Monday, October 1, 2012

Japan So Far

Bob, Daniel and I have been in Japan for about three days, which I figure is about enough time for me to make sweeping generations about two nations.

There are huge differences between China and Japan. If China is the crude old uncle who spits on the sidewalk and has stains on the front of his shirt, Japan is the delicate geisha who bows constantly and seems genuinely delighted to have you visiting. Here's what I've noticed so far.

1. On the street in China, people don't smile. If you stop them, they're all smiles, but outward appearances seem to indicate they're in the bad mood when they're probably not. This does not count those who walk down the streets in Beijing singing at the top of their lungs. On the street in Japan, people seem to be smiling all the time.

2. Toilets: Let's just say that China has toilet facilities, if you count troughs and holes in the ground. I'll never forget the one tour we did near Pingyao where one of our group said she saw something moving below her. In Japan, the toilets are so high tech it's sometimes hard to figure out the flush button. The seats are warm and clean, and you can do interesting things with water.

3. Lines: In China, if you see a door or a place you want to get to, you just go. There's not really the concept of lines. I got myself in trouble a couple of times back in the States when I just didn't see a line. In Japan, people line up to enter subway cars, they wait politely even when, say, you're buying train tickets and your credit card doesn't work and someone decides to call VISA to see what's up.

4. Greetings: In China, there's the all-purpose "ni hao." In Japan, they say a lot of stuff when you come in, and then there's all this bowing. The bus attendant at the Tokyo airport bowing as our bus left, the hotel bellhop bowing and backing out of our room.

5. Clothing: In China, women love bling and other adornments, so that I have often seen outfits that combine shoes with glitter and high wedges, stockings with sequins, dresses with enough ruffles to satisfy a three-year-old, and fake eye glasses. In Japan, you're likely to see women in kimonos waiting for the subway or buses. The girls wear knee-high socks and short skirts, unless they're in a suit.

6. Cell phones: In China, if you get a call on your phone, you SHOUT into it, no matter where you are, including a crowded subway car. In Japan, you take your phone into the space between cars so as not to disturb others.

7. Cleanliness: Let's just say I haven't seen any spitting here. Or trash outside bins. In fact, we saw people scrubbing benches and streets to make them so clean you could eat off them. In China, babies defecate on the street, dogs defecate on the sidewalk, and people tend to toss their wrappers as they walk along.

8. Taxis: In China, getting a taxi to stop is a triumph. Getting him to go where you're going is a second achievement. Granted, the ride won't cost more than a couple of dollars, but the number of times I've been stranded without a ride are many. In Japan, there are taxis every three feet, spotless cars with lace covering the seats, drivers who won't go until you put on the seatbelt, doors that open and close automatically, and drivers who want to tell you the best sights to see in their fair city. In China, drivers take you on a hair-raising route through city streets, bearing down on the horn as pedestrians scurry out of the way, and making you wonder if you'll make your destination alive. In Japan, taxis wait patiently as pedestrians amble across the street. I have yet to hear a car horn. Of course, the ride costs as much as $35 each time you go, but it's almost relaxing.

So to say that I'm in a bit of culture shock is an understatement. We're off today to see more of what delightful Kyoto has to offer.


  1. Oh, Debbie! Kyoto is so wonderful, I hope you enjoy every minute of it! Be sure to visit Kiyomizu-dera, which has the most spectacular view. Give the city my love!

    Isn't Japan and its bizarrely beautiful sense of order and etiquette astounding? And you will see a lot of old-meets-new there... a gas station right next to a temple, old women in yukata walking just behind a youngster in crazy knee socks and school uniform.

    Just. Have a wonderful time. I wish I could be there!

  2. How long did you say you'll be there? I'm coming to visit!