Observations of Japan


I had the opportunity to go to Tokyo, Japan for a week this month for work and while there I kept a running list of observations. I was able to commute to work on the subway, which I found quite fun.

First, my observations:

  • the Japanese are extremely orderly; everything is very neat and clean

  • Japanese men are quite fashionable when it comes to work attire.

  • Nobody talks to each other on the morning commute

  • Everyone is wearing slacks, nice shoes, a dress shirt, tie, sport coat, (or suit), and then an overcoat (plus umbrella when raining). They tend to have very thin attaché cases or shoulder bags, unlike America’s giant backpacks or heavier shoulder bags.

  • Japan seems obsessed with European brands. There are tons of French and Italian fashion ads everywhere featuring European names and models. The best way to sell something expensive seems to still be to put a rich-looking white woman in the ad for it — even in Japan.

  • Very little jewelry for women

  • Women have art and stones and sprinkles and stuff on their nails

  • A large percentage of people spend their subway commute looking down at their phones

  • There are not nearly as many smartphones there as in the U.S. They still have tons of long, thin flip phones.

  • Johan Paris bread seems silly popular

  • There are women-only subway trains in the morning because there are issues with women being groped under the guise of being crammed accidentally against someone.

  • Everyone is extremely dedicated to their work. Whatever the job they do it extremely well and they consider it rude that you’d offer a tip for it (it’s assumed that they’d perform that well)

  • The lack of tipping there combined with how good the service is made coming back to the states somewhat difficult. I checked bags on the curb at SFO and forgot I didn’t have cash, and the person was nice until they realized they weren’t getting a tip and then became an asshole. Highly unacceptable.

  • Men don’t get up for women on the subway

  • There’s quite a bit more Android in Japan then I see in the U.S. It was probably 60/40 Android to iPhone (completely anecdotal)

  • The Japanese are so embarrassment-conscious that when you sit down on a lot of their toilets they make a loud sound to disguise any sounds you make be making yourself

  • They have bidets on a lot of their toilets. First time for both me and my girl. Interesting.

  • The cool, good-looking guys have haircuts I can only describe as Dragonball-Z haircuts

  • The epitome of their male beauty seems to be very thin and feminine looking men

  • Women hang all sorts of crap off of their giant, rectangular flip phones, like large teddy bears, mini purses, etc. There are lots of iPhone cases that have bunny ears and stuff on them

  • Men mix black and brown in their dress, e.g. black slacks and jacket, and brown shoes and bag

  • The card exchange ritual was quite profound for me. It’s not rumor or hyperbole: it’s just like you’ve heard. My main engagement I looked down for a second and looked up to see 10 people lined up with hands crossed in front of them, by rank, waiting to come do the two-handed, extended look card exchange.

  • The men work with their sport coats on

  • Mobile coverage was phenomenal (GSM iPhone 4S)

  • The coffee was phenomenal in Japan. Starbucks mochas were highly superior to in the U.S., and random coffee shops had brutally excellent lattes.

  • The smoking wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d assumed it would be. Most places in public smoking wasn’t allowed, but where it was it was THICK

  • It’s very disconcerting to have someone smoke right next to you while you’re eating

  • The shopping is serious there; like massive amounts of stores.

  • Their malls are large vertical buildings, with the floors being the departments. We’re talking like 20 floors.

  • I came away with there being an overriding sense of unified purpose to the people in the country

Things we did:

  • Harajuka street. Not at peak time, but we got some of the feel.

  • The walking experience. We got to see a lot of the downtown and business areas, lots of train stations during commutes, etc.

  • We got smooshed into a train a couple of times, like sardines but without the extra room. No comments. No complaints. No grunts. No sounds. Just massive pressing from all sides.

  • I got to have Soba noodles at a place near Hanzomon Station that has been in business since the Samurai were around. Real. Deal.

  • We were taken out by our host to a no-joke Sushi/Sashimi dinner in downtown Japan. We’re talking wave after wave of various types of fishes, sides, and sake for like three hours. It was perhaps the best, most elaborate dining experience I’ve ever had.

  • Upon coming in we looked out the right of the plan and saw the most picturesque view of this MASSIVE mountain. It was like a movie. The whole airplane window was full of the perfect symmetry of this thing, with a sunset orangish glow on it. I mean, MASSIVE. Like 7000 Mt. Diablos (that’s how it looked). Susan was like, what the hell is that? I immediately said Mt. Fuji without knowing even where it was, if we were anywhere near it, etc. Turns out it was. It was seriously stunning.

In sum, it was a phenomenal trip, and we look forward to returning.


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