Even I get a little tired of gushing about Japan in all my trip report posts sometimes. And truthfully, there are a lot of things that drive me absolutely crazy about the country and its culture. So on the night before I leave (yeah, I started writing this a while ago), I'll list some of the things that really get my goat sometimes. Maybe some of you feel the same way about some of these, or maybe you're curious about things to watch out for on your first trip. Either way, here we go:
1. Japanese TV. There, I said it. Yeah, I know in the west, we all think Japanese TV is full of wacky game shows and crazy, almost sadistic "reality" shows. Somehow, we think that makes Japanese TV interesting. Think about it for a second. Even if it were true, is that really what you want to watch 24 hours a day?
That's not even mentioning that most Japanese TV is neither crazy nor wacky - it's completely banal. Here's the template: get together a studio audience, recruit some "special guests" and a host, then show a bunch of dumb human interest stories for an hour while you display ever-present thumbnail reaction shots from the over-acting special guests. You know how on an American 11PM newscast, they show one really stupid story at the end of the night to try to lighten the mood? They do that for an hour on Japanese TV, every day, 24 hours a day, on almost every channel. The only difference is the ridiculously overdone audience reactions and the camera shots of the studio guests.
2. Smoking! Japan apparently never got the memo about how unhealthy and outright disgusting smoking is. You can still smoke almost everywhere in Japan. You can blow your smoke right in somebody else's face and there's nothing they can do about it. People even smoke in non-smoking sections at restaurants. (Yes, I've seen it.)
3. Crappy, barely-functional air conditioning. Ugh! Part of this may just be a matter of perspective, but when it's 95 degrees Fahrenheit out, the Japanese will cool a room to 85 and no cooler - if they use the air conditioning at all. Everywhere you go in Japan in summer, you sweat - indoors or out. You can even see it on the sucky Japanese TV, where all the hosts and guests have a constant sheen to their faces from a thin film of sweat even in a supposedly climate-controlled studio.
4. Bicycles on the sidewalk. It's both perfectly legal and socially acceptable to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk, even in ultra-crowded Tokyo. As popular as bikes are in Japan, this makes walking almost anywhere akin to playing a constant game of dodgeball.
5. No bump-into apologies. As polite as people are in Japan, one thing they absolutely never do is apologize for bumping into you. In fact, they will barrel straight into you head-on and just keep right on walking as if nothing has happened. Couple this with #4 above and it's like a free-for-all out there.
6. Out-of-control train sleepers. If you're going to sleep on the train, you'd damn well better know where your head's going to land when you finally go under. Most train sleepers in Japan have absolutely no control over their body. Part of it is that nobody leans backwards to sleep like they do in America, using the wall or seat to keep their head straight. In Japan, everybody leans forward, and more often than not their head ends up resting on the shoulder of the person next to them. Couple that with the poor air conditioning and it's pretty disgusting having some stranger's head land unexpectedly on your shoulder.
7. Universally caffeinated, calorific drinks. Unless you want water. This is just bizarre in a land where tea is practically sacred and coffee just as popular - you can't easily buy either without sugar, and forget about it if you need decaf. The only reliable way to get a flavored drink without either sugar or caffeine is Starbucks - an American chain.
Again, combine this with the lack of air conditioning - meaning you're gonna be drinking a lot of liquids in summer - and it's really difficult not to get your full daily calorie intake and probably five times your recommended caffeine intake from your drinks alone. That's assuming you want flavor, god forbid. Yes, you can deprive yourself and just drink H20. What's wrong with a Diet Sprite, an unsweetened iced tea or a decaf iced coffee once in a while? These are not at all easy to find in Japan. This may not sound like that big of a deal, but believe me - in summer, it is.
8. Fluorescent lighting. Everywhere. Not just in dingy office buildings, factories and hospitals. There is something of a standard home ceiling light fixture in Japan, which is two ring fluorescents, 22" and 24" if I remember right. You can buy these light bulbs in one box at the checkout counter in most grocery stores, they're so common - an impulse buy. And these aren't the "good" kind of fluorescents like are becoming more common in the US, with high color rendering indexes and soft or warm white color temperatures. (I find the light from even these offensive, though I do own a few myself.) No, these are the old, nasty fluorescents that turn everything green and give everybody headaches. And everybody in Japan uses them. Well, almost everybody.
I'm not down on Japan at all. I'm just venting here. But people shouldn't get the idea that Japan is all wine and roses. It's a great country, but there are definitely some annoying things about it like anywhere else. And I can't just pretend those things don't exist. (This list is pretty mild, actually - some people have a lot bigger problems with Japan than this. But the little things are what I find affect my quality of life the most.)
By the way, why does the url for this post say I've got seven items when I really have eight? Because I forgot one originally.
Well, I'll get back to a more regular schedule of trip report posts over the weekend. Just a few more to go - including Harajuku and Akihabara.