There were fireworks that looked like red hearts, umbrellas, smiley faces, stars-within-circles, Doraemon’s face. Think about that – somebody figured out how to make shapes made of fire in the sky. It lasted from 7:30 to 8:30 and I have honestly never seen anything like it.
Why did I move to Japan? That’s a huge question with an answer that would probably be extremely long-winded and uncomfortably personal. Instead, how about I show you ten things I love about this country? In no particular order…
1: Beauty everywhere you look.
Literally (and I mean that literally) everywhere I go in Japan I find beauty. The architecture of even humble homes; the plants, trees, and landscaping are like nowhere else; the fashion; the graceful sound and crisp minimalism of the language. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, so suffice it to say you may disagree, but for me there are innumerable facets of Japan which are indescribably beautiful. This gallery of images is a small sample of those alluring qualities which might be captured in a photo, and you can see many more examples in all my other posts.
2: Tactile paving.
I’m not visually impaired, but I bet the segment of the Japanese population that is is grateful for these tactile paving tiles, which are everywhere. Seriously, I’ve never been on a sidewalk in Japan without them. Japan invented the stuff, and it’s used all over the world now (in America you’ve seen it at intersections where a sidewalk slopes down to street-level) but nowhere is it as common as Japan. With over 30% of Japan’s 2014 population over the age of 65, I can imagine heavy reliance on it. One of a myriad of good ideas with it’s birthplace and ubiquitous implementation here.
3: The “call your waiter” button.
It’s not uncommon to find these buttons on every table in a Japanese restaurant. You come in, are escorted to your table, given water and menus, then left alone until you need service again. Ever been having dinner conversation in an American restaurant and had to pause mid-sentence to tell the server “We’re fine, thanks?” This button, man. It’s incredible.
Everyone who’s ever been to Japan loves the convenience stores (“conbini”) here. Seriously, everyone; Google it. Things you can find in a conbini you often won’t find in an American convenience store include but are not limited to socks, ties, dress shirts, under-shirts, boxer-briefs, tasty freshly cooked food, shampoo and other toiletries, a variety of writing implements, towels… You could probably honestly survive here fine making only conbini purchases. That would make a pretty fun experiment, actually.
5: Everybody lines up on the left on escalators.
If you’re standing still, you stand to the left. If want to walk up the escalator, you can always do so on the right. People also always form two orderly lines in front of the subway car doors: one on the left, one on the right, with a path in the middle for people getting off.
It’s not uncommon to see very young children unaccompanied on a train to/from school or walking down the sidewalk. They’re totally safe and their parents know this. What would many American parents give to feel this secure about their kids’ safety in their city? How many older Americans pine for the days of their own youth when their families also felt this way?
Watch this video. Turn it up really loud. Hear that? It’s the wind. This was filmed at 8:30am on a Thursday. There are probably a hundred people within earshot of me while I’m filming and if any of them is saying a word I sure can’t hear them. It’s like that just about everywhere, and the stillness is more pleasant than I could have imagined. Here’s some more silence amidst a bunch of people:
8: Trains are on time.
Just watch this clock turn 12:01 literally as the 12:01 train arrives. Also commonplace.
9: Employees are rarely idle.
There’s something very impressive to me about the Japanese work-ethic. At Rakuten, every Tuesday we begin our days at our desk by cleaning them ourselves. The company doesn’t employ a cleaning staff. When a shop is not busy, workers are seen straightening shelf items, cleaning, or otherwise giving their employer the full extent of the wage they’re paid. To me this displays a level of pride in one’s work I think everyone in the world could benefit from.
I spent practically all day yesterday (and about $30 in train and bus tickets) traveling to and from Oume, a beautiful little city in western Tokyo.
Why, you ask? Because according to Tokyo-Park.net, Kabokuen park was in Oume…
…and Kabokuen has something American parks do not…
I rode this thing probably seven or eight times before I had to catch my bus and begin the 2 hour trip back home. Worth it! The trick is to crouch and ride on your feet leaning forward. Some of the kids rode with a piece of cardboard underneath them but I didn’t see the need. Can’t wait to visit another park and ride some more. 😀
Last night I treated myself to my first Japanese pizza and just watched some old South Park episodes. T’was nice. The pizza place was called Pizza La.
It came with a fan!
The chicken was kinda gross but the pizza delicious!
Facing at least two dozen very Japanese pizza choices such as corn, teriyaki chicken, and mayonnaise sauce instead of tomato, I was a coward and just ordered the plain cheese pizza. But judge me all you want because it was delicious. The cheese covered almost the entire crust, and it all had a unique taste that’s hard to describe but not to be found in America (at least, not by me).
OK, I’ll describe it, it tasted like burned cheese, but in the good way, I’m serious. If you’ve ever had some crispy, slightly-burned cheese you know what I’m talking about. If not, you’re missing out. Go burn some cheese in a skillet or something. Moving on…
Today, I decided to head over to Denenchofu Station and visit Deco’s Dog Cafe. I thought it would be like a Cat Cafe except with cool dogs hanging out everywhere waiting to be petted and/or begging for food.
It turned out to just be a cafe that was super-accepting of dogs. I was pretty much the only dude there without one.
Nevertheless, I had a delicious mango sorbet and got to pet a golden retriever, so that’s a success in my book.
Afterward I took a walk around the station, an area called Tokyo Square Garden. I stopped in a flower shop where I saw gorgeous flowers in arrangements priced sometimes at ¥30,000 (about $300 USD).
Some of these orchid arrangements were priced around $300 USD.
Some of these orchid arrangements were priced around $300 USD.
And I visited a cake-baking shop where I saw this wall-o-flour:
At the nearby Starbucks I was given this hand-made (photocopied) iced coffee recipe by one of the baristas while I waited on a seat:
There are many such holy Shinto and Buddhist sites in Japan, and while I’m sure anything can become familiar to those who have lived here their entire lives, each shrine and temple I’ve visited possesses a stillness that easily turns one’s thoughts inward. I sat for a long while taking regular shots of the sunset and just thinking about things that I usually think about when I get pensive.
It is true that nothing I do matters on its own. No single cell of the body is any more or less important than the rest. All one life amounts to is as a single grain of sand.
It used to really bother me to consider the “vanity” of life (as the author of Ecclesiastes calls it) — the fact that all ambition is a chasing of the wind. Nowadays, in light of the reality that is the cosmic scale and the wonder that is human consciousness, I think life may simply be a precious gift.
What am I that I should be the steward of such a thing?
I have struggled for years to find that activity I should pursue which might be an adequate, fitting use of this small taste of life I’ve been given. Like a child given a toy agonizing over how exactly he should play with it, when all the giver intended was that he find joy in it.
I was in a mall a few days ago and a jewelry store had a bunch of English phrases framed behind the counters. It seems Japan is fond of using English as decoration in much the same way the West uses kanji decoratively.
So I approached the saleswoman and said (in what I am discovering is my god-awful Japanese) 「それはアメリカのみなみのいいならわしですよね。」, meaning “Those are southern American idioms.” I pulled out my phone, switched it to camera mode, and asked 「カメラはだいじょうぶですか。」(“Is camera OK?”).
I asked because I know from previous experience that taking pictures of shops in Japan is kind of a no-no. In this case the saleswoman also seemed reluctant, so to prove my intentions I put on my most southern accent, pointed at a frame and read “Hey ya’ll!” Then another, “Bless yer hart.”
That won her over and she gave me permission to photo just the frames.
Today I went to Jorenji, a Buddhist temple in Tokyo and home to the Tokyo Daibutsu (the term for giant Buddha statues found all over Japan). I recorded some video so you could come along with me. Let’s go!
Recently I went to Sunshine City, Tokyo’s oldest “city within a city” and visited Namco Namja Town. Namja Town is a “theme park,” although usually when I hear that phrase I think of a place with roller coasters. This place turned out to be more of a children’s attraction, with the ever-present claw games, some game where kids ran around scanning random objects with a big plastic scanner thingy looking for ghosts, and a few video games.
Yet despite it’s roller coaster deficit, I was not disappointed, for I came with only two attractions in mind: Gyoza Stadium and Ice Cream City.
In case you don’t know, gyoza are also called pot-stickers or dumplings and they are delicious. I know the place isn’t much to look at in the pictures. But if you know me then I can put it this way: gyoza are stuffed full of cabbage and often onions and I don’t even know what else and don’t care because I will eat 3 dozen of them if you fry them and put them in front of me with some ponzu sauce.
And I had ice cream from one of the half dozen ice cream vendors in Ice Cream City.
Lots and lots…
…of ice cream flavors to choose from.
I ordered six flavors from this menu:
My choices, from left to right, top row first:
#1 Golden vanilla (delicious, but still just vanilla ice cream)
#3 Hokkaido shirataki potato ice cream (incredibly good, had little tiny bits of potato in it that melted in your mouth with the rest of the ice cream)
#11 Double cheese (my favorite of the bunch, how did they make cheese taste even better?)
#25 Homemade ice cream corn (corn flavored ice cream, believe it or not my second favorite of the bunch
#30 Milk (yes, milk flavored ice cream. not sure how that works, but it did taste more like milk than the rest. also delicious of course)
#50 Whisky (the whisky flavor was abundant and really not very good. you can taste this at home by just taking a sip of whisky with a bite of vanilla ice cream.)