Discovering Japan through the Eyes of a Tourist

My fiancee was dying to write a post about travel, and the both of us just couldn’t get memories of our trip to Japan out of our heads (and trust me, Japan tends to do that to people), so he offered to write a great piece on Japan.  Unlike me, my fiancee has yet to live or study in Japan, so it has been fascinating to read his account of discovering Japan through the eyes of a tourist.  Enjoy!  (PS, if you enjoy my fiancee’s writing take a look at his finance blog, Millennial Lifehacker).

Mary has already written a fabulous article on Japan, but aside from the one week that we spent together there, I also wandered across part of the country with my parents while she acted as a tour guide for some other friends. Here are some things that I noted. Apologies in advance as I am not nearly as captivating a writer as Mary.

1. There are so many Chinese in Japan

Can you tell who is Chinese?

Yeah, I know, Mary made this observation already, I know, but I still could not get over it.  Seriously, everywhere you go in Japan has tons of stealth Chinese people. One particularly memorable encounter was at the hotel. After we checked in, there was a maid who came by with extra sheets and to do some supplemental cleaning. She was Chinese! I guess Chinese maids are the equivalent to Hispanic maids in southern California; they’re everywhere! Apparently they all have the same story as well. They moved to Japan after China started to open up but was still kind of poor (think most of the 1990s). They usually worked in low skill employment but stayed on even as China became wealthy because they got used to the environment and made their circle of friends.

2. The convenience of everyday life

Kuroneko delivery service, very convenient

Speaking of a cozy environment, that word can be used to describe almost everything in Japan. The country is known for being considerate and taking others’ feelings and needs into account, such that even needs that you never thought you had are being met. One example of this are the vending machines for all sorts of things everywhere you turn. Feel in the mood for a drink? You can get alcohol from these dispensaries. What about food? Yes! There are lunch cafes for busy salarymen where you pick the food from a vending machine, and then get dispensed a ticket which you can then use to pick up your hot food once it’s ready.

Of course, Japan is a stickler for environmentalism, which leads to a dearth of trash cans in public spaces. This would normally feel limiting, except for the ubiquitous 7/11s, which can process your trash.

3. Japan is not out to intentionally rip you off

You can get this food on a train anywhere… and for 10 bucks!

Putting on my social theorist hat on for a second, I think that Japan just isn’t that materialistic. They care more about comfort, stability, and social cohesion than squeezing every last yen they can out of you. Case in point: vending machines (I keep going back to this) don’t vary in price depending on where you are. You can be on top of Mount Fuji and the botle of Calpis will be the exact same price (+/- 10 yen) as the vending machine in the heart of Tokyo. Similarly, food stands at the hottest tourist sites and even in the airport charge reasonable prices, as opposed to American airports, which tend to charge double price for half the quality in food.

4. No one eats fruits and vegetables

Wahh!! No Veggies!

This really blew my mind. My entire family got severe constipation because of the lack of fiber in our diet. We had to run to a local grocery store (not a 7/11) just to get some fresh fruit (and this was the only thing in Japan that was overpriced). In the restaurants, there is usually a generous portion of noodle or rice, a small bit of protein (meat or eggs), and a tiny smattering of vegetables. Maybe Mary knows more about why this came to be, but as a tourist who doesn’t have the luxury of home cooking, I was literally scrambling to get a reasonable amount of greens in my diet.

Picturesque beauty everywhere you look

So all in all, I had a fantastic time there. Everything Mary tells you is true (or maybe I just think this way because she keeps saying that stuff to me). The food is universally excellent, even (or maybe especially) the bentos they sell on the train and in the station. The sights are to die for; Japan has done a great job preserving its own unique culture. People are generally helpful but reserved. My only regret is not being able to travel longer, see more sights, or even live there. Even with my two week exposure, I can see why so many westerners find innovative ways of living in the country. As long as you don’t have to work in a Japanese company (again, Mary’s influence), I think you can have a great life on an expat package or as an English teacher.

7 thoughts on “Discovering Japan through the Eyes of a Tourist

  1. Lani says:

    Nice to meet you, Mary’s fiancee 😉 and I like this little twist, Mary. I am so ready to move to Japan, but then you said it – no fruits and veggies? REALLY? *gasp* One of the reasons that SE Asia rocks is all the fresh produce and now that I think about all my Japanese meals, there wasn’t a whole lot of fresh frutis and veggies. I mean, helloooo, mochi has got to be a plugger upper, right? Nothing that glutinous can be fiber-rich, RIGHT?

    • Richard says:

      Hi Lani. Heard a lot about you.

      Yeah this was a big deal. I’m not sure how most Japanese people cooking at home manage, but I think historically their country had rice farms and fisheries, but didn’t have the climate to grow a wide range of fruits and vegetables. The few imports are so costly because of trade barriers.

      I loved SE Asia for that reason. I could walk anywhere down the street and pick up a coconut or mango or smoothie for pennies.

      Haha. Agree with you about mochi.

      • Lani says:

        Right. Makes sense, but I really like my greens and fruit. I suppose you get used to it, like anything.

        p.s. mochi is good stuff though 😛

  2. Todd says:

    “I guess Chinese maids are the equivalent to Hispanic maids in southern California; they’re everywhere! Apparently they all have the same story as well”

    Most of the Chinese Ive worked with were on a student visa or “technical” visa. The technical visa was sort of a scam; they promised them some schooling but instead overorked them in bento making or agricultural jobs. your right about them staying in their own circles though. Yeah, thinking it over, I did once meet one older Chinese lady, she as cleaning a plane, had that story of being in Japan for a long time, but I think she as married to a Japanese. I think the life Chinese had in Japan during the 90s could best be summed up in the movie “the shinjinku incident” Now days perhaps things have improved as rich Chinese are buying up hotels in Japan, and employing all Chinese for Chinese tourist coming to Japan.

  3. autumnashbough says:

    So, countryside or Tokyo for a visit? We’re thinking of going in the next few years. I want to do the hike in the countryside, but Andy is all, “what?”

    How was the sushi?

    • Richard says:

      The few pieces of sashimi (the real authentic stuff) was good. Not that filling though, so if you want something more substantial, I would recommend rice or noodle dishes.

      Mary also recommended trying some of their French/Italian “inspired” food. They were surprisingly good. Japan has a wide range of underappreciated dishes besides the well-known sushi and ramen.

      I would totally go for the countryside, but then again I’m partial to nature more than urban culture for vacation. I guess coming from a big city I’m into exploring something different.

      Tokyo is a nice cozy place to live though.

  4. Todd says:

    I was thinking over what you posted about the lack of vegetables in Japan and my recent visit to a dairy farm outside of Tokyo. At this “farm” were Id estimate 100 dairy holstien cos, shackled up in these dark buildings or more like prisoners in cells. Not barns but like flimsy structures you find built in the 60s in Japan. The feed as sacked made in Japan feed, and some hay. No grazing of course, and very, what I would consider to be stark conditions. roped up in some stalls and a large feed bin outside to distribute to all the cows. Raised on a farm myself I was very shocked by the conditions. The milk product, through kaizen efforts, as probably very good, or acceptable for agricultural standards in Japan and these efforts passed on to the consumer. Outside competition excluded, probably due to some “product inferiority” even though the cows abroad ere treated much better. Once the cows have served there purpose, (become too old) I have been told that they are slaughtered, and this is the average meat that you can buy in the supermarkets, in very limited access of course. we apply the same kaizen/exclude paradigm to vegetables, that is outside cheaper but better is excluded for a variety of make it up as we go along excuses, and the customer suffers in silence, or as you observed and comlained about.. A jaded but more realistic observation. In the tourist mode, the exterior trappings can be overhelming in any country but once you are forced to process the reality of life in Japan, the truth can be a bit more, uncomfortable?

Leave a Reply