Time to leave. Musings from 3 months in Japan.
After 3 months, it was time to leave Japan. And not just because I have to. There is more of the world to see, and if I renenw for 3months, i know I won't leave until the very end.
It really is a surreal place. A mass of contradictions and bizare sights, where you never know what on earth is going to happen next or what you will see. A hugely hi-tech country, but one where things which can be done automatically with ease are often done by humans, or supplemented by them. Where automatic parking garages may have a half dozen paid attendants, just to get in your way, say hello and push up the cost.
Where jobs which are entirely unneccessary, exists in droves. For example, a traffic light controlled perdestrian crossing, in a country where Jaywalking is essentially unknown, might have 3 or 4 people with whistles and light waving battons to usher you across, in case you haven`t worked out what the green man means. But come night, it goes hi-tech beyond belief, and guys like this appear...
A country which uses surreal amounts of packaging for no apparent reason, buying something no matter how small or instantly useable without them giving you a carrier bag - often tiny - and extra bits is near impossible, and things are always individually wrapped (e.g. chewing gum) when not needed.
A country where things are so often fake, and deliberately so. Houses are clad with sheets of fake bricks or stones which look fake, and aren`t even realistic (i.e. bricks will be painted on top of each other, not in the normal interlocking fashion), and where things have been made by hand for no apparent reason, despite natural alternatives. A look out tower in a forest over a reservoir, for example, has been made from concrete and carefully moulded and painted to look like wood, despite the fact that clearing the space to actually put up the look out tower would have involved the removal of more trees (of the same type as the fake ones depict) than needed to build it. Why? I mean, Why?!
Japanese tour groups go at an even bigger frenzy to those seen abroad, and where umbrellas are carried by everybody and are frequently semi leathal weapons, especially in the hands of little old ladies.
And despite the Japanese being reknowned as major education freaks and doing lots of studying, schools are often scarily basic and outdated, and pupils are forced to go to cram schools to learn what they need to pass the exam (they have 2, one which everybody takes, one for the university they want to go to, and that is it for their entire schooling. Everything comes down to just 2 exams, and which college/uni you go to is hugely important to your future) because they aren`t taught it in schools. Which is why even though everybody has learn`t English for 8 years or more, barely anybody can speak a word - they learn entirely useless and outdated stuff, and only that needed to pass the exam. Not useable English, and essentially no speaking or listening at all.
Sign in a Kyoto temple garden (any ideas?!)and then in the Sakurajima hostel
Classic signs from Hakodate. The bottom two are both on toilets...
Seeing children wearing school uniforms is perfectly normal on a saturday, and not unusual on sundays or holidays. Ditto young kids in uniform who still haven`t made it home late into the evening, or even waiting for trains to go to school at 4.50am.
Where men can, and do, pass over drunk and fall asleep in the street. And where men frequently urinate in public without it being considered unusual or attracting attention, especially in the evening, but any other kind of littering is unheard of, and smoking in public is seriously rebelling the norm. And eating whilst on the move, or worse, blowing your nose in public, is considered extremely bad manners. You can fall asleep in the street, or urinate against a public building without problem, but can`t blow your nose.
In 95% of the country it is impossible to find an address (even for taxi drivers, which is a new concept to me), because addresses are not geographical. They are based on age of the building. So a house gets knocked down and a new one built on the same ground, it gets a completely new address.
Police ambulance with lights and sirens waiting at lights and in traffic quite happliy. They never go past, as i'm sure they are allowed to. They will even stop to let pedestrians cross the road. This is perhaps not a country to need very sudden urgent hosital care if you are more than a block away from the hospital.
It is perfectly normal to leave houses unlocked and cars unlocked with the engines running. People sleep in cars, regularly, with the engines running, and everybody reverses a good metre or so before actually bothering to look behind them. And walking or cycling in the country after dark is seriously dicing with death from drivers who eitehr don't see you to move out the way, or figure than another dead gaijin won't be missed all the much.
Pachinko, a game which is almost a religion in Japan, despite gambling being illegal. You don't win money, you win prizes. Which just happen to be able to be exchanged in a nearby shp for their monetary value. Pachinko was invented by a guy in Nagoya after WW2 as a way of using up all the leftover ball bearings. Now I may be taking a bit of a leap here, but if you have so many ballbearings left over you have to invent a game to use them in, perhaps somebody was forgetting to put them in things? Like airplanes and armoured cars
The country which gave the world digital clocks, yet seems unable to actually grasp the idea of 24hour time...
A country where everything costs money, and in allot of cases, chunks of it. Yet homeless people live in tents which could almost be classified as luxurious, taking their shoes off before entering, listening to IPods or talking on mobile phones, and sometimes even running businesses from canvas shelters in parks or along canals. And where seemingly, it's possible to get married virtually without knowing it...
Yet i love it here, and will be back.