Update: Sorry; the youtube video was previously private so no one could view it. But I just changed it so you can watch the funky Japanese show clip now here.
WARNING: Long post ahead
Some random thoughts
Politeness: I’ve been telling people that I really like the culture in Japan (at least, from all that I’ve experienced so far, which isn’t too much I guess), and possibly the greatest reason is that the people are just plain nice and amicable. At the airport, the customs people greet you with a smile and say thank you when you’re done. At hotels if you look lost, someone will come up to you and ask if you need help. At restaurants the waiters/hosts are very gentle and catering to you. At the department stores, none of the saleswomen are annoyingly aggressive in advertising whatever brand they’re working for. Heck, even in the streets, if you bump into someone or step on the back of someone’s shoes by accident (haha Julie), the person doesn’t get ticked off and give you a disgusted look; he/she says “Oh! Sumimasen!” (sorry/excuse me) in a forgiving manner, accompanied with a couple short bows. If I don’t think too deeply about it, I really think that if everyone in the world were as polite as the people in Japan, it would be an immensely happier and harmonious place to live in. It was a very jarring experience to return to the airport in the US and go through customs saying “hello” and “thanks” with absolutely no response from the customs person. The little things really do make a difference in impressions.
Engrish: I guess it’s inevitable that you will find Engrish in every Asian country, but I must say that I did not find as much in Japan as I do in Taiwan. Maybe it’s because I was in Tokyo and other touristy places most of the time, where I assume slightly more effort is put into making sure the English makes sense so American tourists don’t make fun of the place. I will add that my first encounter with Engrish was on the airplane to Japan. We flew Japan Airlines and near the end of the flight I went to pee. After I finished doin my business and washed my hands, I reached for paper towels only to realize that there were none left. I thought “That’s okay; I’ll just take one of these things labeled ‘Sanitary Napkins’.” I thought it was a container full of those individually wrapped damp napkin/towels that they hand out before meals, but I tore open the wrapping only to discover that “Sanitary Napkin” means “Tampon”. Within .02 seconds it was in the garbage receptacle and I was out the door with a shocked and disgusted look on my face. Other than that, there wasn’t TOO much weird Engrish, but I did manage to take a few pictures of some funnier ones (see my site).
Naked guys: Before this trip, the last time I saw a naked guy was during the swim test freshman year at Cornell, in the locker room. Before that, sophomore year in high school during the swimming unit in gym class, again in the locker room. At the Atami City Hotel/resort in Japan, there were “hot springs” or indoor pools with regulated hot water; basically like a big jacuzzi, except the water’s considerably warmer. Not sure how many people are familiar with these things, but I wasn’t, and I didn’t like the sound of it when the tour guide told us swimming suits were prohibited in the hot springs. I don’t know how I got convinced into going, but it was surely a…somewhat discomforting experience. I’ll elaborate later but for now, let’s just say naked old people are not a pretty sight (go ahead and call me immature; I ain’t used to seeing anybody’s junk except my own). Oh! And just in case you were wondering, the hot springs were coed. PSYCH! Just kidding, they were segregated by gender.
People who must hate their jobs: Elevator ladies and adults who participate in kids’ shows and tv programs. First, elevator ladies. There’s no doubt that they do their job extremely well, but that’s also the freaky and awkward part. It doesn’t help that they wear lots of make up and dress up in a gaudy style. All they say is “The door’s opening, does anyone want to go up/down? We have reached the _th floor, The door’s are closing.” I’m having difficulty imagining them having normal lives, laughing and just chatting with friends. It really makes me wonder what they’re thinking in their heads. Do they feel as awkward as everybody else? Or maybe they’re just thinking “WOW I really hate my job.” That’s what I would be thinking anyways. And then there’s the unfortunate adults who must entertain the kids on tv. Everybody who’s been to Asia has seen how weird, funny, and ridiculous Asian television can be, especially commercials. At one of the hotels there was a show on making mochi. It turned out to more of a kids oriented show where kids volunteer (or are volunteered by their parents) to take a hammer/club and mash up some flour and sticky rice paste, while the unfortunate host beats on a drum chanting” one, two, three, one, two, three…yay! Thank you for your help!” So after about two or three rounds of this, the show ends. I watched the host clean up after the show, rearranging all the props and what not and putting them behind the curtain, and all the while I’m shaking my head and thinking, “He has GOT to hate his job.” Then at another hotel, me, my brother, and sister were flipping through some channels and came across this (Yes, I recorded some of it). The next morning, we saw another tv show with a bunch of little kids dressed up as flowers, running around with an adult in the center of them, also dressed up as a flower, with his arms high in the air and very excitedly exclaiming something in Japanese. My sister commented “He must drink tons of caffeine in the morning everyday to do this.” I can so totally imagine him doing that and thinking “I look absolutely ridiculous…and I hate my job.”
Some Firsts Experiences
Hot Springs experience elaborated: My sister assured me that it’s really steamy and you can’t see anything, so it doesn’t really matter that you’re naked and so is everyone else. Still uncomfortable about it, I decided to go, just for the experience and for the sake of saying that I had done it. We went down in robes and into the guys locker room where there is a clear sliding door separating the locker room and the hot springs. The first thing I see through the clear doors is several bare butts. At this point I’m like “GEEZ I thought it was supposed to be STEAMY for crying out loud.” So I look away and try to tell myself I’ll stare at the ground while I’m in that room and in the water. Next thing I know, there’s a “supervisor” of some sort telling my, my brother, and my dad what to do (put our towels in designated baskets and our watches/keys in the locker). And then he tells us to take everything off because we can’t bring anything into the other room except a small face towel. I’m like…I have to strip down to nothing in front of some guy?? Gee this isn’t uncomfortable at all. So I turn around and take everything off, and then hold the small face towel to cover my vitals, but still feeling extremely exposed. There was one thing that made me crack up though. So we walk through the sliding doors into the room with the water. Around the edge of the wall are a bunch of showers with stools to sit on, each stool with a bucket on top upside down. Everyone had to shower and clean themselves really well before going into the water, since, everyone’s pretty much in the same water. So I was the first to sit down and like an idiot I didn’t notice the bucket on top of the stool until I sat on it and almost slipped off it. Looking around instinctively to see if anyone saw me, I watched my dad do exactly the same thing, except his reflexes were a little slower and the bucket slid around a little until it slid off the stool, causing my dad to fall on his butt on the ground. I laughed so loud it echoed. Anyways, once I got in the water I saw all the other guys that were also in our tour group, but of course I didn’t say anything to them or make eye contact, especially since I had never talked to them beforehand in the first place. I noticed that all the younger guys were more concerned with covering their vitals while the older people walked around naked quite casually. Anyways, it was an awkward experience, even if I got “used to the nakedness” after about 20 minutes. We had time to go to the hot springs 2-3 times if we wanted to, but that was the only time I went. Ok, enough about naked people.
Drinking in a Bar: One of the younger guys in the tour group suggested to all the other younger people to get together in the bar at Hilton Narita during the last night of the tour in Japan. Everyone pretty much thought it was a good idea, since we wanted to at least meet each other and get to know each other a little bit before the whole thing was over. My brother and I were the only ones who had never really drank alcohol before, and so we were completely clueless as to what drinks were what. The drinking age in Japan is 20 so I decided to drink a little as a social activity. My sister suggested orange juice with vodka, since I had absolutely no idea what to get. It turns out that all the drinks were very weakly alcoholic; I’m not even sure if I could taste any alcohol. Basically, I had two very expensive cups of orange juice. Anyways, it was nice to just talk with all the younger people. It made me kinda wish we had gotten to know each other before the last night. On second thought, maybe it’s better we introduced ourselves and got to know each other after seeing each other naked.
Claw games: Ok, so this isn’t a first time experience thing, but it’s been a long time since I vigorously played them. I used to be really good at them, but they definitely made the claws like 20 times weaker now. My sister and I spent 500 yen before she got ridiculously lucky and got a stuffed mochi. Encouraged by our winnings and dumb luck, we played more. Let’s just say that the stuffed mochi cost effectively like..2500 yen. Stupid claw games. They look so easy until you play and observe that the claws might as well be made out of tissue paper.
Whew! That was a lot of typing. And now everyone’s favorite part: some pictures! I took close to 400 pictures; obviously I’m not posting them all here. For some of the more interesting ones, visit my site. If you’re really bored and have the time, you can look at all the pictures here.
Cute chairs at the harbor/wharf.
Really big buddha.
Um..fooling around with the robes.
View from hotel room at Atami City Resort.
It was really nice scenery.
Super-cool rainbow ring around the sun! Took tons of pics of this, but it was too big to fit in one shot.
Breakfast is happy to see me.
The young people that tagged along with their parents on the tour.