My Wheel LifeThe stories of how I got this way, and the motivations that keep me rolling.
12 Things I Love About Japan (And You Should Too!)
1. Presentation is everything.
In Japan paper money always looks brand new, crisp not crumpled. This is mostly because money there is something not just wanted but respected, and thus consequently exchanged on a tray or presented with two hands. The same goes with goods and products. Whether it was a souvenir, a dessert to go or some clothes purchased, extra time was spent in its packaging and delivery and every transaction became an event. I found this practice to be fun, like how it feels to see all those wrapped presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas Day. It also saved us from having to wrap presents at home.
2. The signage is top notch.
Maybe American signs are funny to foreign travelers, too. But I found the public signage in Japan to be quite entertaining. Here are a couple of my favorites with my interpretation of the meaning:
3. The Japanese love American culture and American words.
I was warned many people do not speak English (and that’s true, although most spoke English better than I spoke Japanese), so I was surprised to hear American music in most stores and see the English Language in a lot of places. The funny thing was most of it didn’t make sense, like maybe the sound of the words appeal more to their culture than the actual meaning.
For example, I stumbled upon a ‘Smelly’ jewelry line and poster advertisement for a band named ‘Bump of Chicken.’ Regardless of the intention, I found the effort to use the English language endearing. It was really cool to be in a place so far away that adored my country, and yet know this was not always the case. Also those Japanese that can speak English will stop to help if you appear lost or just lost in translation. Bless those souls that helped us!
4. Elevator systems are efficient.
Most of the elevators in Japan are very narrow, like only wide enough for a stroller or my power wheelchair but certainly not both. Surprisingly this is not a problem because the only people that use the elevators are the people that really need it—a.k.a. disabled people, the elderly, pregnant mothers and mothers with strollers. Enforcing these rues are signs. In the case an able-bodied person was waiting in line for the elevator—from what I saw only because of traveling with large suitcases—I was always offered to cut line and go first.
Other cool elevator design features included buttons located by the doors and the sidewalls for easy pushing for someone who is actually in a wheelchair, no turn around needed. While some had only entrance most elevators had one way in and a different way to exit, which was such an efficient system as opposed to what I see going on here a lot–long lines of able-bodied people too lazy to step on an escalator and too scared to fill an elevator to capacity.
5. Everyone BYOW’s.
There are no paper towels or dryers in public Japanese bathrooms. Therefore everyone carries his or her own washcloth to dry off after hand-washing. Not only is this earth friendly, it’s germ-free friendly. This is a practice I think we all should get behind in the states.
6. They’ve found a way to make baseball fun and entertaining.
I’m a sucker for live sports and there’s something magical about sitting in an iconic American baseball stadium with a draft beer in one hand and hot dog with too much ketchup and mustard in the other. But let’s face it. Baseball without food and booze can be boring. At the Hanshin Tigers game in Osaka, a full brass band played as each individual baseball player took to the field, accompanied with an individual cheer/song for that player that all the fans of the stadium sang. Then, at the end of the seventh inning, there was a balloon release, which was so much fun, like Slip ‘N Slide childhood fun. Never has baseball innings seem to go so fast, and this considering the language barrier. (I still have no idea what was being sung).
7. Public trashcans are rare and yet places stay super clean, even the subways.
So it took me awhile to wrap my head around the idea of carrying my trash around all day but that’s just what the people in Japan are accustomed to doing. And once the idea that I was responsible for my own waste—and it wasn’t just someone else’s job—I did become more conscientious about what I consumed.
8. Sick people wear masks.
In America, I feel like anyone that wears a paper face mask is considered tainted or a danger to society (except surgeons and actors on “Grey’s Anatomy”) . In Japan anyone who feels symptoms of sickness, indeed is sick or just wants to take a proactive role in health wears masks. It’s a little jarring to see at first because it’s something different culturally. But once accustomed to the idea, I thought it brilliant and thoughtful… and then scary. On a daily basis I would say half the people we interacted with wore masks, which made me think that the number of ill in America on any given day is probably similar—we just don’t know that everyone is walking around sick, which now seems extra frightening to me.
9. Experiencing cherry blossoms in bloom is like witnessing unicorns jumping over rainbows.
It’s no wonder all the locals sit beneath these trees and picnic all day, walking through a park of cherry blossom trees is quite magical. The flowers on the trees are just so dang beautiful and fluffy, like clouds, or heaven even. And then you become aware that these trees only bloom for two weeks during the entire year, and so then the moment becomes so much more special.
The cherry blossom symbolism was not lost upon me. It is so the Japanese culture to show patience and respect for these trees all year, just to enjoy the two weeks of beauty that follows. Hooray for Asukura (Spring)!
10. Children are treated like adults and consequently act accordingly.
My hats are off to the Japanese mothers. It appears they are not afraid to do anything and everything for themselves, including putting a kid on the front of a bike, one on the back, carrying two bags and looking so adorable doing it. I also noticed children were communicated to in mature ways, instead of just blown off as being a kid. The result? I did not witness one toddler meltdown, not even at Disney. Not to say that these things never happen, but I never saw a bratty child misbehave or cry in public and I was okay with that.
11. In regards to women’s fashion, cuteness beats sexiness every time.
What a relief to learn not all the women of the world are celebrating duck faces while taking squished boob pictures in a bathroom mirror. (Although there is a huge photo booth movement happening there, including making the subject’s eyes overly big and round, like anime cartoons. It might be equally bizarre). So most of the women dress preppy with collared shirts, pearls and 2-inch heels (think J Crew) while the teenagers dressed like schoolgirls, with lots of shorter skirts and cardigans (think Harry Potter). I don’t recall seeing any exposed boobage, or even collarbones for that matter. I do recall seeing some kneecaps and thinking, ‘She must be really cold’ or ‘Whoa. It must be drafty up in there.’ But then again I don’t do temperatures in the teens well, not even in Celsius.
12. Surprise! The country is wheelchair friendly (way more so than Europe).
I never know what to expect when traveling outside the good ole’ US of A because we are the only country that has specific laws dealing with disability and equality. So imagine my surprise to land in Japan and find my very own attendant at train stations that provided ramps (or slopes as they call them). And then there was the accessibility into some of the oldest temples in Nara in Kyoto and the castle in Osaka. I couldn’t believe how wheelchair friendly the entire country, and then they way people treated me. There was no staring or weirdness, just quick accommodations and solutions to transporting problems. Yes please! (Stay tuned for a full wheelchair-users guide to Japan coming soon.)