Saturday 14 March 2009

Last Day in Japan – a tourist’s platitudes

After my meeting with Junichi Watanabe on Thursday, I am very much looking forward to meeting Yasutaka Tsutsui in an hour or so.

This trip to Japan has been an eye-opener in many ways. Here’s a short collection of impressions about Japan and Japanese people, or things I didn’t know before my trip. Apologies if they sound a bit trivial or clichéd.

Fat people are rare in Japan. Having said that, Japanese people like their sweets

Japanese people are, on average, better looking than Europeans and Americans

Streets have no names in Tokyo

Smoking is allowed in public places and restaurants

Food is generally excellent – and healthy

Streets, trains and buildings are super-clean. Even road works are tidy

Geishas are not prostitutes, and apparently they are not very good value for money: they entertain the rich and powerful with old-fashioned music and dances. How uncool is that?

Japanese people serve their tea very strong – at least three times stronger than the one served in UK

Coffee sucks – don’t try it. Beer is good – but expensive

Very few people speak English, and it’s tricky to find restaurants with an English menu or cab drivers understanding directions in English

A dinner in a good Japanese restaurant is around £170 per person, and it’s usually reserved for the established clientele

Every third or fourth shop front is a restaurant, and there appears to be a MacDonalds or other burger place every other block

If you walk down the street at four o’clock in the afternoon, you’ll have the impression that eighty per cent of Japan’s population is female

Italian and French restaurants are very popular in Japan. I haven’t spotted any misspellings in their names, as I sometimes do in other countries, including Britain

Cabs’ rear doors open and close automatically – easy does it

It is advisable to give cab drivers a map of where you intend to go

You can buy a pocket-sized personal computer complete with the latest Microsoft Office package for less than £150

Most books are printed on high-quality paper, including thrillers and other mass-market titles

Haruki Murakami alternates translation to writing fiction. His translations of Salinger, Carver and Raymond Chandler have become bestsellers in Japan

Female authors and male authors are at times shelved in separate sections in bookshops

My hotel TV has only one English-speaking channel: CNN. Films can be ordered on demand – including adult movies – but no pay-per-view sport channel is available

American Basketball and Baseball games are shown live on Japanese TV

Phoning from a public phone is at least ten times cheaper than in UK

Travelling on the underground is five to ten times cheaper than in London

Toilets flush hot water when you sit on them. When you flush the toilet, make sure you hit the right button or you could have your bottom wiped, washed, combed, conditioned and shaved

OK, off to meet Mr Tsutsui – will report another time, hopefully with photos too.


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