Well, as of today, I've been here a full month!
It's been a long month, a lot of fun, with occasional worries and a few missed opportunities, but overall a very good experience. I thought I'd celebrate the last month by writing down some interesting things I've noticed about Japan in the past month.
In no particular order:
There are vending machines everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I walked up the mountain at Fushimi inari shrine - the one with the billion torii I mentioned in an earlier entry - got a bit off track and ended up in the "middle of nowhere" (the middle of nowhere doesn't really seem to exist here, but for the sake of simplicity...) and there was a bright, shiny vending machine, carrying my favorite canned coffee, Georgia brand espresso latte.
I was so impressed, I took a picture.
Kuru kuru sushi and hamburgers
This is kuru kuru sushi. If you've seen those sushi boat restaurants in San Francisco, it's sort of like that, except that it's nothing like it. A wide variety of sushi floats by your table on a conveyer belt, you take what you want, and then at the end you put your empty plates into a machine at your table that counts the dishes and gives your your receipt. The sushi is usually 100 Yen a plate, which makes out to be about 85 cents or so. The sushi goes around the entire restaurant, though, and I believe it comes back around again, so the sushi tends to get gross and kind of sweaty after awhile (at least at the place I went in Nara - I've heard there's a better place here in Hiroshima). But it's an experience.
If you can't tell, that is hamburger sushi. Yes, a slimy clump of hamburger (cooked, you'll be happy to hear), on top of your usual sushi rice wrapped in nori seaweed. It even has a little mayonnaise on top! The guy in the picture above is a big fan of American culture, drinks Coca-cola all day, and loves hamburger sushi.
The Condition of the Service Industry in Japan
This has been the hardest thing to adjust to so far, I think: customer service is on a whole different level in Japan, especially Tokyo. Whenever you go into a store, everyone in the store (everyone, this can be 10-20 people) will say "Welcome" (Irasshaimase) This happens everytime someone comes in, so you will hear an almost constant stream of "Irasshaimase"s while you are shopping. In addition, most stores will also thank customers who are leaving, so when someone pays or leaves (very often both), you will hear "arigato gozaimasu" or the slightly lazier "arizasu".
Even more, the servers will often inform other servers or the cooks of customer's orders. Before I go on, I should note that almost all women and many men use a higher than normal, very nasally voice (a habit I am very curious about) when they are doing this. So, when a customer orders something, you will a long, very ritualized conversation about the order. I don't have a full understanding of everything that is said, but in coffee shops (Starbucks and Tully's are popular here) here is the gist of a typical order-conversation. Remember, most of the time this is in a high pitched, nasally voice.
I come in
The first person notices a customer has come in, says "Irasshaimase". Everyone else then follows, in a sort of echo.
I fumble out my order: "short cappucino"
The person taking my order says to everyone (in Japanese): "I'm going to make a request".
A customer leaves: "Arigato gozaimasu, arigato gozaimasu, arigazasu..." then, going back to the order...
Everyone else says "Go ahead"
The person taking the order says "One short cappucino, please".
The person making the drinks says "One short cappucino" in answer.
This is all done very matter of factly, though it is in the ritualized manner I've described. They go about their business (and they are always busy doing something), firing off responses without looking away from their work. It is very hard to get used to, but I admire it.
However, this leads to a much greater amount of noise pollution than most americans are used to. Much worse than this last situation, though, are the supermarkets I've been to. Here, there is not only a soundtrack (usually a store radio), there is also a pre-recorded message thanking you for visiting the store and telling you to "Please take your time and enjoy shopping at...", and even more, there was one store where there were two guys talking on microphones in different parts of the store recommending various items: "How would some celery be for that nabe you are making tonight... Eggs are 2 cents off today... How about some beer...", all of this very loudly. I had a terrible hangover the day I went to this store, and was about to lose my mind in all the noise. Certainly there are noisy department stores in the US, but they cannot compare.
Then you step outside and there are two young women handing out napkins with pictures of either cute little cats or half-naked young women, adding to the noise by asking you to come to the dry cleaners or hostess bar they are promoting. The next corner is the same thing.
Female authors are separated from male authors in the bookstores I have visited. I won't try to explain this one - I'm sure you can come up with your own ideas.
Well, I've spent too much time on this, I want to get back to looking for jobs, but I'll probably add other things as I think of them.