“Japan is weird”… “oh, Japan“… “well it would be Japan”, are all phrases you hear when you see an advert that involves a man spouting bananas out of his nose with a banana moustache (see below), and I cannot blame you. Japan can be a little weird, but daily life is not so much weird as simply a little different. Today I wanted to share with you some of the quirks of Japanese life, some annoying, some fantastic, that you can only really experience by actually living here.
So, ignoring the above, which I am not exposed to due to a lack of TV, lets have a look at small snippets of life in Japan that I feel are worth sharing.
Space Age Toilets
Even if you are only visiting Japan for a day, even if you never leave the airport, you will definitely experience the wonders of Japanese loos. The first thing you will notice is that the seat is nice and warm; in Japan you plug your toilet in and it keeps your seat warm for you, great in the winter though its hard to get up again if its cold outside. That may be the second difference you notice if the toilet seat opens as you walk towards it (some do, some don’t). The first time I visited Japan our hotel had one of these self-openers, and as my sister walked towards it it opened and she jumped out of her skin.
You will then notice a panel of buttons to one side with characters that you, a foreigner, probably cannot read. I would suggest not touching the buttons unless you are happy to have a jet of warm water attack your behind. Definitely bad if you mistake the button for the flush and you are not actually sat on the mecha-toilet as it sprays. Japanese toilets often have a flush well away from the button panel, or they even have an automatic flush, minimising any effort on your part.
If you are terrified at the prospect of someone listening to you pee, or heaven forbid defecate (like many 13 year-old-girls at my high school who employed a friend to operate the hand dryer so they could safely function like a normal human), never fear! Japanese public toilets often have a little musical note button that, when pressed, plays a running water or flushing sound, totally drowning out the call of nature.
As strange and unnecessary as they are, I will probably miss Japanese toilets. Having to flush and open the toilet now seems barbaric and so 20th century. Japan, the nation that loves the idea of giant robots, is a pioneer in the field of space-age toilets. It will only be weird of one day they gain sentience or become transformers.
Avian Manner Enforcers
Walking home from university one day, Family Mart fried chicken in hand, happily breaking the unspoken Japanese rule that one should not eat and walk in public, I met my due punishment at the hands of one of Kyoto’s most viscious gangs. One minute I was trudging across the Imperial Palace Park towards home having just taken a delightfully greasy bite, and the next my chicken had been knocked out of my hands and a large bird was wheeling around to strike again. Yes, Japan may be crime-free for the most part, but no one’s told the birds.
Kites and Japanese ‘crows’ that look a lot more like ravens to me, rule the skies of Kyoto, haphazardly dealing social justice to those that feel they can flaunt social niceties and eat in public. My chicken was victim of some form of avian cannibalism and my thumb was victim of a very small nick on the knuckle from the kite’s claws. They are very large birds up close, and only at the moment it is wheeling around to claim the chicken it just knocked to the ground do you realise quite how sharp its beak and talons are. I picked up my chicken, decided I wasn’t going to risk the loss of a finger, or my entire head, and threw bits of it to my winged policeman until there was no more. I then quickly hid my other piece of chicken (safe in a plastic bag) in my bag.
So if you do visit Japan, you will probably notice signs warning of birds, do not scoff, for these are winged justice and you are a puny soft-skinned human, no match for the steely claws of a bird. I read a review of a park the other day which finished with “you need to be careful of falcons, they could be annoying and might hurt you. my friend end[ed] up with 5 stitches on the eyebrows.” (source), so I was pretty lucky!
Japan seems to be the opposite of the US on the burger scale; while in the US I found burgers to be comically (or tragically) large, Japanese burgers feel like they were made for a child with a small appetite. Most burgers you get in Japan can be finished by a normal adult in about three bites, a woeful disappointment for those seeking to satiate their cravings for western fast food. It’s not that all portions in Japan are small; ramen, curry or rice dishes tend to be fairly substantial, and come in a range of sizes from ‘mini’ (slightly smaller than regular) to ‘mega’ (larger than your head), but for some reason burgers are relegated to snack size.
Japanese burgers are good, so its not like you’d only want a morsel; they come in flavours such as teriyaki, prawn, ‘hawaiian’ and many more as well as your standard cheese burger. The most interesting burger I’ve eaten here was definitely the Burger King ‘Kuro Burger’, the all-black burger that was in news stories all over the world when released. To be honest it just tasted like a slightly peppery burger, not that exciting, and it looked a lot like a shrivelled up bin bag with a leak (good thing that ‘taste is king’ because the looks were far from royal), but as everyone wants to try it once, it works pretty well for marketing. The colour is achieved with squid ink and charcoal, and neither leave much of a taste so its mostly just a burger.
Though most Japanese burgers are pitiful, when I went to Tokyo we found the holy grail for those craving a ‘proper burger’, 7th Fleet Burger in Yokosuka has huge burgers. Their full sized burger is a half pound of meat, and they even have a challenge burger that looks like 4 burgers stacked on top of each other. I had a Hawaiian burger (beef, pineapple, lashings of BBQ sauce) and it was heavenly. Sadly my stomach was so used to Japanese sized burgers that I was unable to finish, though I made a good effort. So if you are in Japan and need a real burger, this is the place to go.
That is all I will cover for today but if you find this interesting I will continue this ‘segment’. After my finals finish (4 days to go!) I’ll be able to go out and do more sight-seeing for blog purposes.