Sunday, March 21, 2010


When I came to Japan, my plan was to not plan anything. For those who aren't already thinking "you idiot", I have to tell you that it was possibly the most horrendous plan I could have come across. It took me 10 minutes to even figure out how to buy a train ticket from the airport to my hostel, and that doesn't include the time it took to figure out which train to take. However, one benefit of my unfortunate plan was that I didn't have too many expectations, other than to expect the unexpected. And of course, the few expectations I did have proved to misguided at the least.

Perhaps the first thing that was a bit unexpected for me was getting to Japan and finding that contrary to many of my rich friend's stories, not every shop in Japan is open until midnight. In fact, most small family-owned shops are closed by 6pm, and there are a lot more small family-owned shops in Japan than Australia. Sure, you can walk down to the local Konbini (the sign above is translated "Family Mart: Alcohol and Cigarettes") pretty much any time of day, but in Australia you can drive down to the local petrol station any time of day and have a roughly equivalent experience. And don't go thinking that Japanese Petrol stations are at all as convenient as Australian ones - some of them still have a day each week where they are closed.

Another misconception that I had about Japan stemmed from how much they drink, but it turns out you can't just take your own countries drinking mistakes and extrapolate them in a completely different culture. For example, I have yet to find a place in Japan which is teaming with drunk people and fights. Of course this doesn't mean that Northbridge lacks a sister city in Japan, but it does mean that the whole country isn't one big party. Part of the reason for this is that a lot of the drinking in Japan happens in Izakayas, where you eat food with your drinks, and you're probably sitting across from your boss. But even if you want to go to a real epileptic-fit-inducing nightclub, you still have to find a way to get home. And the trains stop at midnight if its a week day - sometimes earlier on the weekends.

While I may try to make it sound like everything is always closed here, the reality is that shops generally close later here than in Australia, which is why everything here opens later too. I went for a walk at 8:30am today only to find that until about 10am there were less shops open than the number of bins in public places here - that is to say, pretty much none. It kind of makes sense I guess - if you want to go shopping at a scissors and knives store, planning to go between 10am and 4pm isn't any more of an inconvenience to you than running a scissors and knives store is to the owner. But Japan isn't the shopping utopia that some people think it to be - there are massive shopping complexes that are open from 10am till 10pm every day, but the interesting shops are usually family run ones which are sometimes open and sometimes not. And there are a lot more interesting family run shops than massive shopping complexes.

I guess what it comes down to isn't that Japan is horribly inconvenient, because being able to buy a can of beer from the local Konbini with a 2 minute walk and 200 yen is incredibly convenient. But, just like the doorframes which are small enough for me to bump my head on if I'm not thinking, or the exit signs in some buildings which are at a similar height, or the cheap food which you buy only to realize you can eat it in one bite, or the thickness of my mattress, or the height of my pillow which was seemingly modeled on a rock - business is like pretty much everything else in Japan - small. And if theres one thing I wish I had of expected about Japan, its that when I bought a piece of food, it would be tiny.

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