Happy New Year – 1 Year Living in Japan
Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu. I would like to wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year, 2009. Pictured is a kadomatsu, which is a traditional New Year’s arrangement of greenery made primarily of three bamboo shoots set a varying heights representing heaven, humanity and earth.
Exactly a year ago, my family and I arrived in Tokyo – we were actually traveling on New Year’s Day last year. Earlier I had written about my reflections on working in Japan after 1 year. So again, time for some reflection as we have now lived Japan for one year. I had posted my initial impressions in this blog earlier late last year so it is a good time for an update.
I have lived in the suburbs my entire life, urban life in one of the world’s largest and most crowded cities was the biggest difference. We drove everywhere in Toronto, and now with no cars (yay, no car insurance), we walk and take the subway and trains. You experience and see more on foot compared to driving or riding in a car.
There is crime in Tokyo and Japan, but it is safer here compared to Canada and the US. You see lots of police on the streets, but they don’t seem to have much to do except give directions or direct traffic. My 12 year old son (who by the way has grown a lot this past year and is taller than his mother now) walks to school and takes the subway by himself.
Yes, Tokyo is very crowded, but unlike Hong Kong, which is also very crowded as we experienced during our recent visit this Christmas (trip report in a future blog post soon), you don’t feel too uncomfortable as Japanese people are very respectful of each other. Long lineups seem to move faster, probably because people are very orderly and patient. Although reminders are found in the Tokyo subway manner posters, I found Japanese people to be generally very well mannered – speak in low tones, no talking on mobile phones in public, no eating in public, umbrella manners, bowing and greeting (being greeted many times when entering and exiting stores, restaurants), etc.
As with my experience at work, communication is a challenge living in Tokyo. Although most subway and road signage have English also, it is surprising for a major cosmopolitan city like Tokyo that people do not know English. We are all trying to learn Japanese, but I am failing miserably.
Finally, a summary of other items, many I have previously blogged about:
- Food: More fish, less meat – typically smaller portions and better quality
- Walk (and drive) on the left – watch out
- No garbage cans – garbage is sorted in the workplace, at home and in public
- Lots of vending machines – 1 machine for every 23 people selling all kinds of stuff
- Lots of convenience stores – on every street corner it seems, very convenient
- Department store basement food markets – wide variety of food, both fresh and prepared
- No tipping – customer always receives excellent service
- Typically use of cash instead of credit card – probably not a bad thing these days
- Excess packaging – this may drive you crazy, or it may not
- Japanese toilets called Washlets – you may need a manual to use
- Numerous small earthquakes – get used to them, but they are only minor tremors so no worries (until the big one)
- Blazing fast internet speeds – #1 in the world
Overall, we have all enjoyed living in Tokyo for the past year and are looking forward to more new and exciting adventures. We plan to see other regions of Japan as well as a visit to other Asian countries.
Note: These are my own personal observations only. Other foreigners or locals living in Tokyo may have completely different experiences. This is fine as we are all unique and have different backgrounds.