12 Days in Japan, 12 Things I Learned About Japan (Pt 2)

I last left off with how extreme the Japanese are (see the last post here). Not that there is going to be a direct link, since the purpose of lists is to do away with making connections in between points.

But Japan, as one of the largest economies (2nd, for a few decades till a few years back), do have many things to wow at. Efficiency, attention to details… Their culture and values can teach us a lot of things. For one, their way of living tells me that…

Stagnation Does Not Necessarily Equate To A Bad Thing

Everywhere, people are either commuting to work or shopping. Yes, they aren’t just window shopping. They would even stop to look at and buy stuff when people are pushing past them. It gave me the realization that even though the Western world lament about Japan’s 20-year long economic stagnation, that does not mean their economy is declining. It just meant they are not growing. And with such bustling economy, how much more do you expect it to grow?

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Attention To Details

I first took a long-distance train when I visited Edinburgh (via London). I was impressed by the fact that the train operator allocated space for commuters to leave their big luggage by the door, so that commuters could have a comfortable ride. Across the channel at Paris, cross continent to US East Coast and back in Asia’s Taipei, I knew to board quickly to ‘chope’ a space for my luggage. But there was one common theme:

I had to constantly look back to check on my luggage.

So when I saw this number lock on Tokyo’s train, I was super impressed. Why didn’t the other ‘advanced’ cities provide this?

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Walking Is The Secret To Healthy Living Of The Japanese

It was said that the famous Shinjuku station (where we alighted) had over 100 exits. Technically, it is an interchange. Unlike Singapore’s Raffles Place MRT interchange, in which changing to another line meant walking across the platform, or an escalator ride away, changing lines at Shinjuku can mean a 10-min walk between 2 stations linked by an underground passageway and loosely grouped together to be called a single station.

Imagine tugging at luggage in people-filled Tokyo underground. That trip could take 20 minutes.

However, this seemed like the norm for the Japs and with such constant walking day in day out, it’s no wonder they could mostly maintain a lean body.

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This photo was taken at the Tokyo station. The scary swarm of people are also in Shinjuku underground, Ginza above ground, and basically everywhere I turned in Tokyo.

 

In fact, do not assume that the shortest journey could be achieved by changing lines.

It is possible to get to Ginza, from Tokyo station, by walking the street. And since Ginza has a train station, and there is rail link from Tokyo to Ginza (via 2 different lines), it is also logical that one could take the train from Tokyo station to Ginza.

Except that the walk in the Hibiya interchange took 10 minutes, which was also about the time Google Maps showed, should one choose to walk directly to Ginza on foot.

Singapore Has A Lot Of Similarities

Except for the ryokan stay at Jozankei, and the Japanese words, much of everything else in Japan is very much infused with Western cultures. From pastries to fashion, to electronics and to buildings.

One of our stays, located in between Furano and Sapparo (via the Southern Highway) was Yorkshire Farm. From the room to the food and to the roaming sheep in the rolling field, it felt more like a farmstay in Australia with a Japanese flavour, rather than the other way round.

This is much like Singapore, where many things are Westernised, and the only ‘colour’ that differentiated us from other western cities was the varying infusion of racial cultures.

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When we moved to Yokohoma, we were even stunned by the similarities to Singapore. From the style of buildings to street designs, the core region of Yokohama evoked the feeling of being in Suntec area.

However, given the close ties that Singapore and Japan has, and how Japan products are in our everyday lives (the MRT lines, elevators and everything sweet and cute), it seemed logical to say that we are an economic outpost of sorts of Japan.

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It’s OK To Be Alone In JP

One aspect of other big cities that Singapore does not have, is the presence of a large pool of young migrant workers. Other cities thrive because young people from all over the host country move into the cities to find employment. As a city-state, this migration is highly controlled and restricted in Singapore.

As a result, Tokyo has many young bachelors which spurred demand for products and services packaged for them. In Singapore, food packaging are always found in family-packs, meaning bachelors usually have to eat the same food for a week, or dine out. Walking through the supermarkets of Japan (even in small towns of Shintoku), I could feel the excitement of staying in Japan as a bachelor!

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This bag of mushroom is about as large as the bottle of toothpicks placed beside it for comparison. It could be finished in 1 day for a bachelor, which meant either getting to eat different food everyday, or having no worries that un-eaten portions of food turn bad and go to waste.

 

Even when they decide to dine out, Singapore’s culture is such that dining establishments cater mainly to families with kids. The only places in Singapore that has majority of seating arranged in pairs are those that cost 3 times the average diners’.

In Japan, counters and small tables are abound and they meant that people can dine alone, albeit with strangers. However, that meant dining out becomes affordable for singles.

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The Right-Most Lane Is Really The Overtaking Lane

One of the delights of driving in Japan is that it is a delight to drive in Japan. People signal ahead in time, and they really stick to the rule of “keep left unless overtaking” when driving.

Most parts of the Hokkaido highways are single-lane. When they do diverge (usually for a distance of a few KMs, for the purpose of overtaking), more confident drivers would take the right most lane, over take the slower cars in front, and immediately filter back to the left most lane once they find a comfortable spot.

For the most part of the journey, the right-most lanes are actually empty.

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