12 Days in Japan, 12 Things I Learned About Japan (Pt 1)

Japan has Tokyo, the largest metropolis and the most densely populated city. Japan is also a world power, despite being situated in one of the world’s most inhabitable locations. It was with this expectation that my friend and I embarked on our 12-day trip to Japan, starting with self-drive in Hokkaido and ending with Tokyo and Yokohama. In my 12 days in Japan, I’ve also learnt 12 things about Japan I’ve come to closely understand.

Lightly-salted?

Because of the Big Mac Theory, I have a tendency to visit the McDonald’s of each city I visited. Of course, I compared more than prices. For one, the fries in Japan (I had visited outlets Tokyo and Hokkaido) were very salty.

What’s interesting is that the Japs are one of the healthiest bunch of people on Earth. Much healthier than our health-conscious Singaporeans.

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Hard to reconcile?

Considering that a McDonald’s restaurant is a rare sight in Japan, perhaps Japanese really go easy on the salty foods.

Wait, but what about the miso, ramen soup, instant noodles……?

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Ramen~ The sweet (and crazily salty) broth makes one swim in the ecstasy of food coma.

Really Convenient Convenience Store

The ruthless efficiency of the Japs are what contributed to their economic success and that was apparent in their invention of instant noodles and convenient food. In fact, hungry men can visit any convenience store in Japan and find edible food that could make up a good meal. Bless them if they try to find the same in an outlet in Singapore.

From finger foods like karage to full bentos offering up to 8 different types of side dishes, or half-meals like onikiri for people who just don’t want to eat that much, one can just pick any food of their choices and pop it into the microwave and have a satisfactory meal in minutes. This helps travellers on a budget to stay satiated, which is hard to say when one is in a Western city like London or NYC.

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Eating is Serious Business

Although one can just walk into any convenient store at any time of the day to find good food, unlike the Taiwanese, the stores in Japan do not allow people to dine in the stores. In fact, it is very rare to see Japanese eating outside of a “proper” eating establishment.

This was why, when N and I got chased out of a 7-11 for eating our bentos for breakfast, we ended up squatting by the sidewalk, a la ah beng style, gobbling down food under the polite, but quizzed-out stares of the Japanese passerby.

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People, People, Everywhere

Although I spent a great part of my holiday in Hokkaido, the greatest impact came from my stay in Tokyo. From the moment my friend and I stepped off the express train from Narita International Airport, we were swarmed by people, hordes of people, coming from all sides going to all sides. That happened on a Sunday afternoon, in a weekday noon and more horrendously on weekday evenings.

Coffee is barely surviving in JP

The Japanese is known for drinking green tea, this is no wonder why Starbucks is as rare as a McDonald’s in Japan.

And since Starbucks is rare in Tokyo, it meant that good old Arabica coffee is hard to find. In replacement, badly blended robusta is the norm, served in even established hotels.

Therefore, the fact that coffee is hard to find in Japan, depending on how you see it, is both a blessing and a bane.

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If bad coffee is the norm, then No, coffee should remain rare. Luckily, there are still establishments like Mos Burger, that serves Arabica.

They are very extreme, but tolerant

Other than being long-lived despite being the inventor of instant noodles, or highly salty foods, there are other extremes that the Japs border on.

The Japanese is known to be firmly embracing family values, respecting of conventional norms etc.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are AV shops that span 5 storeys. Or food packaging that are targeted to single-dwellers. Or subway tickets sold in weird combinations like 3 adults (also interestingly portrayed by only male figures).

This kind of marketing is not restricted to metropolises like Tokyo and Yokohama, but also small towns along the highways in Hokkaido, pointing to a society that is highly tolerant of differing views.

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