Learning a foreign country and culture, while travelling has its limits. I spent some time in two foreign countries living there for a while. Have lived through a culture shock. Finally returned home. Learning while travelling is different. Being a European, having a cable or satellite TV, speaking or just understanding a number of languages, while travelling Europe, we are usually aware of many differences. But with any trip to another continent, we bring back more than only pictures of nice places to see.
I already posted around twenty entries on Japan (>>>), but still find photos I would like to comment just to remember things. It is about impressions, about what I considered common knowledge and confirmed on spot or about things absolutely knew to me.
Izakaya. A Japanese kind of a restaurant. I took this picture on our second evening in Tokyo. Believe or not but it was in Shinjuku, the Tokyo office district with sky scrapers all around. We went there to enjoy our first sake served traditional way (>>>). As far as I can recall, this one was located under a railway flyover. The contrast was incredible.
Japanese work till late hours. Instead hurry back home they go out with their co-workers to grab a bite, but also to drink, and these are barely soft drinks they enjoy. And Japanese have a drinking problem. You can often see drunken or half drunken white collars taking last night trains home. But sometimes they do not manage to take the last train like this one on the picture. So they spend the night somewhere in the city centre. I made this shot around 8 am in one of the Japanese main cities at the main entrance to bank premises.
That Japanese like toys and animated movies (called anime), it is common knowledge. Toy shops, pachinco (game plazas) are everywhere. On the picture above a fraction of a poster I saw at the front of the bank. A credit card with an anime figures on it. Cute.
Very light housing and and a jungle of power cables flying over everywhere. In comparison to city centers with skyscrapers, the average city district or a suburb looks like the one on the picture above. I think the kind of buildings has something to do with earthquakes that can destroy everything in a minute or contrary, lighter houses are earthquake resistant. But the power grid looking like that (absolutely common) is an absolute contrast to the great infrastructure you see everywhere in Japan.
Colorful street decorations, festivals, and … many symbols where you do not expect them. The street decoration on the picture above is koinobori – windsocks that represent carps, a national symbol. The carp is capable of moving up stream, thus it is a symbol of perseverance and strength. Koinobori displayed around a house, tell you how many family members live inside, sizes and colours will tell you, who they are (>>>).
The kids in uniforms just out of school. You see many of them walking in small groups around the streets or journeying in public transport, no matter whether in small villages or great cities. They seem to be very self-reliant. On the other hand, Japan seems to be a very safe and reliant country, and there are always people around you that are ready to assist.
People in white gloves, no matter whether in public transport or in the streets. They are there to keep an eye, provide for order and assist you, always very polite. There are many of them employed by the Japanese railway companies. But we often also saw people who were standing in the streets around a construction site, and were assisting you in going around the site. Even at the exits of car parks in the malls there were people stopping the cars to give passage to pedestrians.
When talking white gloves and public transport – in Japan it is impolite to touch people or get too close. Also loud talking in public transport means is considered impolite. Japanese people use their smartphones in public transport, however very rarely you see or hear a person talking. They just read or send messages. It is worth to remember it.
The public transport, comfortable and efficient. No matter whether a Shinkansen or a local train. The public transport is expensive, but if you are a tourist you can buy a railway pass. It is valid for most trains – you just pay a lump sum depending on the duration of your stay in Japan. Of things worth to know – the air conditioning is of a very good quality. So even in the hot summer season it is good to have something with long sleeves.
By the way, the Japanese do not like to sun bath, the pale skin is of value – so even on hot days you will see people fully covered, women often in gloves and with hats of different kind on their heads.
Shinto, Buddhism and the shrines. Japanese have a specific attitude to religion. As I understand there is nothing there like church going, but Japanese like to pay respect to deities – no matter whether Shinto or Buddhist. And there are many different kinds of charms you can buy and carry with you or just leave in the shrine in a special place (>>>).
Yukata and kimono. A traditional kimono consists of many layers. Its simplest form (looking a bit like a house coat) is called yukata. You can see people dressed traditional way in the streets and in public transit. As I understand traditional clothing is considered a casual but elegant one. Of course there are very elegant traditional dresses, too (>>>). On our first days we tried to secretly or more openly photograph people dressed traditional way, buy after a couple of days we had so many photos, that we stopped doing it.
Aesthetics. Japanese are very aesthetic and clean people. No matter whether we talk gardens, public transport, inside of the houses, clothing or personal hygiene. You do not see any devastation in the streets, people do not smell around, you can easily find a restroom everywhere. If you are in a hotel you have all possible cosmetics in big quantities around you, always a single use shaver and toothbrush with a small toothpaste tube. In that respect Japan is a very comfortable country to visit.