A new set of eyes never hurt anyone. My family is visiting Japan this week for the first time and bringing to light things I've just really taken for granted since living here. (Also of note: that's why I haven't been updating the blog regularly)
What are the first things some tourists notice about Japan?
1. Toilet envy. Despite the fact that many Japanese live in rural areas and aren't privy to the latest advances seen in Akihabara, a lot of tourists associate space-age technology with Japan as a whole. Toilets are among the most interesting of these advances, with features like heated seats, automated raising/lowering, and vibrating massages.
They are going to begin setting up factories for sales in America soon enough.
2. Sick masks. SARS is long gone (not that it was ever a threat), but it's not surprising to encounter Japanese who wear surgical masks across the lower half of their faces to protect others from their germs. There's nothing in the air; just relax.
3. Traditional pillows. Depending on where you stay (ryokan, minshuku, or hotel), some lodging areas will stock the rooms with bean-filled pillows. Personally, I don't care where I rest my head.
4. Convenience stories actually have meals. 7-11's in America may carry hot dogs and ready-made sandwiches, but I doubt they could compare to ones here, which sell compete bento boxes with fish, meat, rice, sauce, and vegetables. Lawson, Sunkus, 7 & i-holdings, Family Mart, AM/PM... they'll all heat your food.
5. Japanese kids are soooo cute. かわいいね？
6. Bathing customs. Even those just booking lodging in Japan could encounter this problem - private or communal bathing? A private bath costs extra? Why? Why are hot springs so big in Japan? How do I use them? Read up on the answers to these questions in one of my stories about using an onsen in Beppu.
7. The language. If you're a resident with even remotely primitive Nihongo skills, your speech will seem incredulous to those who don't understand it. True, you may be far from fluent, but your knowledge of 15% of the language is more than most people back home acheive.
8. No tipping. Whatsoever. Not to a cab driver who drives you 15 km at 2 AM. Not to a waitress who served you the most delicious sashimi you could ever hope to masticate in your lifetime. Not one coin extra, or they'll come chasing after you to return said yen.
8. No yards. Space is a luxury in Japan, whether it is or not. Even out in the countryside, where some land may be undeveloped and houses needn't be restricted in size and height, the design is roughly the same. Tight quarters, packed together, no places for kids to frolic about except the nearby public park.
9. Students go home late. Extended hours, club practice, cram schools (juku, 塾)... all these things and more lead to the sighting of uniformed 17-year-olds on the 10 PM trains.