There’s so much to love about Japan… yes the food is incredible, the architecture boundary-pushing and that infamous contrast of old and new spellbinding. But for me, it’s the countless everyday things that make up why it’s such a unique, calming and beautiful place, and one that I really feel very at home in.
From mumma’s with their babies, old women carrying shopping, salarymen in suits and school kids with their bags… everyone gets around on two wheels and it’s both super convenient and incredibly equalising. No one’s in a hurry. There’s no car vs bike tension that exists in other cities. It’s just a way to get from A to B without a hint of hipster cool.
Eating alone is okay
Eating solo can sometimes feel awkward, like everyone is watching every move you make. In Japan though, while meals can be very ceremonious and special, other times there’s something purely functional about them. Stand up soba, counter-top udon restaurants, noisy ramen bars. Whether it’s the food ticket you purchase on entry, the partitions that divide people facing each other or the noisy slurping going on around you, it’s just a place to get meal before you’re on your way again – nothing awkward or judgey about it. big thumbs up.
Smaller is better
So many restaurants, bars and cafes in Japan are tiny. Limitations of space? Realities of a saturated market? Whatever the reason, there’s something super satisfying about grabbing a drink in these mini one-man operations where the same person is preparing drinks, cooking food and clearing glasses. While you may have to wait a little longer, if there’s other people occupying the precious few chairs, chances are you’ll strike up a conversation with someone or just be so much more open to noticing what’s going on around you. Where so many people wouldn’t dream of opening a bar that doesn’t have a scalable business model behind it, here it’s someone’s labour of love. Love it.
There really is a uniformity to Japan. Salarymen always wear short-sleeved white shirts in summer. They all carry a similar style bag. They all have it on their laps on the train. It seems like a generalisation, but when it’s all around you, it’s hard not to notice. School kids all wear their uniforms exactly the same way. When it rains, everyone has gumboots, a raincoat and an umbrella. People are SO aware of rain in Japan. I’m not sure if it’s because so few people drive in Tokyo and everyone is exposed to the weather on their commutes, but the minute there’s a drop of rain, no one misses a beat in whipping out their umbrella.
This wonderful tradition is still so strong in Japan, whether you’re buying a bottle of water in a convenience store or farewelling people after a meeting. It’s a humbling act, to bow your head to someone, and a very meaningful gesture that has transitioned so comfortably into modern life. Seeing colleagues farewell each other after something significant still makes me laugh though. It’s like a bow off. Who will turn away first?
People seem to sleep a lot more in public in Japan. Maybe it’s that so many more people use public transport and have really long commutes. But I’ve been to parties where people fell asleep on the couch. Also, in class people slept all the time. We’d think it was rude. Here, again, there’s a functional practicality to it. It’s natural and normal. I’m tired, I feel comfortable here, so I’m going to have a nap.