Compared to Tokyo, life in Nagasaki carries on at a slow pace. After three weeks living in Japan, I feel that I have reached a sort of “international wall.” The excitement of being in a new place has come and gone, and I have had time to process all the things I have seen. Stereotypes of Japanese homogeneity and spirituality are melting away, leaving me with a rather obvious observation that hadn’t occurred to me in the hectic weeks prior: Japan, like the United States, is a place where people live out daily routines, a place where generalizations fall flat. In short, I am now entering the “real Japan” where the most important part of my first international travel experience begins.
I will give a more detailed report of my “normal life in Nagasaki” later. In the meantime, I will impart some useful tidbits about Japan in general. Some Japan Know-How of sorts.
Tip #1) Toilets
I am still mystified by the options Japan offers when it comes to mounting the throne. The “Western-style” toilets in Japan are just like the ones in the U.S. but with a remote control, complete with a spray button. Bored of hearing the same old flush every time you take a dump? Well, in Japan you can choose from a wide array of flush tones to suit your preferences. Soothing waves perhaps. In case you were a bit chilly, the seat-heating option guarantees a pleasant experience. Lots of toilets in public bathrooms even play music while you’re doing your business to provide privacy. Could it get any better?
Another difference between toilets in America and in Japan is that the flush lever can be pushed two different ways: up forookii (大) or big, and down for chisai (小) or small. Both environmentally friendly and self-explanatory.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the Japanese-style squatting toilets, of which there are many. Appearing to be a urinal placed horizontally into the ground, these toilets require some quad strength. For unaccustomed Americans like myself, there is usually a beam to hold in case you lose your balance. Particularly useful when on the shinkansen.
A word of caution. Many Japanese public bathrooms do not have hand towels or driers, so it is smart to carry around a small wash cloth.
Tip #2) Eating and Walking
Don’t do it. Similarly, eating on the train is frowned upon. Not to say I haven’t done it a few times, but it is best to avoid eating when not in a location appointed for eating.
Tip #3) Useful Tools
In the summer, most of Japan is hot. HOT. Consequentially, I quickly noticed that most Japanese carry certain items to prevent melting while walking around. These include:
A) Umbrellas. For the first half of the summer in Japan, known as the rainy season, torrential rain is commonplace. The second half of the summer consists of brutal heat. Regardless of the weather, umbrellas (or parasols) are summer staples here. They provide both protection from the rain and portable shade on those sticky hot days.
B) Fans. No, they aren’t just for decoration and souvenirs. Fans are very useful for keeping cool and many people here use them. There are two kinds: one type folds out and is easily stored in a purse, while the other does not collapse but bestows a more powerful gust.
C) Small handkerchiefs. I know I already mentioned one use for these (drying your hands), but small cloths are also great for keeping the sweat off your face. I’ve seen many a uniformed high school student carrying them around their necks.
At first, I didn’t deem such items necessary and figured I would tough out my month here without them. However, after a few days I broke down; now I carry all three.
Tip #4) Slippers
As you have probably heard, it is a Japanese custom to remove shoes before entering a home. This is also required upon entrance to a hostel, church, Buddhist temple, and some restaurants. It will be obvious if you need to take off your shoes; just look for a shoe rack.
Once inside, slippers will most likely be provided, or else you can walk barefoot. One place where going barefoot is not acceptable is in the bathroom, where a pair of special “bathroom-only” slippers is kept.
Tip #5) Jay Walking
Not only do the Japanese have a respect for the law, but also, unlike in the States, pedestrians to not have the right of way. In other words, cars are not prepared to stop for ignorant jay walkers. You will get looks of confusion if you should decide to disregard traffic laws. Be aware.
Tip #6) Escalators
Each Japanese city I’ve visited has had different etiquette in regards to riding the escalator. In Tokyo, stand on the left if you don’t plan on climbing the escalator and let people pass on the right. In Osaka, the principle is reversed: stand on the right if you fancy a leisurely ride, and if you are in a hurry, climb on the left. And, finally, in Nagasaki it doesn’t seem to matter. There seems to be no pattern that I can detect.
Tip #7) Libraries
Because of my research, I have visited many Japanese libraries. In Nagasaki’s city library I learned a few lessons. First, you cannot check out a book unless you are a citizen of Nagasaki. And second, it is apparently illegal to use laptops in Japanese libraries. After ferociously typing away for an hour or so – no doubt getting strange looks from the locals – I was politely ushered onto the street by a regretful librarian. How embarrassing.
Tip #8) Pouring Drinks for Others
During my first week in Tokyo, some friends took me out to an izakaya, or Japanese bar. Preparing to inhale my sushi, I asked a friend to pass me the soy sauce. When I went to take it from him, he wouldn’t let go, shooting me confused looks. After playing tug-of-war for a few seconds, I capitulated and allowed him to serve me.
Little did I know that in Japan people rarely pour or refill their own drinks (in my case, soy sauce). Instead, when your glass is nearing empty, a friend will most surely refill it for you. You are expected to do the same for them.
The sun is shining and, umbrella in hand, I am off to do some shopping at Shindaiku Market. Until next time.