Monday, October 19

20 things I loved about Japan

It's been about a week since I returned from my 12-day vacation in Tokyo. Japan was quite an eye-opener for me, particularly their culture. Below are some of the positive observations (and comparisons) I have made.

I will write another set of "What they can learn from Singapore/Malaysia" in a separate blog entry.

(1) Japan is a really country with really courteous people
In particular, the people from the service industry. The cashiers at 7-Eleven, the workers at the small grocery shops, and of course the salespeople at the shopping outlets.

Contrast that to Singapore (and Malaysia). While there are places with excellent service staffs, there are also alot of
- unenthusiastic salespeople who are just waiting for their shift to end
- salespeople who follow me around as if I am a possible shoplifter
- self-employed bosses who get irritated when the customers don't buy their stuff after walking around the shop.

(2) Japan is a place where trust makes things easier for everyone
There are alot of cyclists on the pavements of Tokyo. And many of them leave behind their bicycle unattended, without even chaining it up. For a country to exhibit such a behaviour, it must really mean that their theft rate is low. Contrast that to my experience in Singapore, I have chained my bicycles and they still get stolen in broad daylight after a few hours.

On rainy days, alot of people put their umbrellas at the door of the shops. In Singapore, no one does that, fearing their umbrellas will get stolen by people who are caught in the rain.

Same goes for the shoes. When I visit Japanese temples in the beginning, I was a little apprehensive at first about leaving my new shoes outside the temple doors. In Singapore, ,most people don't leave new shoes outside the doorsteps of their flats, lest they get stolen. It's pretty sad, isn't it? When people enter my flat, they asked that my shoes be brought in. In Japan, everyone leaves their new shoes outside the temples with no concerns of theft.

(3) Japanese have strong legs?
Ok, this is just a little sarcasm for what's happening in Singapore. We have a very bad issue with commuters rushing inside the trains just so that they can grab an empty seat. It really makes us look ugly in front of the tourists. Kiasu Singaporeans squeeze their way in before the commuters in the train can get out. In contrast, the Japanese line up in one single file at the train platform. No rushing, and no one gets hurt. In fact, I have seen many cases when there are empty seats in the Japan subway trains, and yet people choose to stand!

(4) Japanese are law-abiding
I thought Tokyo was supposed to be a place where stress level are high, and people run instead of walk. It's true, you do see quite a few Japanese running around in their office attire to chase the next train. But at traffic junctions, Japanese actually wait for the green man to appear before they cross. Compare that to Singapore and Malaysia, where people cross the road anytime, so long as it appears to be safe.

(5) Go in from the back, and out from the front
In Singapore and Malaysia, we board the bus from the front and pay our fares. One problem with this is that some commuters actually underpay their fares because it is hard for drivers to keep track of where they alight. I know, because I used to be a bus fare cheat when I was younger.

In some of the buses in Japan, people board the bus from the back door. They do not pay the fare upfront, but instead grab a ticket which states where they board the bus. When they alight, they alight from the front door, and show this ticket to the driver, before paying their fare. In this way, it becomes harder to underpay. but then again, I can already think of a loophole in this system - damn, I'm smart!

On a side note, when you drop your money to pay your bus fare, the machine returns you the change. How cool is that?

(6) Japanese cars have no car horns?
Throughout my 12-day trip there, I almost never hear any car horns. In Singapore, car horns are so normal. Our drivers horn when
(1) they need to notify their car-pooling friend/wife/mistress that they have reached.
(2) the car in front is not moving fast enough.
(3) the car in front is slow to react when the traffic light turned green.
(4) they don't like the face of the other driver.

(7) Japanese do not draw on walls
Vandalism is not a common thing in Japan. In Singapore, we see vandalism in many places. Any walls in Singapore is a potential drawing paper. And when you enter toilet cubicles, you see doors defaced with vulgarities, or listed handphone numbers of pimps.

(8) Japanese can pee better
Japanese toilets are clean. And you don't see urine stained toilet bowls. In my Singapore office, I still see pee below the urinals, or lining the toilet bowl seat. Gosh, we need to learn how to aim better.

(9) Japan is free ice water paradise
Ice cold water is free at almost every Japan-run eartery. I went to eat ice cream, and they serve free ice water. I eat a small bowl of noodles, and they serve free water. Gosh, even when Wifey ordered takoyaki balls (otopous balls) at a restaurant, they serve ice water.

Ice water is not just given free, but customers are given easy access to free ice water - there are numerous ice water jugs for you to drink as much as you like.

I pity the soft drinks companies doing business in Japan. Ya right, as if I care. =p

(10) Japanese know how to clear their own mess
Singapore and Malaysia have a food court culture, where you leave your used plates and utensils on the table after we finish eating. After all, that's our way of keeping the cleaners employed. It's pretty ironic how we leave a messy table after we eat, and yet we always search for the cleanest table to have our dinner on.

In Japan, people clear their tables after they finish eating. It becomes such a big part of their culture, you would have been an outcast if you do not clear the used trays and plates.

(11) Special train carriages
You may have heard of the women-only carriages in Japan. But do you know that there are also "Mild aircon" carriages? Since trains are segregated into a few carriages, it makes it easy to have a mild aircon carriage for the old, and the cold.

Time for us to implement similar carriages - one for "Mild aircon", and maybe one called "Freezing North pole"?

(12) Japanese phones do not ring
In Singapore, people revolves their life around their handphones. In order to show off their handphone ringtones, you get to hear them go off on train, shopping centres, food courts, and even the cinema (some people just don't understand). When commuting on public transports, one is sure to hear handphones ringing every few minutes.

Coming to Japan, it is hard to hear ringtones (just like car horns). Phones ringing are banned in many places, including many parts of the trains. I believe it was done to reduce any possible annoyance to the ageing japanese population.

After I came back to Singapore, I sighed knowing that I came back to the real-world, to the nation of "cool" ringtones.

(13) The best invention comes from Japan
No offense to my smoking friends (sorry, Plankton). But most non-smokers hate the smell of smoke. In Japan, smoking is banned on many of the streets and outdoor locations. Tobacco companies have thoughtfully provided community ashtrays in the few areas where smoking is still allowed.

Do you know it is bad etiquette to smoke while walking in Japan? In Singapore, I often find myself walking behind a smoker, and always have to overtake him so that he smells my fart instead. =p

So in Japan, one is less likely to breathe in 2nd hand smoke in the streets, which is good.

So what's this "best invention" that I'm talking about? Smoking boxes! These are enclosed transparent glass containers that you see in parks and open places. If you want to smoke, get into the smoking boxes with other smokers. I think It's Japan way for helping smokers to kill one another with 2nd hand smoke.

(14) Yes, Japan cashiers can count
Some time ago, my friend whose family runs a business told me that his cashier sometimes faced problems with customers who claim to have received the wrong change -the customers would say they gave $50 notes instead of $10 notes.

Well, the smart Japanese cashiers have a way to get over this. They put the large bill that they have recived on the table, and then count the change in front of you before giving you back the change. By flipping the dollar notes slowly and counting right before your eyes, there are no disputes. Subtle and ingenious!

(15) Japanese are punctual people
The Japanese have fixed timetables for buses and trains. If you checked online and it says the train will leave at 7.53am. It will leave at 7.53am. Even for highway buses, if the highway bus or train reaches its stop too early, it will wait at the stop till it aligns back to its scheduled bus, before moving on.

So in Japan, you won't get the "When bus don't come, they really don't come. When buses finally come, they come in two or threes" syndrome. Arrival times of buses don't follow an exponential distribution.

(16) Japanese elders are respected
In Singapore, dumping the parents to old age homes is growing as a trend as people get more self-centred as a result of prosperity. Old people getting tricked into buying magic stones, old people getting robbed in lifts, these are common news that we read on the local newspapers. Most TV artiste slowly leave the station as their popularity drops with age. And alot of people in their 50s and above are having problem finding a job.

In Japan, 40,000 Japanese live over the age of 100, thanks to their prudent diet (minimal red meat!). I understand that Japanese businesses have often traditionally promoted people largely based on age and length of service, rather than ability alone. The typical Japanese is more courteous to those older than themselves, even if by few years.

If you watch Japanese dramas, you will see many veterans in pivotal roles. In Singapore dramas serials, they are often headlined by eye-candies.

(17) No PDAs in Japan
There are no public display of affections (PDA) in Japan. Wifey observed this, and I agree with her. It's a surprising finding for me, I was expecting fashion frontrunners to be a little more "expressive".

In Singapore, we often see debates on whether kids these days are overly expressive. The older generation here tend to get a little uncomfortable seeing kids these days hugging and kissing in public. Well, maybe they should consider migrating to Japan. =p

(18) Japan, the recycle nation
I love Singapore because there are rubbish bins everywhere - it makes my life convenient.

In Japan, there are much fewer rubbish bins. But every dustbin is a recycle bin. the McDonalds there requires you to sort your waste by recyclable, non-recyclable and liquid (including ice cubes). Wow.

(19) Lockers in Japan train stations
Being a tourist in Tokyo, I often find myself with large baggage and shopping bags. One of the nice features about their subway and train stations is that there are lockers. For the price of 500 yen (S$7.50), I can put my bags in the locker at any station, and sightsee with just the camera (and the Wifey). Singapore should get some lockers in Orchard Road and Sentosa too.

However, the lockers are normally big enough for your bags, but too small to put in your Wifey if she gets naughty. =p

(20) Japanese babies can't cry
In Singapore, everytime a toddler or kid fall down, they are sure to cry.

In Japan, we have seen countless toddlers fall down, and just stand up on their own without crying. Gosh, I wonder what special milk powder they take.

I have been to Europe and the US and many parts of Asia, but there's no place that impresses me more like Japan when it comes to culture.


wenn said...

wow..fantastic..u are really observant..

MKL said...

Really great post, very informative and funny. You had to insert a Wifey joke there :P

Looking forward to your next post :)

foongpc said...

Wow! This is vwry informative post! Seems like you love Japan more than your own country! haha!

foongpc said...

I heard japanese people give really good service and so it's true!

They don't use horns? When I was in China, the bus driver pressed his horn every few seconds! I could not even take a nap!!

Wow! Free ice water? here in Malaysia, you need to pay for a cup of water.

Now I like that smoking boxes invention. They should have it here in Malaysia seriously!

PDA = public display of affections? haha! I don't do PDA : )

Wow! Must be some magical milk powder japanese babies take! They don't cry? And can take a fall without crying? No wonder the Japanese are so successful! It's in their genes! : )

Kikey Loo said...

i wish can travel to Japan in future~

p/s: if i travel alone, i asked stranger to take photo for me, but as you know not everyone is a good photographer, so normally have to ask more than 2 people. :)

khengsiong said...

Hmm... I thought Japan is smokers' paradise?

Eh... just to write. Show us some photos.

Superman said...

Should visit Japan myself one day to feel it!

Ai Shiang said...

Note #5 - That's the Malaysian spirit. We think of loopholes all the time :o)

Note #8 - I go crazy if I see urine stain too, that person will be scolded by me!

Note #10 - I see Aussies cleaning up their plates and table after their meals too, I thought, what the heck you do that for? Let the cleaners deal with the mess. haha!

Note #20 - I would like to see those none crying babies myself one day. I wonder what lies their mothers tell them to the extend that they are afraid to cry.

Mei Teng said...

(2) Japan is a place where trust makes things easier for everyone - I wish it was so here!

(3) Japanese have strong legs? - They are courteous...versus our local culture and behaviour here.

(13) The best invention comes from Japan - it's very good that the Japanese take on serious measures to curb smoking in public places. I have yet to see anything being done here other than the all the big talk over. Coming back to invention, I agree...look at cars, cameras etc.

Roxy. said...

WOW, its seems like japan is some great country so am awaiting for your next post to what they lack that singapore/malaysia have.
I would have gone there for my holidays if only it was not as expensive and language barrier. ):

CheaHS@n said...

Love the lifestyle in Japan. Thanks for sharing. As for honking think I am able to count how many times I press on it per year. Likeee the dancing girl:p

Sharon said...

nice writeup!
i definitely learn a few things or two. Well in defense of spore (altho i'm not a sporean) i still think it's a whole lot better compared to msia (sadly true!)
i'd loooove to go Japan someday! did u go to Tokyo only?

reanaclaire said...

hi..i tot of going to japan this december.. good tips for me to read.. hahhaa...

Shingo T said...

Anyone can be observant, with the help of a small notebook to take down notes before you forget.

Glad you enjoyed it. Share with us your observations too when you visit Japan (next year?).

I must admit coming back to Singapore is like facing the harsh reality once again. But I miss the food back in Singapore alot. When it comes to food variety, Singapore has alot more variety.

Can we have smoking boxes in Singapore too?

Sometimes I feel a little embarrassed to ask for people's help to take photos. So in most of my travels, I only photograph my Wifey and the scenery. There's hardly me in the photos.

Yup, there's plenty of smokers in Japan. But they have very good smoking etiquette.

And ya, the photos are overdue. It will come. =p

You will love it. Hey, Superman can fly, right? You can fly there anytime! (kidding)

Ai Shiang:
Hmm... Is everyone around the world clearing their tables after dining, except for Asia?

Mei Teng:
I thought Japan did a marvellous job, considering that so much progress was made after the 2nd world war, which they had a big part in.

One of the best thing about working is that you can FINALLY have money to travel further. Start saving. ^_^

Haha, south east Asians have some of the most impatient drivers, it's true!

I spent most of my time in Tokyo. Spent a few days outside Tokyo to get a better view of Fuji. But ot was pretty cloudy, so didn't get to see Fuji in its full majestic view.

Glad it's of help. I will put up a post on some of the have-to-go places in Tokyo soon.

Ai Shiang said...

Japan is also in Asia right? I think it is how the people are being educated.

HappySurfer said...

Great observation and great sharing. Thanks, Shingo. Looking forward to more and pictures, of course.

Shingo T said...

Ai Shiang,
haha, ya. Especially in the more fortunate parts of Asia (excluding Japan), sometimes our economic progress comes at the expense of culture.

I will get them up in the weekends. I know Kheng Siong is also waiting for it eagerly. =p

Tiramisu said...

So nice! The last time I went with my boyfriend, I remembered sushi stall owners were really nice and explained to us about the sushis on display despite knowing that we don't understand japanese~

My boyfriend explained that they were just being courteous and equal to all their customers :) I missed japan sooo much!

Shingo T said...

haha, all the sushi bosses in Japan are nice.

Most of the restaurants I went to have an English menu. Guess they are starting to catch up with the times.

The Envoy said...

Post up pictures, onegai?

Jerine said...

"Japanese phones do not ring". My Japanese friend told me that it's an offence to talk on the phone in the train. You can only text. If only we have that kind of law the bangla won't be playing their bollywood songs in mrt. and those china people won't be talking on the phone so loudly as if their father owns the mrt. freaking irritating. cheated bus fare! must tell your mommy!

Shingo T said...

The Envoy:
Yes, the pics are on the way to being uploaded now. Special credits to Wifey. But it's 5GB worth of pictures, and will take 2 hours to finish uploading.

Yes, I wished we had that kind of peace on trains.

And don't tell my mummy. =( I have stopped doing it (damn those EZ link cards). =p

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