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OT - What is Japan like?


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I just finished reading Shogun and the book has sparked an interest I've never had before in Japanese culture. Of course, I know Shogun is a fictionalized account of Japan in the 1500s, so my grain of salt is already taken.

 

But I would like to know more about what modern Japan is like. How much of the ancient, highly polite, honor/shame, artistic, ritualized, militant aspects of society have survived?

 

What does your typical westerner like/dislike about Japan when, say, having moved there for a temporary job, etc.?

 

Is the westernization of Japan a deep thing or just flirting with the surface of western things?

 

And one question I wonder about - did Communism ever appeal to the Japanese or have an influence or come close to taking over?

 

Can the average westerner really come to understand the Japanese culture, or only a few with an affinity for it?

 

Please, no bigoted remarks. Positives and negatives, sure, but no xenophobes allowed.

 

M Peasley

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I have had to travel there for my job a few times.

I've stayed no longer than a week. I was in a very industrialized area, just outside of Nagoya called Toyota city. It was crammed. Their is not a lot of space there. The streets are narrow. Things are more verticle.

They'll not let you have driver license unless you have proof that you own a parking space. Hotel rooms are tiny.

Most people are very courteous and try to help you with the language. They all want you to eat sushi to see the look on your face. Its impossible to find a good steak or hamburger.

Its about a $100 for a very thin slice of kobe beef. Their is this weird film you get on your skin. Not pollution necessarily, but a wierd humidity with a funny residue. I was happy to be the tallest guy around, most of the time. There seems to be more women than men and most have kickin bods but bad teeth. Dentistry is not a priority there. That said my translator was gorgeous and flirty, but her family had already picked her husband and it drove me nuts. This was before I was married. :o They put alot of emphasis on manners and ettiquette. In general, they laugh alot. Even older execs would laugh and joke like kids on a playground. If you get invited to the bar after work your basically expected to be there. If your hungover the next day its perfectly ok to sleep with your head down at work, but you have to be on time. Just few things that I found interesting.

Together all sing their different songs in union - the Uni-verse.

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I'm no authority on Japan, but I spent a week there and got a few impressions.

 

First, it's a very homogeneous society. Being 6'1" and white, I was pretty noticeable but that wasn't a bad thing -- people would come up to me and very politely ask if they could practice their English. This was way cool, because I asked them a lot of questions of what life was like :) and about their lifestyle.

 

The food is fantastic. I'd take a Japanese breakfast over the average US hotel any day. Also the people were VERY accommodating, they were concerned I would want things to be "like home." Fortunately I was able to let them know otherwise (being careful not to let anyone lose face, of course) and they were more than thrilled to take me to sushi bars and put me up in the Japanese rooms of hotels.

 

Before I went, I studied Japanese culture for six months. So I knew some right things to do, and felt very complimented when one night at dinner I was asked if I had been raised in Japan. This is important. The Japanese words for "foreigner" and "barbarian" are the same. They expect Americans to act a certain way and when you break that stereotype and show a sensitivity to Japanese culture, they not only appreciate it, but that opens doors to see more of the "real" Japan.

 

I had always been told the Japanese were sort of distant. I found the opposite to be true. Many are shy and self-conscious about not speaking English well if they don't. But a few drinks at a karaoke bar and they open up. Once you got past the initial barrier, I found the Japanese very warm, friendly, and accommodating.

 

The "losing face" thing is still an issue. I was at a CD store and saw a CD that wasn't available in the US, and I really wanted to buy it. The clerk refused to sell it to me. There was a language barrier, so I made gestures, got out my wallet, but he steadfastly refused. I was confused, to say the least. But then a customer saw what was going on and served as translator. It turned out the CD case had a TINY (and I mean truly tiny) scratch across the front, and the guy didn't want to sell something "imperfect" to a "guest." I told him that the scratch didn't matter because it was a CD that I could not find in the US, and that certainly, I didn't feel it was his fault the scratch was there, and that I appreciated him letting me know about it so I could make an informed decision. The transaction was completed amid much bowing and smiling.

 

If someone wanted to send me to Japan for another week, or even longer if I could bring my family, I'd go in a heartbeat. But it looks like China is on the agenda next, which should be really cool...

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Craig,

Very good analysis. They are a very welcoming people. If you maintain the proper ettiquette and manners, you get treated to some seriously fine dining. I know what you mean about saving face, I was warned many times ahead of time to not be too bold about presenting scientific ideas that were not originated by our parent company in Japan as that would be seen as an embarassment to the management.

Instead I was told to offer up our studies as information only and as hypothesis that would need to be studied further. The shyness thing has to do with their upbringing I think. To remain humble and light hearted is seen as a virtue to their buddhist dominant culture.

Together all sing their different songs in union - the Uni-verse.

My Current Project

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Fascinating replies, folks.

 

Craig, your story about the CD is really telling. NOT the kind of behavior one usually runs into in your typical record shop here in the U.S. Anyone remember the scene from High Fidelity where Jack Black refuses to sell the record to the "not cool enough" customer? :D

 

There seems to be a connection between pride in one's heritage and culture, and an ability to hold on to that heritage and culture in spite of the pressures of the modern age. That pride must walk a fine line sometimes between healthy pride and a superiority complex.

 

M Peasley

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>>What does your typical westerner like/dislike about Japan when, say, having moved there for a temporary job, etc.?>>

 

Hmmm, good question, I don't know. I think that all my friends have really enjoyed it there. I had a friend who was a Japanese Studies major at UCLA, and absolutely loved it there, learning complex rituals such as the Japanese tea ritual, etc.

 

I was there for several days and thought it was really beautiful. I like what little I've experienced about the culture a lot. I found finding vending machines with wine in it to be fascinating. And the Japanese people that I've met in Peru, Morocco, Spain, Ladakh, and elsewhere have been super super nice and a pleasure to travel with.

 

I traveled with a Japanese girl for two weeks in northern Morocco and southern Spain, and she was really great to talk to and hang out with, and kept trying to teach me Japanese and tell me about Kyoto. She said that the Japanese don't have much PDA, measure the sizes of apartments by how many tatamis (mats) can fit on the floor, says that everything in Japan is really small, and said that many Japanese are almost obsessed about cleanliness.

 

Almost everywhere I travel, I run into Japanese people, even in remote corners of the world, so my sense is that many of them are very intrepid.

 

>> Is the westernization of Japan a deep thing or just flirting with the surface of western things?>>

 

Great question. I don't know!

 

>> Can the average westerner really come to understand the Japanese culture, or only a few with an affinity for it? >>

 

I think that someone with a great deal of understanding, openmindedness, and motivation to learn can do this, yes. But you said the *average* Westerner, so maybe that's a little different...so I'd say that if they were submerged in the culture for a few years, there'd be a decent chance, right? I'm guessing here! :D

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Originally posted by M Peasley:

That pride must walk a fine line sometimes between healthy pride and a superiority complex.

It's not all pride. There is a pretty rigid structure that keeps things in place.

 

It's the most foreign place I have ever been, in part because it is the most culturally rigorous place I have ever been. Young people, especially young women, are pretty sharply aware of the differences between Japan and the US.

 

People are generous in their willingness to guide you through the business / social learning curve.

 

For Americans, it is an amazingly old culture.

 

It is incredibly dense. It's pretty hard to find an undeveloped piece of land. The beautiful things are next to the very wacky and just around the corner from the very kitschy.

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The best way to describe Japan is the extreme contrast between public life and private life -- perhaps greater than any other culture. In most cultures, there is some difference -- i.e. how you express yourself in public (work, shopping, travel, etc.) is different than how you express yourself privately (home, in bed, alone somewhere). In Japan, it's taken to the extreme.

 

The biggest difference is really the social norms -- understand that being overly polite doesn't necessarily mean they are nice or that they like you or welcome you -- it's just their social norm in interacting in public (much like the small talk here in the US makes us seem more friendly than we are, or the lack of small talk that makes the Germans seem more cold than they are).

 

For a westerner (or a foreigner of any sort), Japan can be a very insular culture, which stems from the social norms of being overly polite, non-confrontational, and not losing face (i.e. not embarassing yourself in public). Japanese people are as red-blooded, hot-tempered and passionate as anyone else -- but only behind closed doors within the confines of family and friends.

 

Also, on the surface, it's a very regimented, authoritarian and macho society -- again except behind closed doors.

 

Having said all that, it is changing as well -- especially among the younger set. I wouldn't say that they are 'westernizing' as much as they are become more like the rest of the world. They are not as 'polite' as they used to be. They are becoming more 'expressive' in public. They are becoming more accustomed to interacting with other Asians and westerners in their travels, and becoming more accustomed to seeing many of them living in their cities.

 

The Japanese have been an overwhelmingly racist culture and non-accepting/intolerant attitudes -- towards other Asians and westerners, but again that is also changing, especially with those born post-1970. The most common form of racism ranges from a rigid non-acceptance of foreigners within their social circles, to showering a person with undue attention almost in a patronizing way (i.e making you the foreigner lose face). Again, you may not find this offensive at first, but it can become incredibly frustrating and isolating if you are exposed to it if you are living there. However, this is all changing as well.

 

Like our culture, the Japanese culture will also continue to change and evolve, with some traditions slowly fading away.

 

As for whether the average westerner can come to understand Japanese culture, I suppose -- in many ways, by learning about another culture that is different than one's own results in becoming so much more aware of one's own culture.

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I've been fortunate enough to go to Japan three times, albeit, a long time ago.

I loved it there, even when I tried to take a train to the worlds fair & got on the wrong train. Un-intentially to be sure. We arrived at the station a bit early and were waiting. A train came and we got on board. Didn't have a chance not to, the press to board was that bad. Anyway we finally had the sense to realize we were on the wrong train and got off in some out of the way, to us, place, had a few beers and were able to catch a train back to Kobe. Got lucky there too and got off at the correct station.

Back then we were very much regulars at a couple of places. One called Miako's. We became favorites with the owner, a great lady with two daughters that helped run the place. We were allowed to use the "Japanese" section of the bar, were fed whether we wanted to eat or not, and, this the amazing thing, were allowed to escort the daughters to dinner at the base. Mamasan trusted us and we did not violate that trust. She did our currency exchanges for us and generally took good care of us. We, in turn, made damned sure there was never any problems in her place while we were there. I still have the beautiful inlaid chop sticks she gave me on my last visit there. What was totally amazing to me at that time too, was how much she and her daughters carried on and cried when we left after our last trip to her establishment.

At another place, the Westerner, I got to be friends (Only friends, so get your minds out of the gutter.) with one of the waitresses. Again, from reciprocating the politeness, I was able to take the lady to dinner and she, in turn invited me to some REAL Japanese restaurants and clubs. What a huge difference in those places, in comparison to the places that catered to foreigners.

Another thing, I found a great little hole in the wall that had the best corn dogs I've ever had. Nothing like them since & it's not just a happy memory. I looked for something comparable while it was all fresh.

 

I'd go back in a heartbeat if I had the chance. Shoot, maybe see Skip over there. That'd be cool. :D

 

Our Joint

 

"When you come slam bang up against trouble, it never looks half as bad if you face up to it." The Duke...

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Interesting stuff - I was hoping there would be some of you out there with some substantial experience in Japan.

 

I'd really like to hear the point of view of any of our Japanese friends who might be perusing this thread. Since we are telling how "they" strike "us", I'd really like to hear how "we" strike "them"!

 

I apologize for the way this thread assumes that only westerners are participating.

 

M Peasley

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In 1994 I traveled to Japan for the first time with Producer David Foster to record concerts featuring Celine Dion, Color Me Badd, Peobo Bryson, and others.

After the first concert I bumped into a Japanese client of mine backstage. We had worked together 4 months earlier in LA She asked if a few of us (Michael Thompson/guitar /Jeremy Lubbock-arranger) would like to go out to dinner with her and her friends. I say yes and to make a long story short, that dinner is where I met my future wife. I ended up extending my trip and we hung out in Tokyo, traveled into the countryside (Hakone) and spent a few days near Mt. Fuji enjoying the natural onsen's (hot springs resorts). At that time I was a little frightened of sushi, but she took me to the coolest spots and has since converted me to a sushi lover.

We got married in 95, have 2 boys together (Franklin and Benjamin) and things have been going very well. Greenshoe is right when he mentions the contrast between public and private life. My wife is the sweetest person you'll meet, but she can definitely tear me a new one if I screw up (very rarely). Her family and friends have always gone beyond the norm to make us welcome every time we go back to visit and likewise, whenever we have Japanese visitors come to visit us we always roll out the red carpet. People are just generally more willing to make other people more comfortable than themselves. I guess it balances out where everyone takes care of each other and they just take turns doing it.

Like Craig said, it's pretty easy getting around in Japan even if you don't speak the language. Almost everyone has taken English as a second language when they went to grade school and there is always someone willing to help out.

The food is out of this world. From the local noodle shop to the $300 per head "blowfish surprise", I have yet to find a meal that wasn't prepared with honor and pride. There's something about a country with no tipping that brings out the natural best in people, IMO. Of course the service fee is built into the price but something about it just feels better their way.

As far as the city goes, it is very crowded. You can take a train for a long time and not see any open spaces without buildings. However, there are plenty of places to go out in the countryside to get away from the busy city life. Our favorite place is going back to Hakone. Oh, if only there was a music scene in the mountains I'd be there in a heartbeat.

I can't say enough wonderful things about the people or the place.

 

It's kind of late but if I think of any interesting anecdotes, I'll post at another time or if anyone has any questions, I'd be happy to answer them later.

 

Dave Reitzas

www.reitzas.com

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I think my mind may possibly be kinda made up, I think.

 

I'm off to Tokyo to teach English as soon as I've finished a TEFL course (2-3 weeks)

 

I'll let you know all about the place when I arrive.

"That's what the internet is for. Slandering others anonymously." - Banky Edwards.
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10 years ago I got a call to join a cover band for 6 weeks. Let's go to Japan. We played a different US military base each week. I loved it.

 

The noodle houses were great. Some as small as 10'x10'. A small bar with 4 stools and a stove on the other side being manned by a smiling face... that's it. Wonderful. Fresh herbs and vegetables in the most delicious broth with noodles. I haven't found the same type of quality in the sushi places here.

 

The hard part for me was my inability to pick up any of the language. European languages don't seem so "foreign". For instance, I was walking in Yokohama when I realized that I needed a bathroom quick. I run into one of the many flashy gambling houses and try to ask the man behind the counter where the restrooms were... but I didn't know ANY Japanese. How do you gesture politely that you have to go potty? You do little dance and point to your crotch I guess. I did... he looked at me, then he looked at the phone on his counter. Oops. He thinks I'm a freak. I finally got a smile as he figured me out and directed me to the men's room.

 

Later while still in Yokohama, I spot a 10 year old boy on a tricked out bicycle and thought it would make a great photo... I quickly pull my camera out and the boy takes this gesture as aggressive and quickly tries to ride away but rides out into traffic instead. This is on a crowded city street. Cars screech to a halt and time seems to freeze. The boy's fine but... eveybody and I mean maybe 100 people look at me as if I was the devil. Scary. I'm stupid maybe, but not the devil.

 

OK, maybe I am a stupid devil. I loved Japan but was happy to return home at the end of my 6 weeks.

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I had two tours of duty living/workin in japan for my company during the nineties.

I lived in Tokyo for a toal of 5 years and traveled extensively throughout the country.

My current job involves managing my divisions business with Japan so i continue to interact with Japanes and to travel there at least a few times a year. I'm somewhat conversant in spoken Japanese.

 

I could go on for hours about the place and its people and customs. My family and I loved it there.

 

Much of what's been written above I'd agree with. However, they are really not homogeneous at all ( Sorry Craig. This is a common misperception of westerners). Tokyoites are different from Osaka folks who are different from the southern islanders or the Northern folk -even as they share many characteristics in common.

 

No time now- will write something more substantial when i get the chance.

Check out some tunes here:

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I've been reading a book called Dogs and Demons that's very interesting regarding Japanese culture and infrastructure. Worth a look, I think. It goes into a lot of detail about the bureaucracy of the country, and how the modernization movement continues there. I don't know how current it is, though.

 

I have always had good experiences with my Japanese friends while studying at Mason. If it's anything like China, visiting Japan will be very, very foreign, but also a lot of fun. The people will love it if you just learn a few words of their language--the Chinese were very helpful after they realized that I was trying to struggle through Mandarin.

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Thanks for the shout Dak

I`ve been here almost exactly six years. This place is really interesting and cool. It`s not perfect but I could see staying here a really long time-unfortunately I`ll probably have to bounce back stateside for a few years soon. There have been a lot of good comments, some of them won`t really affect you as a visitor unless you get married or do business here. Personally I think my first love will always be China but Japan is a very livable place-probably the hardest rockin country in Asia and if you want to buy a guitar this is the place-puts 48th Street in New York to shame. However the techs are vastly better stateside.

Same old surprises, brand new cliches-

 

Skipsounds on Soundclick:

www.soundclick.com/bands/pagemusic.cfm?bandid=602491

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Originally posted by Greenshoe:

As for whether the average westerner can come to understand Japanese culture, I suppose -- in many ways, by learning about another culture that is different than one's own results in becoming so much more aware of one's own culture.

This is an incredibly perceptive comment. :thu::thu::thu:
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Some key points:

 

Japanese place the welfare of the group above the individual. Their whole culture is based on being a low-friction part of a group rather than a successful individual. This is a huge difference culturally compared to the US. Even the leader of a group will often act in very subtle ways and not throw his weight around.

 

Japanese avoid open conflict at all costs.

Ancient japanese law punished all those involved in a conflict cause they failed to resolve it on their own. So, very subtle communcations often mask deeper divisions. "Very difficult" often means "cant be done- no way". A direct "No" is not often heard.

 

Losing face publically is the worst thing that can happen. Causing someone else to lose face publicy is a very aggressive act. This can result in some very strange behavior that westerners often cant decode.

 

Related to the group orientation: decision making is very long, tedioius process of consulting with everyone. Shooting from the hip is not often done. The process can be infuriatingly slow from our perspective.

 

Like most Asians, Japanese tend to take a long term view of things as compared to westerners who may trade off the long term for short term benefits.

 

Formal and informal settings produce very different forms of communiction. Being very formal and protocol-oriented japanesse will hold back certain information in formal meetings that they may share with you over a few beers. If you are not working both sides of this fence you are in the dark.

 

Politeness is extreme.- However, sometimes it is insincere and driven by the formality and need not to lose face/cause someone else to lose face. The language is filled with different levels of politness. You use different words to say the same thing depending on whether your are talking to a subordinate , a peer or a superior. This is one thing that makes learning the language very difficult. The fine nuances are key.

 

There are some right wing nationalists that still hate all foriengers in their country.

One out of a thousnad. However, my wife would sometimes have a busines man spit at her feet or knock into her intentiaonally. Fortunately this is more than balanced out by the good will of the vast majority of folks.

 

They are incredible hosts when you come to visit.

Its as if they take total ownership of your well being when you visit them. This level of obligation to relationships is one reason they are carful about starting new ones- they take energy to maintian properly.

 

The are very relaqtionship driven. Once you cement a good personal relationship and they trust you it goes a long way. However, It doenst develop overnight.

 

I never had a bad meal in tokyo.

Its a great music city. Many Japanese love Western music- jazz,rock pop- you name it.

 

Per skips comment I bought allot of music gear in Tokyo/Shibuya. Its a crenter for music houses in tokyo- and it does make NYC 47th street look modest.

 

The workers in big companies have almost no life away from work . Work and after hours events with their work group is their life. At a funeral held for a co-workers mother his work-group collegues had major roles in the event and dominated the proceedings. Bosses play a significnat role in marriage ceremonies.

 

There are a some good books to pursue if you are interested in diving deeper.

 

Also things are forever changing and the new generation is tweaking some of the above slightly.

Check out some tunes here:

http://www.garageband.com/artist/KenFava

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I visited Japan (vacation) only once for about ten days, but it was a very rewarding and memorable trip. I can concur with most of the positive things that I've read in this thread, and I would dispute some of the negatives.

 

First of all, it's not true that everyone wants you to eat sushi. Japan has MANY different types of food; here in the US, we're familiar with only a few of them (sushi, tempura, etc.), and in Japan there is a lot more variety to even these familiar styles. A hundred dollars for beef? Sounds like someone got ripped off.

 

I had one particularly wonderful dinner in a traditional restaurant - it almost seemed like someone's home; I had to take my shoes off, etc. A beautiful young woman who was absolutely silent through the entire meal served course after course of delicious and beautifully prepared plates. Everything was so meticulously crafted that it looked like art.

 

One negative - I did not share Craig's affinity for the Japanese breakfast. I had an omelette of sorts that contained little bits of oyster or some other shellfish, and it was a little too mollusky-tasting for my palette.

 

Okay, enough about food. Suffice to say that it's not all tuna rolls and sashimi. Tokyo has plenty of foreign (Italian, French, American, etc.) restaurants, too, so you can always find something familiar.

 

As is my custom when venturing abroad, I spent about three weeks cramming with Japanese tapes and CD's before I went. I wasn't going on business, and I wasn't going to be led around by a translator, so I needed to feel comfortable about asking for help, asking directions, handling money, etc. The advanced preparation paid off, because even though many Japanese can communicate in English, most cannot. I had to use my halting Japanese when addressing traffic cops, travel agents, shopkeepers, railway ticket agents, restaurant personnel, etc. I had a devil of a time figuring out how the subway ticket machines worked, but I asked (in Japanese) a commuter at the station for help, and he gladly took time out to show me how to use the machine.

 

One added bonus of learning even just a little bit of Japanese is that it makes most people chuckle, not because you're doing it badly, but because you're attempting to speak it AT ALL. It's unexpected, and the effort is appreciated.

 

Some random thoughts.

 

My hotel rooms were spacious, not tiny as someone suggested above. Hotel prices were less than I expected. Tokyo hotels were less expensive than their New York or Paris equivalents.

 

The trains and subways are amazing. The subway system is extremely clean and well-illuminated, and the trains run on a schedule, not whenever they happen to show up as in New York. There are electronic displays that show how many minutes and seconds until the next train arrives, and they're never late. Contrary to rumors that I'd heard, I never saw anyone being jammed into the cars, even at rush hour.

 

Most streets in Tokyo (at least the big streets in the touristy areas) have their names spelled phonetically in western letters (romanji), so you can read a map and figure out where you are. Subway and rail station names, exit signs, and restroom signs are also spelled out in western characters.

 

The Japanese drive on the left, as in Britain. They also expect you to WALK on the left on sidewalks and staircases. They're much more rigid about the walking thing than the British are. Nobody seems to know which side to walk on in Britain.

 

Driving is not recommended, especially in Tokyo. Forget about it.

 

Tokyo has a lot of beautiful parks and gardens. I was there in December, and the weather reminded me of winter in San Francisco, cool and foggy in the morning, but warmer when the sun finally cut through the fog.

 

Museums are very cool.

 

Cell phones are seen as a nuissance. Most people send test messages. I saw a man (Japanese) physically thrown out of a museum by two security guards because he would not stop talking on his cell phone. Also, never blow your nose in public, ESPECIALLY when food is present. Nose blowing is extremely disgusting to the Japanese.

 

Kabuki is a minimalist Japanese theatrical art form that roughly parallels western opera. The Kabuki Theater in Tokyo is a beautiful building. Kabuki may seem a bit dull and difficult to follow to westerners, but you can get a balcony seat for a single act if you'd like to get a flavor for it. I found the experience quite interesting.

 

Tokyo has distinct neighborhoods.

 

- There's a place called Electronics City (if I recall correctly). I think it's in the Asakasa district. They have huge electronics stores with all sorts of new gizmos that we in the states won't have for another two to three years, if ever.

 

- Ueno has several museums and a nice park (albeit, this park seems to be the official residence of a lot of homeless people).

 

- Roppongi is sort of a night club district for foreign tourists. The Hard Rock Cafe is here.

 

- Ginza is where the high priced stores are located. It's also the most "neon" place in Tokyo, sort of a combination of Fifth Avenue and Times Square. I really liked Ginza.

 

There are also a number of shrines and temples in the city. Temples are Buddhist places of worship; shines are Shinto. They're beautiful. I saw some weddings and other ceremonies in progress. If you can be respectful (and silent) they don't mind your presence. The buildings are open, not enclosed like a church, and they are on their own campuses of multiple buildings, so it's very different from visiting a European-style chapel or cathedral. The campuses are sometimes "guarded" by statues of fearsome looking warrior/demon type figures. At the Buddhist temples, there is an area where lots of incense is burning. The incense is for cleansing a person before they enter the temple.

 

Two words: department stores. Forget Macy's and Wal*Mart, Japan will make you realize that American capitalism plays second fiddle in the retail department. Japanese department stores are like cities in a building. Words can't descibe these places. They have to be experienced. Consult your guidebook for locations of the biggest ones. Holy cow, they're amazing!

 

Japan has developed most of its open spaces. The only unspoiled natural areas are in the mountains. Everything else is apartments, stores, or factories.

 

Sumo wrestling is seasonal, and it's a short season (June, if I recall correctly). I didn't get a chance to see it, but as you travel around the country, you'll notice that every city has a baseball stadium.

 

Nikko has the original "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkey wood carvings.

 

Kyoto is a stunning city with many shrines and an amazing rail station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

 

A visit to Peace Park in Hiroshima is a moving experience.

The Black Knight always triumphs!

 

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Originally posted by Dan South:

I visited Japan (vacation) only once for about ten days, but it was a very rewarding and memorable trip. I can concur with most of the positive things that I've read in this thread, and I would dispute some of the negatives.

 

First of all, it's not true that everyone wants you to eat sushi. Japan has MANY different types of food; here in the US, we're familiar with only a few of them (sushi, tempura, etc.), and in Japan there is a lot more variety to even these familiar styles. A hundred dollars for beef? Sounds like someone got ripped off.

 

I had one particularly wonderful dinner in a traditional restaurant - it almost seemed like someone's home; I had to take my shoes off, etc. A beautiful young woman who was absolutely silent through the entire meal served course after course of delicious and beautifully prepared plates. Everything was so meticulously crafted that it looked like art.

 

One negative - I did not share Craig's affinity for the Japanese breakfast. I had an omelette of sorts that contained little bits of oyster or some other shellfish, and it was a little too mollusky-tasting for my palette.

 

Okay, enough about food. Suffice to say that it's not all tuna rolls and sashimi. Tokyo has plenty of foreign (Italian, French, American, etc.) restaurants, too, so you can always find something familiar.

 

As is my custom when venturing abroad, I spent about three weeks cramming with Japanese tapes and CD's before I went. I wasn't going on business, and I wasn't going to be led around by a translator, so I needed to feel comfortable about asking for help, asking directions, handling money, etc. The advanced preparation paid off, because even though many Japanese can communicate in English, most cannot. I had to use my halting Japanese when addressing traffic cops, travel agents, shopkeepers, railway ticket agents, restaurant personnel, etc. I had a devil of a time figuring out how the subway ticket machines worked, but I asked (in Japanese) a commuter at the station for help, and he gladly took time out to show me how to use the machine.

 

One added bonus of learning even just a little bit of Japanese is that it makes most people chuckle, not because you're doing it badly, but because you're attempting to speak it AT ALL. It's unexpected, and the effort is appreciated.

 

Some random thoughts.

 

My hotel rooms were spacious, not tiny as someone suggested above. Hotel prices were less than I expected. Tokyo hotels were less expensive than their New York or Paris equivalents.

 

The trains and subways are amazing. The subway system is extremely clean and well-illuminated, and the trains run on a schedule, not whenever they happen to show up as in New York. There are electronic displays that show how many minutes and seconds until the next train arrives, and they're never late. Contrary to rumors that I'd heard, I never saw anyone being jammed into the cars, even at rush hour.

 

Most streets in Tokyo (at least the big streets in the touristy areas) have their names spelled phonetically in western letters (romanji), so you can read a map and figure out where you are. Subway and rail station names, exit signs, and restroom signs are also spelled out in western characters.

 

The Japanese drive on the left, as in Britain. They also expect you to WALK on the left on sidewalks and staircases. They're much more rigid about the walking thing than the British are. Nobody seems to know which side to walk on in Britain.

 

Driving is not recommended, especially in Tokyo. Forget about it.

 

Tokyo has a lot of beautiful parks and gardens. I was there in December, and the weather reminded me of winter in San Francisco, cool and foggy in the morning, but warmer when the sun finally cut through the fog.

 

Museums are very cool.

 

Cell phones are seen as a nuissance. Most people send test messages. I saw a man (Japanese) physically thrown out of a museum by two security guards because he would not stop talking on his cell phone. Also, never blow your nose in public, ESPECIALLY when food is present. Nose blowing is extremely disgusting to the Japanese.

 

Kabuki is a minimalist Japanese theatrical art form that roughly parallels western opera. The Kabuki Theater in Tokyo is a beautiful building. Kabuki may seem a bit dull and difficult to follow to westerners, but you can get a balcony seat for a single act if you'd like to get a flavor for it. I found the experience quite interesting.

 

Tokyo has distinct neighborhoods.

 

- There's a place called Electronics City (if I recall correctly). I think it's in the Asakasa district. They have huge electronics stores with all sorts of new gizmos that we in the states won't have for another two to three years, if ever.

 

- Ueno has several museums and a nice park (albeit, this park seems to be the official residence of a lot of homeless people).

 

- Roppongi is sort of a night club district for foreign tourists. The Hard Rock Cafe is here.

 

- Ginza is where the high priced stores are located. It's also the most "neon" place in Tokyo, sort of a combination of Fifth Avenue and Times Square. I really liked Ginza.

 

There are also a number of shrines and temples in the city. Temples are Buddhist places of worship; shines are Shinto. They're beautiful. I saw some weddings and other ceremonies in progress. If you can be respectful (and silent) they don't mind your presence. The buildings are open, not enclosed like a church, and they are on their own campuses of multiple buildings, so it's very different from visiting a European-style chapel or cathedral. The campuses are sometimes "guarded" by statues of fearsome looking warrior/demon type figures. At the Buddhist temples, there is an area where lots of incense is burning. The incense is for cleansing a person before they enter the temple.

 

Two words: department stores. Forget Macy's and Wal*Mart, Japan will make you realize that American capitalism plays second fiddle in the retail department. Japanese department stores are like cities in a building. Words can't descibe these places. They have to be experienced. Consult your guidebook for locations of the biggest ones. Holy cow, they're amazing!

 

Japan has developed most of its open spaces. The only unspoiled natural areas are in the mountains. Everything else is apartments, stores, or factories.

 

Sumo wrestling is seasonal, and it's a short season (June, if I recall correctly). I didn't get a chance to see it, but as you travel around the country, you'll notice that every city has a baseball stadium.

 

Nikko has the original "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkey wood carvings.

 

Kyoto is a stunning city with many shrines and an amazing rail station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

 

A visit to Peace Park in Hiroshima is a moving experience.

Dan-

Outstanding info mon-one or two end notes.

That`s no joke about Kobe beef, it`s close to $100 for a meal including it-we`re not talking spuersize me, either.

When people go out here, the food is often `nouvelle cuisine` style, which is beautiful to look at but it can take a lot of work to get full, and you don`t want to grab food for yourself without making sure everyone gets enough. I`ve paid $50 or more to go to one of these soirees, then end up getting a bowl of ramen after cause I was still hungry.

Breakfast is not a big meal here in general-many people just have miso soup and rice, maybe with natto-I can`t stand the stuff myself, I`ll leave it to someone else to explain-and bread. It`s not uncommon for students to pass on it altogether.

Good bread is really hard to find here. White bread is still the norm.

Blowing one`s nose is definitely out, but apparently there is no problem with picking one`s nose in public. People often don`t cover their mouth when they cough, even on crowded trains.

Electric Town is in Akihabara, in the Asakusa district, an older area of Tokyo-lots of cool toys. It also has Sensoji, a temple with a walkway for all kinds of traditional crafts. if you don`t have much time and need a shopping center for traditional goods that`s the place.

Same old surprises, brand new cliches-

 

Skipsounds on Soundclick:

www.soundclick.com/bands/pagemusic.cfm?bandid=602491

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Looks like I'll be teaching part time (a friend who is in Tokyo at the moment recommend and I can always do extra hours if needed)

 

What's the music scene like? is there any work available?

 

I'd just like to get involved in the scene and maybe earn a few yen as well :)

"That's what the internet is for. Slandering others anonymously." - Banky Edwards.
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Originally posted by Rog:

Looks like I'll be teaching part time (a friend who is in Tokyo at the moment recommend and I can always do extra hours if needed)

 

What's the music scene like? is there any work available?

 

I'd just like to get involved in the scene and maybe earn a few yen as well :)

some work is available but note the aforementioned space issues and be forewarned-pay to play is annoyingly common here and in some cases we`re talking sky-high fees. There are a few open mic places here and there. try the music ads at www.tokyoclassified.com

Same old surprises, brand new cliches-

 

Skipsounds on Soundclick:

www.soundclick.com/bands/pagemusic.cfm?bandid=602491

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Dan,

It sounds like you plan you're trip very well.

When I was there it was business only. So I'm serious every hotel which was like only three of them over the course of a couple visits were tiny.

 

My comment about everyone wanting you to eat sushi was not meant to be a negative. Because I had escorts they were kinda just being playful with me. Which is probably one of the more enjoyable things about it for me to see corporate execs not acting like stuff shirt puppets, but being very playful and silly was quite refreshing.

 

Right on about the temples and malls. WOW.

I had the pleasure eating at an exquisite temple / restaurant at some kind of city park in Nagoya which was dedicated to and taken care of by monks. They just happened be going thru some callistentics for some martial art trainees while we were there. Fascinating.

 

Another cool thing - beer and sake vending machines on street corners. Though I think that is common in Germany as well. I never did get a chance to try pachenko ( a type of gambling)

Together all sing their different songs in union - the Uni-verse.

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Originally posted by M Peasley:

Can the average westerner really come to understand the Japanese culture, or only a few with an affinity for it?

When folks ask me these questions, I pretty much shut down. I taught ESL in a Japanese high school as part of the JET Programme from 1996-1998. I have so many great and bad memories- the frustrations, the intimate friendships, the personal growth (and cracks in the psyche) the quasi-bizarre Westernesque sheen on millenia of (near) isolative cultural development. They were the best and worst of times for me. I was reminded of this lately when "Lost in Translation" affected me deeply, which suprised me. My friends didn't get most of the things from the movie that affected me or that I took note of.

 

Because of the different mindsets folks enter the country with, there certainly are a diversity of opinions and viewpoints. There are some fine books (eg, "Learning to Bow") out there, as well as websites with info and essays and the like (http://www.jetprogramme.com/; http://www.jet.org/; www.japan-zine.com; not at all a complete or even a good list!).

 

Best wishes to Rog!

 

Scott

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Originally posted by Dan South:

- There's a place called Electronics City (if I recall correctly). I think it's in the Asakasa district. They have huge electronics stores with all sorts of new gizmos that we in the states won't have for another two to three years, if ever.

Are you thinking of the Akihabara, Dan-san? ;)

 

I've also been to Japan a few times. I loved it. The food was great, the scenery was beautiful, and the people were very nice.

 

Once my hosts understood that I was much more interested in seeing the places where they were more comfortable (especially restaurants) than I was in going to American-type places, I had a much better time...not only did I see (and eat) many interesting things, but it seemed to break down a wall that I was so willing to experience the non-tourist side of their country.

 

dB

:snax:

 

:keys:==> David Bryce Music • Funky Young Monks <==:rawk:

 

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Originally posted by skipclone 1:

That`s no joke about Kobe beef, it`s close to $100 for a meal including it-we`re not talking spuersize me, either.

Okay, that must be the home grown stuff. IIRC, the Hard Rock had hamburgers that were significantly less than a hundred bucks. :D

 

Electric Town is in Akihabara, in the Asakusa district, an older area of Tokyo-lots of cool toys. It also has Sensoji, a temple with a walkway for all kinds of traditional crafts. if you don`t have much time and need a shopping center for traditional goods that`s the place.

Thanks for the clarification. I always managed to confuse Asakasa and Asakusa. I wonder why...

 

;)

The Black Knight always triumphs!

 

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