Fair warning, this post may be long and/or fairly random. What's new, right? I know!! I keep telling myself to catch up so I can do shorter, more frequent posts, but then I don't. I feel like Italy is my time to change. There will just be too many gelato reports to risk getting behind. So yeah, time to change. That is, if I can catch up on these 16 hours of travel we got going on today** (Tokyo --Moscow--Rome....Sayonara, Japan, you were pretty cool, and hopefully I get through explaining the coolness by the time we land...)
**Didnt happen, now in Rome. I blame Russia and their stinginess with WIFI. Always blame the Russians.
Geesh, even my disclaimer was long.
HERE. WE. GO!
I'll try to go through the location highlights in the next blog, but for now, I've cooked up a little list on the surprising/weird and SometimesOnlyInterestingToMe things we've learned so far about Japan:
CONVENIENCE STORES - I KNOW! It's pretty much the only other thing I already talked about besides toilets but guess what, here it is again. Serously, this country does convenience stores right. They take that word literally. Why are American convenience stores so shitty? And is 7-Eleven secretly really a Japanese company (which would admittedly be surprising given it's English name) and we got the dumbed-down version? They have fresh ready -made food delivered multiple times a day, and before we got here someone we met in Vietnam went out of his way to recommend Family Mart (7Eleven's assumed nemesis) fried chicken.
Let that sit in. In a country with delicious things like fresh sushi, someone who lived here and loved Japanese food recommended convenience store fried chicken.
HELLO KITTY - I assumed this sassy cat would be everywhere and she really delivered...sometimes in the most random places, from holding up road barriers (??!) to temple offerings. Buddha loves him some Hello Kitty.
CLEAN YO HANDS! - wet naps or wet wasclothes are given to you everywhere before a meal, no matter the place or how casual. It's awesome. We are so sanitary.
BOOTY SHORTS -
I meant to look this up when I had wifi but every touristy place we went there were guys who could give you a ride in a little cart (ricksham?) that they would pull on foot (agh, worst job!) and they all were wearing, what I can only assume are officially called, "Traditional Japanese Booty Shorts." I choose to believe there's a reason rooted in the days of yore (like, 7-800 years ago "yore") but even if not, I appreciated the view. I assume Adam did, too, obviously. The Japanese are a good looking bunch, no one can deny.
EAT YO VEGGIES! - Or, we would, if we could. It felt really hard to eat vegetables here, which I've been surprised by. I see the gardens, the fields...this is still an agricultural country, damnit! We sought out a vegetarian place last night just for the purpose of vegetables and still only had a portion of vegetables that the USDA food pyramid would find completely insufficient. I think our daily diet is about 87% noodles, rice or bread, 3% veg, 10% sake.
MAGIC MIRRORS - with all the gadgets , technology and innovation from this country, this may SEEM like a silly thing to be impressed by, but MAN, Japan has nailed the fogged up bathroom mirror problem. I'm no scientist, but I think they fixed the issue by magic. Yeah, pretty sure thats it. Or heating that portion of the mirror continually. Whatever it is, it's awesome.
CUISINE - Here is a list of food I would not have associated with Japan previously, but now will because they are everywhere, and seemingly all the rage:
1. pork cutlet (tonkatsu)
2. fried chicken (karaage)
3. egg salad sandwich (um, egg salad sandwich)
4. soft serve ice cream (yeah, same?)
5. pancakes (i dunno)
Two of these items on the list are consumed daily by us. Sometimes more. If you guessed ice cream and egg salad (random, I get it), you would be correct. Also, they love cutting crust off sandwiches. I'm not particularly against crust but I view this as a positive action.
In fact, I just ate a pork cutlet / egg salad/ something-that-resembled-mashed potatoes sandwich combo from a convenience store (obviously).
Yes, mashed potato sandwich, I said.
THAT'S AMORE - my unofficial survey of restaurants in Japan determined that there are as many Italian restaurants as Japanese restaurants. They freakin' love them some Italian. And if we weren't going directly to the source next, I would have (forced Adam) to go to some Italian spots, too. Unbelievable as it is to say it, we got kinda sick of Japanese food by the end (see: EAT YO VEGGIES)
STAY WITHIN THE LINES - this is a country of order. From the trains to the sidewalks to basically everywhere you go on foot there are signs and lines and directions about where to walk and stand and bike and people (generally) stick to it! What?! I'd love to see that kinda order in the USA. It's amazing (yes, DC metro, I'm looking at you. Mostly, DC tourists I'm looking at you!) But! With all this admiration for order there is one thing they do that irks me - they put bike lanes on the sidewalk. What? Get out of here, bikers! There's like, a million people on the sidewalk, go brave the road already!
But....coming from Vietnam, where the sidewalks were for strictly for moped parking and the streets were for pedestrians+cars+mopeds+driving-laws-as-light-suggestions-or-theory, I'll take the dumb bikes.
TRASH - is amazingly non-existent here. This is a ridiculously clean country and that's also awesome coming from Vietnam (man, that's a whole 'nother post). But if you happen to be holding trash, and need to get rid of it, good luck. It was always easier to find recycling than trash, and while a bit annoying, was wow, inspiring. Because it means, generally, people here take it with them.
SNEEZING- maybe this isn't a culture-wide thing, because if I'm honest, I'm making this comment off of literally one example - but - I'm not sure "covering your mouth while you sneeze" is a thing here. I saw a guy sneeze 4 times on his wife's back in a train station -loudly, and emphatically- and she was all like, meh, no big deal.
What. The. Hell.
SOLUTION TO CROWDED TRAIN STATION WALKWAYS - is walking up the escalators. Because absolutely no one in this country walks the escalator. But you can be DAMN sure they all stand politely to one side to let (I assume, just us) pass. Looking at you, again, DC tourists. Looking at you.
SMOKING - Kinda surprised by this one but there is smoking allowed inside almost everywhere, or, smoking rooms are provided.
OTHER SIDE DRIVING - hey! They drive on the other side here, too! Boring note? Kind of. But hey, that means you also WALK on the other side (of their marked and divided sidewalks). You gotta know that shit so you don't wildly embarrass yourself just by walking wrong. Yeah, still kinda boring. Oh well. Also, since more countries we've visited DO drive on he other side than not (NZ, Australia, Japan), I now find myself questioning which side is normal in the US. My brain is scrambled.
PORTIONS- are freaking huge. How are Japanese people so small?
We had two "traditional" Japanese meals and they were the craziest of all. You sit down to a start of maybe 8 dishes, some small, some large, but probably enough, as is. Then more things keep coming out, and after each one you think, well that HAS to it, right? And then nope, more food. Dont get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I'm just confused.
There ya go. JAPAN!! Now go buy your own child-sized ninja suit!