From Tokyo to Kyoto, Japan is unlike any other country. Here are some comparisons that I couldn’t help but make while I traveled around this beautiful country.
In Brisbane a friend of mine once remarked on how much it angered her when a passenger alighted onto the bus without a ticket – forcing the other passengers to endure a 30 second wait at the stop while this new passenger purchased a ticket. The very nerve of them!
In Japan, more specifically Kyoto, the buses are so packed that even to get onto a bus is a miracle. I found myself waiting politely at a bus stop well over an hour while bus after bus drove passed seemingly packed well beyond capacity. As the fourth bus pulled up my friend and I agreed: “No More! We are getting on the bus” and we did just that. We smashed our way onto that overcrowded vehicle! Pushing people away from the doors, teetering precariously on the back steps, my head pressed against the wall whilst my friend was clung to by an elderly lady, we were uncomfortably close to strangers, but we were on our way to our destination! And did anyone yell, sigh or even roll their eyes? Nope. If anything they where happy to welcome us into the warm embrace of the bus family….Of course in classic tourist style after half an hour of this excruciating bus journey we realized we had gotten onto a bus going the wrong way.
Everyone in the western world knows the drill; Customer service is a drag. Something most people have to get involved in to pay their dues to society. I know for me that when a shop assistant is genuinely warm and helpful, it’s a refreshing deviation from the norm. A relatively speedy transaction with a curt nod are enough to satisfy me of a job well done.
In Japan, everyone is happy to see you! Whether it’s the check out girl at the local convenience store or a chef at the sushi train, the Japanese seem to go out of their way to make sure you feel happy about your decision to purchase your culinary needs from their particular establishment. No matter where you are, you are thanked and bid farewell with a bow. Sometimes they would step away from the till to do so. One girl even helped me find the right change in my ridiculous furry pink wallet (courtesy of Harajuku) since I clearly could still not figure out the Japanese currency. So Kawaii!
For the sake of saving money my travel companion and I decided to purchase a box of cereal and a carton of milk to keep at the hostel. Although not always satisfying it sustained us for the least amount of money possible. No one could judge us right? Cereal was the most normal breakfast food of all….right?
WRONG! In Japan, breakfast is an entirely different thing. This was never more apparent then during my stay in Osaka. In a hostel that was more like a home to a large Japanese family who seemed to have forgotten they had two Australian girls living on their top floor, breakfast was a far cry from cereal and toast. Sitting on the floor of their living room, our fellow hostel stayers giggled at our bowls of chocolate cereal. A large family sat around the table eating 7-11 style sushi rolls (triangular shaped sushi individually wrapped in two layers of plastic of which I could never figure out how to unwrap successfully). One man was busy making miso soup – apparently a traditional breakfast dish. He was then given a piece of microwaved fish by one of the women eating sushi. He proceeded to eat the whole thing (with chopsticks of course). All this food seemed like a terrible way to start the day, but to them my bowl of cereal was just as ridiculous.
In Australia, I get the impression that we tend to leave tourists to their own devices. We would not refuse to help them find their way or figure out which train to take but we might not always offer our services without first being approached by them.
In Japan, it’s easy for the locals to spot a tourist. A tall blonde girl holding a map in Tokyo doesn’t exactly scream “I know what I am doing”. The people of Japan where more helpful then I could have anticipated. No matter where we went, and whether or not they spoke a word of English, the Japanese locals where eager to assist us. Offering directions, helping us figure out the menu or even which bus to catch, they were all smiles (and sometimes laughter at our silly miming). One man offered to help us carry our bags, another offered to help us navigate the train station. A chef at the Sushi train cheekily asked if we wished to try the wasabi in the hopes that we would eat a bit too much at once. We showed him! Thanks for the help Japan!