usual “NEED TO SEE EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE” plans…
I’d love to see Kyoto. That was also something I had planned to do on this trip, but realized that only 8 full days in Japan might mean I’d have to rush a bit too much. So I decided to scrap that plan.
I would also like to see the apparently slightly crazy deer in Nara. The World War II memorials in Hiroshima. That elusive Mount Fuji. And Osaka especially for the food, as it is known to be the foodie central of Japan, and Japan is a foodie country in itself. And then there is Okinawa, the more tropical part of Japan. I knew of the Okinawan islands, but somehow I never had realized before that they are actually subtropical and feature a lot of lush vegetation and beaches. Would be worth seeing, I think.
The less likely destinations would be the cat islands and fox areas and other such smaller, more remote areas, but I somehow feel like just getting to them might be slightly difficult without knowing the language or having some other kind of transport than just trains and buses. Who knows though, maybe some day even these smaller wishes come true.
The only thing that was really sad on this trip was the fact that I could not get tickets for the Ghibli Museum. That was something I had really looked forward to, but it turns out the tickets sell out really fast. It probably didn’t help my cause that one of their yearly maintenance periods started during the time I was there, so it was open less than usual in that period as well. The tickets came out a week before I realized to check them out, and by then they were all gone for all of May.
So, I have to go to Tokyo again if only for that. Possibly also for a wedding, though, if all goes well… As I of course hope it does. Weddings are always fun, and I’m sure (half-)Japanese weddings would be quite the experience.
What surprised me
The customer service in Japan is something else. I mean, of course I knew it is an integral part of the culture. But wow, everyone working almost everywhere was super nice and friendly and I felt like they went out of their way to help the stupid tourist out. And I really hope I managed to thank them enough for them to feel like I appreciated it, because I really did appreciate it. And I miss it, even if I can only guess how tiring it is for the people who work in customer service jobs. I’m not sure I could do it myself.
I also was entertained several times about what kind of jobs there are in Japan. Tokyo is a big, busy city, so there were a lot of people just basically helping people queue in the right place and hold up signs explaining how long the queue is. It actually really works, and things work surprisingly smoothly, but it is still a bit funny to someone who is still too used to the Finnish way of life, where “a huge queue” means about 20 people, not 45 minutes of queuing.
And talking about Tokyo being a big and busy city: I never felt like I was squeezed too close to people, even if the metro was sometimes annoyingly busy and even if I crossed THE Shibuya crossing a few times, dodging tourists taking photos in the middle of it. Japanese people seem to have some sort of sixth sense: they can steer themselves around without hitting people while staring their phones the whole time. I wish I could do that.
And lastly, I’m surprised how I never felt like Tokyo is too crowded or busy. I think it has something to do with the Japanese culture being so polite and considerate in public places. There are signs to keep your phone on silent mode in public transport, and mostly people keep to themselves. I was surprised every time I heard people actually talking to each other in Japanese in public transport. And even then they were mostly relatively quiet as to not disturb others. Wow. I wish more cities would have rules like that, really.
What I wish I had known before
Okay, there is one big, big, BIG thing that I really wish I had been told before I went. And another maybe smaller thing, which I still somehow felt was rude of me to ignore (due to ignorance).
I trust most of you know that in Japan they drive on the left side of the road (and if you didn’t, now you do). That also means that on escalators you are supposed to stay on the left side of it if you are not going to walk on the escalator to get up faster. And a lot of people do want to get up faster, because they want to catch the next metro or train, even if the next one would be there in some 7 minutes.
This means that a silly tourist standing on the right side of the escalator or, worse yet, a few silly tourists just blocking the whole escalator means there are some rather irritable Japanese people around. I was mostly alone, but I did realize rather fast that I’m doing something wrong. My Belgian-turned-Japanese friend luckily explained this to me very early on when I met up with him, and after that I made sure not to make the life of the locals too difficult. It might feel like an insignificant thing to us, but I’m sure having to dodge between clueless tourists on a daily basis does get rather tiring for the locals at some point.
And the other thing, then? Well, it was a small thing, but apparently something the Japanese are easily annoyed about as well: when paying things in cash, you are supposed to put your money on the little tray on the counter. I read quite a few lists of “don’t do this in Japan” or “do this when in Japan”, and I don’t remember seeing this mentioned anywhere. My friend also said he only learned it after some cashier somewhere just took the money from him, put it on the tray, and then picked it up again.
I knew that giving calling cards, for example, has to be done with both hands, as just using one hand is considered rude. And tried to do that with the cash and the credit card, too, but somehow this whole tray business seems to be something that no one ever perceived as important. Well, I DO. I felt absolutely horrified realizing I’ve been rude in so many places just because I didn’t know something as simple as that. So please, don’t do what I did, be smarter, be nicer, be BETTER, and put your money on the tray.
That’s all, folks. At least all about Japan for a while. I have already since been to Rotterdam for a little weekend trip, a few days in Amsterdam, and am now trying to recover from jetlag in Canada. I seem to lead a busy life lately… Not sure how that happened, but I am not complaining.