Friday, April 06, 2007

Things I've noticed about Japan

  1. This place reminds me a lot of Germany. Perhaps because it's the same time of year that I went on a trip to Germany in 2005, or the similar climate, or the public transportation, or that there are, seemingly-inexplicably, loads of Germans here, but it feels a lot like lieber Deutschland.
  2. I do not speak Japanese. Duh, you say, and so do I, but it is very noticeable that wherever I go. Unlike on other international trips I've taken to places where I do not have a complete grasp of the language, Japanese is very different from any Indo-European language with which I have even a passing familiarity, and I am unable to even make educated guesses at what things mean most of the time. That said, most signs have English transliterations and many people speak English, so it's not actually that tough to get by.
  3. Public transportation is great. A trip to the small, small town of Koya-san, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, has near-constant train service. With a Japan Rail pass, trains all throughout the country are no problem, and buses in Kyoto are frequent, convenient and well-used by the populace.
  4. Japan is expensive. Again, no news here, but things cost a lot. Because of an extremely low crime rate, people often walk around with substantial amounts of cash on them, which is interesting and somewhat jarring to think about. Also, the smallest bill in circulation is the ¥1,000, meaning that for ¥500, ¥100 and smaller denominations, you deal with coins. Take that, dollar bill.
  5. They sell some very weird things in vending machines. There are vending machines on nearly every corner, mostly selling drinks (both hot and cold) but also cigarettes and other items, though I haven't seen that to date in Kyoto. Among the beverages are some typical American/international brands (Coke, etc.) but also some product lines not found in North America. Among the ones I've found interesting to contemplate are Pocari Sweat (just a bizarre name) and Qoo, a carbonated citrus-milk beverage.



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