The little things
After arriving in Japan, I noticed the smallest little things that seem to make a difference to the experience here.
Firstly- I am sure that most people will have been warned/told about the toilets? Finding the flush button is not always the most simple of procedures! Luckily, the places I stayed had a very obvious flush... the unexpected part is that the tap is on top of the cistern of the toilet and runs while the toilet is flushing. This also means that there is no way to turn it off (to my knowledge). Also- there are several buttons on the side of the toilet. Each toilet is different. Some give a spray to the backside, some to the front, some play music or make pretend water noises to help you go, some even have seat warmers. I am going to be honest here and say that I have no idea what most of the buttons do.
I got the fright of my life on our first night. I went to the toilet and my daughter came in with me (because, Mum life). As I was getting the toilet paper, she pressed a button without my noticing. The next thing I know, I had a stream of water spraying me unexpectedly. It actually was a good ice breaker with Japan as we both ended up with the giggles (after my initial squeal of shock!). Most parents know that when you arrive at a point when you get the giggles with your child, it is a total win! (especially after a long flight, multiple train rides and struggling to find the accommodation!)
Another change that you may not be prepared for is how incredibly organised they are with their rubbish bins. Apparently, there is meant to be 5(!) bins in each household. One for bottles or cans, one for paper, one for combustibles and I don't even know what the 5th one is for...there is a good chance that I have not got this right- maybe the paper and combustibles are the same thing?
For us Australians, an exciting thing to find is alcohol in the convenience stores which are on every block. They are so much cheaper than at home too. That statement may make me sound like I am a little too excited at the concept of inexpensive alcohol.... since becoming a parent, or maybe it is since becoming a single parent, my wine appreciation has increased dramatically. These little convenience stores are awesome, they are where you will find your ATMs, also, they all have this amazing fresh rice, sushi and bento boxes- like REALLY fresh! Nothing like the soggy hero burgers we get at our late night convenience stores in Aus ;) (if you have resorted to having a microwave heated hero burger on a big night out in Aus, you would definitely freak at the fresh goodness in these 24hr convenience stores). The prices are so reasonable that I managed to get meals for myself and my daughter for as low as $10- with leftovers!
If you are a parent travelling with your brood, you will appreciate that the people in Japan are so sweet and respond so well to kids. We were stopped often by (mainly) elderly people who want to talk to my daughter. Apparently they were saying how cute she is and asking her age. If only we understood the language well enough to know this without a translator!
I don't know what your experience of rules is but in Japan, everyone follows the rules so strictly. They do not do anything that would put another person in discomfort- whether it is smoking on their own balconies, listening to music loudly (in their own home, or elsewhere) or even speaking on public transport. This is all quite new to me. I mean, in Australia we do follow rules well without questioning them, however in Japan, it is on another level. This is an entire nation of nice and polite people who are all incredibly considerate. Not in the name of chivalry either- this is just simply what they do. I have had people help me in the street when I looked lost, I have had people offer to take photos for me (even when my camera wasn't out), I have also had people help me down the stairs with a suitcase while I am busy wrangling a tired child. The poor guy who helped me with my suitcase was so sweet to offer but I would definitely have managed the load with more ease than he did- however, he offered and I gladly accepted the assistance. On our first night here, we were having troubles finding our accomodation, we jumped in a taxi which took us to the right block but we had no idea which exact building it was that we were looking for. The taxi driver insisted on staying with us to ensure we were safely at our accomodation (before being paid too!). When I finally located the building, he took my daughter by the hand while I managed the suitcase. That was possibly the sweetest thing that I have encountered by a total stranger and at 10pm at night, after a long flight, it was very appreciated.
The work ethic in Japan is intense, people work such long hours that it is common to find business men in their suits passed out in the most random places on the street or highly intoxicated. It is so safe that they will be left to rest without worrying about their wallets or valuables being stolen. I did ask the question whether the same rules apply for females as I could not imagine a female passed out in the street without getting some sour looks. Furthermore, I could not imagine a female passed out or incredibly intoxicated being safe from harm either. But possibly I am just bringing my experiences into a new country and culture and making them fit where they don't.
You know what I learned and found to be the perfect example of the thoughtfulness of the Japanese people?! I found out that some, or all (I am not sure), of the public stairs there are built at a slight angle. This is entirely on purpose. The reasoning behind this is to make it easier for the elderly to climb the stairs as the front part is slightly lower so they don't need to lift their feet as high. See what I mean?! An entire nation of incredibly thoughtful people.
I have been home for two weeks and I have wished to be back there every day since leaving!!