Monday, May 13, 2013

Japan Adaptation

I love visiting new countries because I learn best by doing and the experience of being immersed in a different culture allows my brain to sponge up ideas and information like nothing else. 

There are many similarities between the UK and Japan, specifically Tokyo and London, as they are both large cities with dense populations. But it’s the differences that have struck me. 

The first noticeable difference, besides the obvious, were the rules around the escalators. Both countries drive on the left and in London the rule is, 'Stand on the right, walk on the left', on all escalators everywhere - excluding the first few you encounter coming off a flight in Heathrow because tourists don’t know this rule. 

In Tokyo it’s stand on the left, walk on the right and this is indicated with little footprints painted onto the left side of the escalators. Interestingly enough, even in the tourist heavy areas, this rule is very well followed. I put this down to the obvious signage - covered in jolly and charming characters whose facial expressions and body language are impossible to mis construe, regardless of what language you speak. 

Priority seating signs on the train
These charming characters pepper signs for everything and I find myself taking photos of them in an almost obsessive way. Such as the signs for the ‘priority’ seats, where the pregnant woman really doesn’t look very comfortable given the ‘action’ lines protruding from her very round belly. 

There is also a very different etiquette for phone usage on trains. Quite simply, you don’t. It doesn’t matter if you have a signal, you refrain from talking on your phone. And you certainly don’t even switch it on if you’re near the priority seating. 

This was emphasised when my cousin took a call from her sister. We had boarded the train and she remained on the platform to finish the conversation. 

The respect and organisation of the culture is also seen in the queuing to board trains. I know England likes to think of themselves as the originators of the queue and lords of line ups, but they have nothing on the Japanese. They have stickers on all their train platforms which indicate which door will open where for different lengths of trains that come into a platform. People line up in a very orderly fashion and I think the idea of queue jumping would be entirely foreign to them. 

As it is I’m adapting well because the discipline is not cold or rigid but from a place of respect. People are friendly, polite, and extremely helpful. Talking to a stranger doesn’t elicit a scowl or questioning look but rather a beaming smile and friendly nodding. It is a courteous culture - so much so that it appears locking your bicycle up isn't done because the idea of nicking someone's bike is so unfathomable. 

I know I said as much in my last entry but I really do wish that I could speak Japanese - or at least enough to sort our directions and be able to read menus. As it is I've been very fortunate to be able to take this trip with my step-grandma, a native of the country and a brilliant translator and tour guide. 

Five storey Pagoda in Nara - my location for day 3

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