I’d like to begin by listing off some of the most common differences that may be noticed by foreigners when they first come to Japan. Since my last post concerning a wide range of cultural differences had so many hits, I find it safe to assume that it is something many people can relate to through their own experiences. It is also fun for me when people share their own personal experiences. I’ll make a series of posts like this over the time I’m in Japan, but the ideas are not always flowing in so quickly (nor is my motivation to write about it).
So lets get started from the top, literally. Hair color. Hair color in Japan is the same as anywhere else in the world. You may see someone with green, red or even pink hair in bigger cities or busy train stations. In fact, the other day I saw blue in an older man’s hair and red in his wife’s hair, both at least in their sixties. However, black, brown, and variations of blonde are the most common. The thing is, every Japanese persons natural hair color is black (my dad claims to have brown hair, but any person with eyes will tell you it’s actually black. So if you would like to argue that some Japanese people have a dark shade of brown go ahead, that’s your argument, but I see black). Now this may not strike you as particularly odd or unusual since it is the same in many other countries, but the point I’m getting to is that you can easily identify someone’s age by their hair color. The reason being that students can not dye their hair color if they are still a high school student.
If you’re not very careful though you can make mistakes. The reason being that after college, when students get ready to search for jobs they are pushed back to dying their hair black. Businesses will not take applicants seriously if they try to apply to a job with anything but black hair. I’m not sure why it matters, but it may have something to do with poorly representing the company through employee appearances.
As you may have noticed, there also seems to be a lot of umbrellas on sunny days. It is a way for people to protect themselves from the sun. For some people it is a symbol of beauty to have fair skin, but for the most part people are trying to avoid developing moles or damaging their skin. Not a whole lot to it other than that. It is something that you will definitely see during summer on a sunny day in Japan. If fair skin is something that is found to be desirable to a culture then count me in. On occasion, I get sunburned on cloudy winter days, but enough embarrassing stories about me.
On a different topic, I recently engaged one of my students in a conversation concerning the power lines that seem to have taken over Japan. For anyone that comes from the U.S., you may immediately think, “wow, there are a lot of power lines on this street.” However, every street seems to have that sort of feeling. I can’t vouch for the countryside considering I don’t live in a countryside area, but most power lines are above ground in Japan. When we were discussing the reason for this, we came across a few possible arguments.
- Lack of room underground. With all of the sewer systems and piping that runs underground along with other things, it causes many complications with what is allowed underground.
- Everything is above ground, why change it. It is possible that everything after WWII, or even before, had been put above ground. It was easy to access repairs and seemed to be a solid system, why fix what isn’t broken?
- Earthquakes. With constant earthquakes, lines may snap underground when it would be more flexible or more efficient above ground.
Mind you, none of these ideas have any research, but rather this is what we came up with in a twenty minute conversation based on power lines. We both agreed that power lines have plagued the country. Japan is extremely beautiful, but since power lines run through some of the most beautiful temples and shrines, it can be an eye sore to a photographer or just someone looking to take in the sights.
Insert next transition here. Many foreigners say that their encounters with the police in Japan are generally unpleasant. In my experience, the police in Japan are nothing different than what you’ll find in the states. I’ve been approached by a police car on one occasion and it was my own fault (maybe). I had been riding my bike with no light on at night when a cop car passed me. At the mere sight I turned down a side street in order to avoid any unnecessary confrontations. To my displeasure, I saw some headlights closing in from behind me. I turned back only to be greeted by a police car. They didn’t bother with a siren or flashing their lights, but I slowed down to see if they were indeed after me. They stopped and asked for my ID and briefly questioned me about when I bought my bike. As they radioed in the registration number I purchased to avoid problems with bike theft, they read out loud, “Aah! Amerikajin!” (Oh, an American). They handed me back my card and sent me off without another word. I guess the police in my area have a warm heart for Americans. I just hope any future experience is equally as uneventful. Fun fact about police cars, they don’t have blue and red lights, only red lights. Another thing is sometimes you will see them driving with their lights flashing, but nobody seems to be able to explain what it means.
Since I’m talking about bikes, why not add a few notes about them. Bikes in Japan are extremely common. I have heard people being criticized for riding bikes as a form of transportation in America. However, you would have to be stupid to not own a bike in Japan, or just rich. With how condensed Japan is, there are so many experiences accessible to anyone with a bit of travel. Going by bike is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to go to the grocery, bank, post office, train station, etc. It also makes it easier for children to manage without a driving license until the age of 18, which is of course the age when you can obtain a license. The fact that it costs over $3,000 may also be a reason why younger children are encouraged to get used to the idea of using bikes.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about pachinko parlors. What are pachinko parlors? They are essentially legalized gambling venues. Each parlor has a bunch of machines like the one pictured below. Each machine is secretly set to a certain odd and allows only a certain percentage of winning per machine. Some people get lucky and others continue to spend money until they hit their limit. The parlors are very loud since there is a constant flow of small metallic balls running through the machines. If you win then you receive more balls. If you lose then you run out of balls and are set up with the option to buy more or go home. When playing, each ball is shot into the machine by twisting a knob. To control how hard each ball is shot, you can turn the knob more or less. If you can find a flow that seems to be successful then you will hold the knob as steady as possible to allow the balls to continue to fall into a desired location. I have only experienced pachinko on two occasions. The first time I won $20 and the second I lost $20. Since I can be quite the poor loser I stopped forever after breaking even. Each parlor is extremely smokey and usually full of adults. It is a place that people use to relax and let their mind wander. I once heard someone say pachinko parlors are places used for meditation and reflection on ones day or week. I don’t know how true that is, but with the amount of thought that is required for the game, I could imagine it is somewhat accurate. One way the parlors avoid gambling laws is by rewarding winners with coupons, discounts, or prizes. I’m not sure exactly how it works considering when I played I received cash, but I’ve heard that some areas are more strict and require the use of loopholes when rewarding winning customers.
I hope you enjoyed the read! If you have any questions then please ask!