uniforms and lightsabers
This is a guest post by fellow tour guide David, who is also a longtime traveller to Asia. He spends weeks or even months every winter in Vietnam. This year though he did a short trip to Japan and was kind enough to share his thoughts.
Nippon, surprisingly isn’t as expensive as everybody thinks. I found out that you can get a 15 sqm appartment for as little as 20 € via Airbnb. Even food is quite affordable if you know where to look. For a tenner you get a fantastic in a traditional restaurant and even the fastfood joints offer decent japanese kitchen starting around 5 €. The cost of getting around varies quite a lot though. While the excellent train services will set you back quite a bit, flying and overland busses are super cheap.
One of the things I noticed are the omnipresent soda machines, it seems there is one offering hot and cold beverages about every 50m. Of course, all this liquid has to go somewhere, so for every to soda machines there is one public restroom. Unlike in Europe they are uniformly for free and very clean, and you can even choose between heated and unheated seats. Of course they all feature a bidet or as we cultured people say a bum-shower. Even the toilets on station are nice places, most of them featuring music so nobody has to be embarassed by his own gastro-intestinal soundscape.
Central Japan, Kansai, reminds me of the mountainous parts of Germany, with some palm trees and monkeys thrown in, a bit strange because in a way it all seems familiar, even though it is totally different. The way the Japanese organize their cities depends mainly on their size. While the big cities are a complete chaos, with breath-taking and an ever-changing enviroment, smaller towns all look they were planned entirely on a drawing board. Monotonous, grey and more or less bleak. But whether they live in a small or a big town, they are all bike-crazy and a lot of them ride super-fancy bikes. Unlike in Europe you can’t just park your bike anywhere though. In front of malls or government buildings uniformed men try to discourage wild parkers, warning you that they might tow your bike if you don’t follow their suggestions – and they really do that, of course after giving you a ticket for false bicyle parking. They really like their uniforms, they have them in a seemingly unlimited variety. Well I guess that happens when you post a guy in uniform with a lightsaber or a flag literally at EVERY construction site no matter how small.
The Japanese in general (yeah I know, I simplyfy) are a quite particular people. It’s pretty hard to get to know people, mostly that happens through a friend of a friend or something like that. It’s true that they are very polite, submissive even when talking to customers, but you can’t really call them accostable or curious. Even kids show no reaction if you throw English or Japanese greetings at them. A whole schoolyard stays stonefaced with one single kid showing a little smile (What a contrast to Africa where the children start screaming „whiteman, whiteman“ even if you just ride past).
If you ask about that the most common explanation is, that their english language skills aren’t that good and Japanese people are embarassed because they’re not perfect. Or, they COULD just be deep in a Vipassana meditation and have to keep quiet all day, you just don’t know. Most of the time, they don’t even look at you, as if they’re just not interested in anything foreign. On the other hand no one makes you pay extra, just because you’re a tourist, like in so many other countries. No one’s trying to fleece or rob you and most definitely no one will disrespect your personal space.