Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Enemy of the State

It seems that every time I talk to anybody about my experiences so far in Japan, I'm either complaining, bitching, moaning, whining, or being otherwise generally melancholy about the whole ordeal. Now I'm not about to tell you that actually, the whole time has been awesome, but its probably about time I let on that there are at least some good parts about being here.

One of the first things that struck me about Japan is that people here aren't all treated as criminals. Comparing Japan and Australia in this regard may be slightly unfair seeing that Australia actually is all criminals, but the fact that in Japan you can buy a beer from a vending machine on the street struck me as ridiculously cool. Whatmore, you can actually drink it right there where you bought it, legally. Or in the local park. Or when you're walking to the local pub. Or even on the train! And you know what? There is less public drunkenness in Japan than Australia as far as I can tell. That said, I'm not about to recommend that Australia follow in Japan's footsteps, because you can't legislate culture into effect.

Speaking of vending machines, the next thing that has struck me as rather awesome is the fact that you can't walk 20m without finding a vending machine in any of the major cities. Seriously. At first, I found myself thinking "how do they afford to run all these vending machines?", "who pays for the land that they sit on?" and "do they really make money when there are so many of them around?". But then I started thinking more like an Australian - "where are the huge dents in the vending machines?", "why are there no giant penises carved into the machines" and "surely with such easy access to the vending machines the drinks would be stolen in quick order?". The fact that there are no bins in Japan, but the streets are somehow clean enough to eat from probably also stems from the the same cause.

So why can Japan dandily trot along without any of the rules that stop Australia from turning into some sort of teen-run dystopia? I think the answer is simple: culture. And the Japanese must know it, which is why they make us uncultured foreign types jump through so many hoops to be able to live here. In order to stop these unsavoury types from trying to stick around, the Japanese have imposed the following rules on foreigners:
  • To get a mobile phone, job, bank account, or any other sort of account, you need something called a "gaikokujin tōroku", dis-affectionately referred to by us foreigners as a "Gaijin Card".
  • Before you get a Gaijin Card, you are supposed to have a steady home address (i.e. not be travelling like me)
  • To get said steady home address, most real estate agents will require you to have a job or a huge wad of cash, if they'll talk to foreigners at all. Remember though, you need the gaijin card before anyone will actually employ you.
  • To be employed, you also need a bank account and surprise surprise, you need a gaijin card for that.
I've seen too many foreigners here who don't speak a single word of Japanese and don't care, people who knowingly break the rules knowing they can get away with it because it is too hard for the police to communicate with them, and people who just really don't try and integrate with Japanese culture. I guess at the end of the day its unfortunate that its so difficult for somebody in my position to make a life here, but I can see why the Japanese have done it. Foreigners here are mostly asses, consequently, the rest of us have to jump through hoops to prove we're not. Understanding this doesn't make me any less annoyed that I'm an enemy of the state for the next 1-2 weeks that it takes to get a gaijin card, but at least I can sort of see the reason why they do it.

That reason being people like me who just throw the whole maccas tray into the one bin instead of putting the leftover ice into the ice bin, putting the plastic cup top into another bin, and putting the chip tray, cup, and tray advertisement thing into another one. You should of seen the girls face when she saw me do it, I don't think I'll ever see anyone as horrified again in my life.


  1. The vending machines really are awesome. I loved the hot chocolates - which was good, because I don't think you can actually get a "normal"-tasting hot chocolate anywhere in Japan.

  2. Vending Machines everywhere, but not one selling potato chips or chocolate bars! Have to go to the conbini when one gets an attack of the muchies!

    You can find bins at train stations (usually on the platforms) and shopping centres in the entrances. Get used to carrying your gomi around in a plastic bag!

  3. Actually, I think there must be a problem with public drunkenness, because when I was there I saw on the Tokyo subway an ad picture of someone passed out on a seat with 'Leave if for home' underneath. Of course it's much better to be drunk and disorderly at home!

  4. Hmm, it is entirely possible, but I havn't really witnessed any public drunkenness yet.

    I guess time will tell.

  5. Ah that's awesome about the Maccas experience. Makes you think harder to be more aware of what happens around you before you do what you think is acceptable to do next, ie. how they dispose rubbish, before you get rid of yours. And you've realised about the whole culture thing hence respecting (although some are frustrating) the laws of the country you're in.

    Makes me think about that in any context really, even locally at home...

    Good post.