Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ian's final thoughts on Japan



  1. Designer brands! You can't swing a cat in Japan without seeing someone with a Louis Vuitton handbag, a Gucci this or Chanel that. It's not the first time I'd seen those brands, but the first time in a while that it was probably legitimate, not a a knockoff bought on the street in San Pedro Sula. As I noted earlier about Houston, everyone but everyone has some kind of MP3 player. Many people's headphones are white-colored (earbud and cable), as if to emulate Apple's signature iPod earphones. I played a fun game while walking through various train stations and tried to spot actual iPod headphones as opposed to other-brand look-almost-alikes and the real deal were sort of hard to come by. That said, I have no doubt that the designer clothes and everything else were the genuine article. Browsing a department store in Tokyo's electronics district (where they have people in market stalls selling capacitors and miniature cameras like people in similar markets around the world sell tomatoes and beans), I came across the designer products wing, or as I now think of it, "More dollars than sense department." Really? Three hundred dollars to advertise for LV or Gucci? Really?
  2. Automation! Labor costs are high in Japan, especially compared to, say, Honduras. Nobody in Honduras has a lawn mower; it's easier to just pay some guy with a machete to hack your grass until it's under control. But not only do the Japanese have gadgets that would put the Hammacher Schlemmer section of SkyMall catalog to shame (I'm looking in your direction, combination heated toilet seat and bidet) but they also put all kinds of stuff in vending machines--tickets to major attractions, snack foods and strange beverages. They sell both hot and cold drinks in the machines (hot drinks have a red price label, cold drinks a blue one). There is a surprising (to me) variety of of tea-based drinks but also some ones I still haven't gotten over. See my musings on Qoo, below.
  3. Trains! The train system was great. They invariably arrive and leave exactly on time and run frequently enough to get to a pretty remote area, taking four trains (and two buses)without ever waiting more than fifteen minutes for a transfer. And they were clean and spacious and everything that trains are supposed to be. Bravo, Japan Rail!
  4. Languages! I don't speak Japanese. (I'll pause here for the collective gasp emanating from my readership.) But I was able to communicate with everyone I needed to about everything I needed to. Perhaps part of it was that I didn't see any "need" to discuss the latest developments in particle physics or Hegelian philosophy with the waitress at the noodle house, so my needs were easier to take care of. Many people (especially in the tourist sector) speak at least some English and signs in public areas are generally written both in the Japanese and Latin alphabets. Restaurant menus typically have pictures of the entrees or, as they do at noodle houses, have plastic models of the available dishes on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, and you order by pointing, nodding and smiling. And I found it interesting to note that at many tourist attractions, there were signs with an explanatory text in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean, almost always in that order. I guess those are the major languages of visitors. And kudos to me for being able to recognize consistently Chinese and Korean as Chinese and Korean.
Until next time, take care of yourself and each other.

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