Memoirs of a Gaijin: Culture Shock

So what about Japan that you found so intriguing? 

Firstly, the fact that in this modern age, not a lot of people speak English, especially individuals that works where tourists are more than likely to be present (JR stations, temples, shrines, etc.) astounds me. It doesn’t offend me because it’s their country but I find it surprising.

Second, their punctuality is top-notch; if the ticker says ‘departing at 1305’, it’s going to leave at 1:05PM, whether you’re in it or not.

It can’t be that accurate.

OH yeah. I absolutely love it. At one point in time, I noticed that I got on the wrong train and as the doors were closing, I bolted out and the doors closed on me. It felt like two football players hitting me on both ends. They’re legit about punctuality!

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Like clockwork.

So pretty much, you’ll be stuck taking the train in Japan.

Not necessarily. Even though it’s convenient to take the train, bicycles and cars are two suitable forms of transportation in Japan. I noticed that they love small, boxy cars like the Nissan Cube or this Dihatsu:

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Also, bicycles go hand-in-hand with Japanese cheap travel. In Kyoto, if we didn’t rent these bikes, we would’ve died in the heat:

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Life savers.

Boring. Back to cars.

Right. Not only that, they do modifications to their cars called VIP Style.

‘VIP Style’? What’s that?

It’s all about making your car stand out but before, it was limited to big saloon cars (hence ‘VIP’) but in Japan, they did it to mini-vans too. A more proper definition from Wiki is below,

VIP Style, which translates directly into Japanese as ‘bippu’, refers to the modification of Japanese luxury automobiles to make them lower in stance and wider looking with wide aggressive wheels, suspension, and body kits. VIP Style are typically large, expensive, rear-wheel drive sedans, though automotive enthusiasts use other cars like minivans and Kei cars. Once associated with the yakuza, VIP Style modifications now are a subset of automotive modification.

So cars are big there?

I think they have a following similar to North America, if not, greater. Their collection isn’t limited to Japanese cars either:

Wow. That’s a great collection. With that many people, I’m surprised the roads are clean.

The Japanese have a keen sense for cleanliness and order. When we went to the train stations, everyone lined up in an orderly fashion to get in and out of the train. Try and make people do that in Calgary is like finding a needle in a haystack:

They won’t push, yell, or scream. Everyone gets on the train, without a peep and get out.

I’ll remember my first experience when we saw this:

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My buddy Victor and I were wondering why they taped off the train. We both thought there was a medical emergency or something. The nosy foreigners that we are, tried to sneak a peek into the train carriage and a passenger lining up gestured to us that it was closed by crossing his fingers like an ‘X’ and said ‘cleaning’.

It was such a culture shock and a positive one to boot.

Ignorance is a bliss. What else?

For an imaginary dialogue, you’re pretty rude. Anywhos, getting around Japan isn’t difficult as long as you know how to mix things up a little. One isn’t better than the other but altogether will make your trip worthwhile.

Seeing as how Japan is such a historical country, you’re oddly focused on cars and trains. I’m assuming museums suck there.

On the contrary. Their museums are a mix of new and old, which will attract all types of people. The ones that stood out to me are the 21_21 Design Sight, Mori Art Museum, and the Edo-Tokyo Museum:

The 21_21 Design Sight had an exhibit based on an art technique called ‘color-hunting’ where the artist, Dai Fujiwara meticulously try and capture nature’s color with patience and a sharp eye.

The Mori Art Museum had a LOVE exhibit where it focused on love and its different interpretations.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum focused on early Japanese history of Edo or Old Tokyo. Their details on everyday life using scaled models shows the Japanese’s crazy attention to detail. I was in awe of their talent.

Sounds great. Any stories to share about your travels?

Well, I do have a couple. So other than being a foodie, I have a weird knack of collecting things. One of them is straight razors.

First knives, now straight razors. Come on, man…

They are neat and requires a steady hand when shaving. Keeps me feeling good that I survived a solo session. Anyways, I was looking for a Japanese straight razor or kamisori. I knew the word, had the picture of it, this would be a cake–walk, right?

How wrong I was.

I went to every single store in the cities I went to and not a damn sight of it. Sure, you can get samurai swords by the dozen but the kamisori was my Mt. Everest.

I thought I hit salvation when I stumbled into this metalsmith’s shop in the middle of Tokyo:

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Alas, to no avail. I even went to Sakai and while visiting the Knife museum, I asked for the elusive kamisori:

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Knife museum? Seriously?

Yes! In Sakai, you definitely must go to the Sakai Knife Museum and see their collection of knives. As a foodie, it is knife mecca and you will be amazed by their offerings.

What’s the big deal about this Sakai knife? I bet it’s as sharp as the ones I buy locally.

It’s not about the sharpness but the effort in making a knife. The Japanese attention to detail and tradition is present in every knife they make:

That’s amazing! I take back what I said. Now did you get your weird razor thing-y?

Oddly enough, I did through luck. As I walked away from the knife museum, amazed but disappointed, I randomly walked around Sakai and saw this:

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A barber shop!

Who else would know than a barber? The problem lies in the language barrier though. I said hello and mentioned kamisori, to which he positively understood. However, he pointed at his chair and that’s when it started.

What happened?

Well, I knew what he was implying: I needed a straight shave but really, all I wanted was the straight razor and while I understood him, he did not get me at all. It was the longest 3 minutes of my life trying to explain I wanted to buy his razor, not his shaving service.

So you looked like a typical crazy tourist?

Pretty much. Eventually, I gestured that I wanted to exchange money for the razor and once he got that, I finally found what I was looking for!:

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Score!

So you got your razor to satisfy your weird collection, with a stupid story to boot! I’m sure the madness doesn’t end there.

It gets better. My mind was continually blown away by the little details. For one, I noticed that Osaka seemed to be more westernised than Tokyo, and initially I thought it’d be the opposite.

Huh? How so?

Well for starters, commuters in Tokyo line up when going to escalators on the left side while commuters in Osaka line up on the right side. It threw me off many times and had many instances of dancing with random strangers.

Second, it is illegal to gamble in Japan.

Say what?

We had a free night and while roaming around, we saw a casino that highlighted Blackjack (my kind of game):

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However, they inform that you don’t win money and that it’s all for amusement. I tried it out anyways and the dealer got 21 for 3 straight hands. I left empty-handed and not amused one bit.

Really? That sounds terrible.

Among other things….

– I was also the only Filipino guy that was taking the train. I looked hard and not another soul that was remotely my skin color was on it. The double-takes I got were just piercing.

– Fashion is all over the map in Japan. It’s the only place I’ve experienced that everyone had a bag or a purse of some sort.

– Also, whenever I asked them a question in Japanese, they answer… By looking at my friend. Even though he wasn’t Japanese haha! It was quite interesting, to say the least.

– Finally, they don’t like tattoos so mine stuck out a lot. I couldn’t enter Spa World. 😦

Other than that, Japanese people do the usual things North Americans do for recreation like, bowling:

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The shoes are dispensed like vending machines!

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Karaoke:

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Canada, represent!

Dress up in holiday season (It was Obon Festival when we went in August so everyone was dressed up in kimonos and yukatas or traditional Japanese garments):

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Watch what seemed to be a Japanese version of Law and Order:

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And Photoshop booths.

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Wait. Photoshop booths? You want to explain that to me some more?

So in Japan, these purikuras or photo booths are all over the country and have the uncanny ability to do Photoshop on the fly. My skin has never looked softer in my life!

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With one pen swoop, you can have softer skin, bigger eyes, less frizzy hair… AMAZING!

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It was actually a lot of hard work.

That’s a bit freaky.

Hate all you want but my skin looked baby-soft. LOVED IT.

Right…

Right. Keeping on with the Japanese attention to detail, they have a knack for building scaled replicas of things, as you already saw from the pictures above, and that passes on to great toys:

I got addicted to remote controlled cars (R/C cars) that I went to the Tamiya Plamodel Factory in Shimbashi:

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I bought so much that I had to find a box to turn it into my second check-in luggage:

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Check-in luggage, Filipino style!

Lugging all that luggage must have been a work out!

It sure was but no worries. The Japanese prepared us for this as they also put importance in fitness. Just look at this outdoor park near our hotel:

The dog had a hat(!) on and they recognize hockey as a sport! It was awesome.

So did you even work out?

Yeah we did. Bro, do you even lift?!

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You hungry for more? Click me for the foodie part of the trip!

– Don

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