Travel the World in 450 days

Japan – continues to surprise

Japan continues to surprise us. Japanese may be slurping their noodles away as loud as they can, but when it comes to public outings you can barely hear them. It was so quiet while visiting Sapporo beer garden and a museum! It was nothing like Heineken beer museum, where ambiance is like a Saturday night packed bar; although, it is in the middle of the day. Here in Sapporo brewery – feels like in a library; quiet and not disturbing anyone. Just relax and enjoy variety of beers.
Hokkaido_October 19, 2013_0272
I continue on meeting wonderful locals everywhere we go. I have never experienced such hospitality anywhere I have traveled yet. One day a store clerk even left her shop, so she could walk with us and show us the building that we were looking for. The other day in the park with temples and shrines, a local just walked-up and started speaking to us in perfect English. He took us around  the park and explained to us in detail about Japanese religions, the Gods, and customs.  That is another great thing about Japan, there isn’t, any stalking in the streets. No one ever approaches you trying to sell something or trying to scam. If you walk by a sales person he might politely and always with a smile say: “dozo” – “please”, and no one is asking you aggressively to buy anything.  Many times people stopped us in the street to simply say hi, to ask where we from, and always asked us if we enjoyed the country. I will never forget all the hospitable locals that I have met.
Few times Japanese children stopped us and asked us to practice simple English conversation sentences. Some children even gave us origami folded gifts to thank us for our time.
While we were traveling across Central America we wanted to stay away from the big cities. They were loud, chaotic, disorganized, many times didn’t feel safe, and often felt like it was a one big market where everyone sells same goods at the same price. It used to be difficult to find even a coffee shop. But Japan is very different. Cities are big, modern, beautiful, safe, easy to get around, and incredibly well-organized. There are a lot of people, but you never feel overcrowded or overwhelmed.
At first I was wondering if organization and politeness exist only in the smaller cities, but I was pleasantly surprised that big city like Tokyo is even cleaner, prettier, and people are just as nice.
The big cities, even from the tallest observation towers seem to be endless…  In Tokyo, there is Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center in Shinjuku area. It is an enormous building with two towers and an observation deck on each. It is worth going to both as some views are blocked by each tower. Admission is free and observation decks are on the 45th floors.   Even though, all of the buildings are concrete, it doesn’t look dull or boring, it’s just beautiful.
Road Rules
Japanese drive on the left side of the road, but comparing to London, people drive very slowly, but these are the rules. The highest speed limit in Hokkaido is 70 KM/hr! That is 43 Miles/hr. The roads outside the city are marked with big arrows above the road and in each direction. These arrows flash at night and during rain or snow, to make sure that drivers do not get lost during the storm. In the mountainous areas there are transverse fences build above the road to stop the snow avalanche.
Etiquette in the Public
When standing on the escalator, people stand in the left side of the hand. If there is a group of people, they will stand one behind another. Anyone can pass on the right side. Even if nobody passes, the right side will always remain empty. When people wait for the train to arrive, everyone forms a short line according to markings made on the ground. Everyone will follow and do the same. It is the same thing while people wait for the bus, everyone again will form a line and wait politely. No one ever jumps the line; except, a tourist. Everyone is very punctual. But yet, we have never seen stress in anyones eyes trying to get somewhere. One young lady dropped her shoe while stepping on the train, she just backed off, stood facing the train and calmly waited for the train to leave, so she could get her shoe from the train tracks. No panic – ni hysterical laughing!
Will never see anyone in the street walking and eating at the same time. I do not know if it is a rule, but no one does it. No one even has a bottle of water in their hands. And especially no one is eating on the subway. You will never smell McDonald’s or see a bottle rolling on the ground. Even if it is 6 o’clock in the morning, no one is drinking coffee. But do not get me wrong, Japanese love coffee for breakfast, they just don’t drink it in the public areas. However, it is ok to eat, slurp your noodles, or have as many beers you want, while commuting on Shinkansen trains, where everyone has a designated seat and a table.
The cities are very well planned and every space is used. The city is full of alleys, but these tiny streets are not where crime happens or people throw they garbage. They are filled with tiny convenience shops, boutique stores, and restaurants. Even if they are not lit brightly, they are safe to walk through. Every time you can discover some cute small restaurant or a bar packed with people.
Every bit of space in big cities in Japan is very well used. There are rivers crossing Tokyo, but even they are used for ground transport. Above every river there are highways build on huge columns. Looks incredibly interesting and modern. For some reason, it does not look ugly at all. Highways are narrow, look modern, neat and simply blend in.
Many people bike in the streets; actually, on the sidewalks in most of Japan. In the city, you will see men and women nicely dressed up and biking to work on their city bikes. Women bike with stilettos, of course. The ones with racing bikes are seen only outside the city. You will rarely see a bike parked on the sidewalk, thee is a bike and moped parking garage.
Working Culture
It is another thing that we admire about Japanese and continues to impress. If a person is done serving a customer, will stand-up and eagerly wait for another client. No sitting, no searching the web. No texting or gossiping with your colleagues.  Just looking to serve someone! Working hours in Japan are very long. As we were told 10 hours a day is usually the norm. Most dads spend dinner time with their colleagues, when moms stay at home raising children. There are three weeks of vacation that everyone gets; however, only one week of vacation can be taken at a time. One week, called golden week is taken by everyone as well as Christmas holidays; therefore, avoid traveling at that time in Japan. One more week can be taken at employees discretion.  There are about 20 personal days-off a year; however, rarely taken by the employees, since others at work will have to suffer and it will look bad not only to your boss, but your colleagues as well.
Last blog I have mentioned that 90% of women we see wear high-healed shoes. Moreover, about 80% of them wear skirts. People here in Japan dress fashionably and image is very important. Women here are very stylish, beautiful and always looking great! Most men are dressed in suits as well. It is wonderful to watch everyone walking leisurely in the parks or rushing to work. The most popular color is black (of course!) for working people; however, when it comes to young people and their street fashion is a separate topic. It is beautiful, shocking, and adorable all at the same time.
There is no country in the world where women would dress up their traditional clothes – kimono, and wear them proudly and often in the streets. No matter at what age.  Travelers often stop to admired their beautiful colors.
Smoking and Drinking
Many Japanese do smoke. You can buy cigarettes even from the wending machines that are everywhere on the streets, but you must have a card. There is another great feature of Japanese is that no one smokes while walking in the street. People will smoke only in the areas designated for smoking: rooms in the malls, shopping centers, stations, parking lots, or in the corners of the squares. It is just another courtesy to others and everyone follows.
Drinking age in Japan is 20. Since there are so many wending machines selling alcohol, we were wondering how they prevent young people from buying beer from the machines any way. Someone explained to us that beer is not sold till late and during the day young people are afraid to be seen by an adult braking the law. So it is the public opinion that matters the most to them.


Before going to Japan, I read a little about safety. I have never imagined the sense of safety I will gain while in Japan. No one ever warned us in the middle of the street to put the camera away, or to watch my belongings. Walking in a subway or a busy streets you don’t have to constantly check your pockets to make sure you still have the wallet; no worries about your purse or cargo pant pockets would be cut through.
It is safe, day or night. When we lived in Hokkaido, we never locked our bikes and it was safe to leave stuff on your bike while you go into the store. In a busy street of Tokyo, I saw a person leaving his bag in the chair on the sidewalk cafe, and going inside to get the coffee. No one touched the bag. Small children walk to school on their own, there is only a street patrol near school to help a child to cross the street. However, children walk to school together, usually older pupils are in charge of little ones getting to school on time and home safely. But of course, please use your common sense!

There are no beggars and you might never see homeless person wandering the streets. We only saw two homeless people sleeping on the bridges at night, but even they had they “bed” nicely made and shoes placed neatly next to their bed.

PetsIn Japan people love their pets and they treat them like royalty. Very often you will see a dog sitting in a per stroller or dressed up like a samurai.

IMG_1033But do not worry if you cannot afford a pet. There is cat cafe where you can go and spend your time playing with a cat.Hokkaido_October 19, 2013_0276Growing up and while in high school I remember writing a sentence: Japan is a country where the sun rises. Back then Japan seemed so far away, so mystical, and magical all at the same time. Japan, its people and culture truly impressed me and  it completely exceeded all of my expectations. I will never forget the places I have seen here, or the hospitality and safety that I have experienced.

I already miss Japan…

2 comments on “Japan – continues to surprise

  1. Dawn
    December 5, 2013

    what a great trip you’re having! so happy you’re both having such a great time! Sending love, Dawn & Bob

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This entry was posted on December 5, 2013 by in Asia.
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