[Editor – We’re super excited to have our first guest article. This one is from Nathan, a designer from Tokyo. Thanks again Nathan!]
Japan’s a pretty cool place.
If you’re reading this, you probably share this sentiment.
Japan is such a cool place that I decided to live here! After four years soaking it all in, I’m prepared to offer you five reasons why (I think) Japan is a better place to live than where you currently reside. No offense to you or where you are but there are just some things about this country that feel like magic.
Enough with the jibber-jabber. Here we go!
The inspiration for this topic came to me a few weeks ago. I forgot my iPod Touch at the gym. At the end of my workout, when I realized and went back to look for it, it was gone.
I assumed the worst—of course someone had stolen it!
Super bummed, I made my way over to the nearest employee and asked if anyone had picked up an iPod. To my surprise, the guy said that one of the other gym members had picked it up and I could get it at the front desk.
Now you may be thinking to yourself: “So what? There are plenty of honest people in the world.” However, in Japan, we’re not talking about “plenty” we’re talking about nearly everyone.
Throughout my stay in Japan and taking into account my uncanny ability to lose things, I’ve “lost” all of the following things: a jacket, a shopping bag, a messenger bag and a cell phone. I got all of them back with little to no hassle.
Those experiences considered, of course I’d get my iPod back!
That momentary fulfillment when getting something back that you were positive you’d lost, is a fabulous feeling. It’s also one of the many small things that comes as a constant reminder of how great this country can be.
If possible, it’s best to thank people when you receive this kind of treatment. If you have the ability to find out who it was, maybe you can offer them some…
“Omiyage” (pron. Oh-me-ahh-gay) in English translates to “souvenir” but oh how it’s different:
First off, it doesn’t have to be something bought on “vacation”. Often times you’ll receive just for the heck of it or to be shown appreciation.
Second, omiyage is usually food or a particular region’s famous product.
And thirdly, buying omiyage in Japan is less of a personal thing and more of a responsibility in many circles.
Considering that third point, you may be wondering why this is a good thing and how it serves to promote my argument. Who wants to carry around the responsibility of having to buy stuff for people all the time? In this sense, you’re correct and it can be burdensome but the Japanese make it so easy to do by having access to these delights nearly everywhere! Supermarkets, train stations, department stores, etc.
Also, it’s not so much about the chore of having to buy omiyage as it is that you’re showing (and being shown) respect and consideration. This alone makes the custom really heartwarming.
If you work in Japan and are involved in an industry that requires you to have a lot of frequent customers (i.e. English teaching), you’ll most likely receive omiyage if not weekly, then bi-weekly.
It’s like a never-ending supply of deliciousness (i.e. it’s usually food)!
Just remember that you must return the favor. The reciprocal cycle of respect is a very important part of Japanese culture. Those who receive, must also give.
The Ryokan Experience
Now we get to a more traditional topic: The ryokan.
If you find yourself at a Japanese-style inn in Japan you are guaranteed one of the most enjoyable, unforgettable experiences of your life. This topic alone could warrant a whole article about the beauty of the experience but we’ll save that for another time.
Staying at a ryokan generally guarantees a few enjoyments:
- Tatami floors
- Sleeping on futons
- Bathing in an all-nude hot spring (don’t worry, the sexes are segregated)
- An unusually fantastic prepared dinner
- A classic Japanese breakfast
Not only is the ryokan experience a complete cultural overload but it’s, in my opinion, the best way to relax…
After soaking in the outdoor bath, surrounded by trees in 42-degree (107-degrees Fahrenheit) hot spring water, you will sleep as if you hadn’t seen sleep for weeks. Much to the surprise of many, futons found in a Japanese-style inn are remarkably supportive, comfortable and warm.
Babies don’t sleep this good.
The fact that your face is mere inches away from the woven surface of warm yellow-colored tatami, only adds to the nostalgia and impending heartbreak when you realize you have to go back to the real world (at some point).
The food at a ryokan is usually of the highest caliber. Meals usually depend on the season but you can be sure to get something incredible. If it’s not a huge plate of sashimi and other such delicacies, you may end up with a hearty and savory “nabe” of meat, vegetables and tofu all mixed up into a delicious soul-warming stew.
Any angle you look at it from, “bliss” is spelled r-y-o-k-a-n.
Those of us who have worked in the service industries (retail, restaurant, etc.) seem to have a keen respect for quality customer service and the people who can handle customer needs efficiently and professionally.
Before coming to Japan, one may not place much importance in solid guest service but once you’ve been in Japan and you go back home, your feelings on the matter will have undoubtedly been changed. You might find yourself shocked that some businesses get away with what they do in terms of treating their customers.
The basis of Japan’s outstanding service industry is in the country’s highly refined business model and professionality. The Japanese use “keigo” (kay-go), or polite speech, to communicate. Keigo truly gives the customer a sense of importance and the all-important feeling of being respected. By using keigo, it is nearly impossible for someone to speak rudely—as is the nature of this form of speech. The concept of being treated rudely in a business-customer interaction is nearly non-existent out here.
The best way to experience this is to spend a week or two in Japan. If you really want to indulge in as much great guest service as possible, fly ANA or Japan Airlines on your way out. I recommend ANA for its safety record and is it just me or do the seats feel just a tiny bit more spacious?
The final reason I’d like to hit on is one that we experience as foreigners.
As a foreigner (or more accurately, westerner), you’re akin to the likes of being famous by Japanese standards. This isn’t as prevalent in the big cities or in the touristy areas but you may experience it a lot in smaller cities.
Foreigners are generally taller, have bigger noses, narrower faces (or so they say), occasionally have a hair color other than black or brown and eyes other than brown. Because of this, we’re different—Japanese people seem to think it’s interesting. Even better, they tend to think that it’s attractive because it’s exotic to them.
People will look at you. People will tell you you’re handsome/beautiful. People will try to practice English with you (whether English is your native language or not). It can be very exhilarating and flattering at times.
The only downside to this is that you will always be a foreigner. If you’ve lived here for 40 years, you will still be considered a foreigner. This is something that those moving out here indefinitely will have to understand.
This article only tickles the surface of the ocean that is Japan’s beauty. There is so much more to talk about; so many subtleties and quirks about this country that make it great. There are also some things you’ll experience here that leave a bit to be desired.
Do you have any things that you feel are marvelous about Japan? If so, leave a comment below and maybe you can open our eyes up even more!
Nate is an American-born graphic designer based out of Tokyo, Japan. He’s also a casual musician, beer enthusiast, health nut and lover of new experiences. Find him and his blog at http://humblebunny.com
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