Friday, February 6, 2009

Things I love about Japan, Part 1

We have been here for a couple of weeks and are settling in nicely. Already there are certain things about Japan that I love (as a side note, how many of you are surprised that I am leading with things I love vs. things I hate?! Be honest...):

1) Crosswalks. Yes, you read that right - crosswalks. The Japanese have figured out a perfect system that works for both pedestrians and cars. Here is how it works:
  • Traffic lights in all directions are red so no cars are going, green "walk" signals come on in all directions so pedestrians have the run of the intersection - you can walk across the main road, across the side road...caddy corner - you have free reign! At the bigger intersections, the walk signals often have a countdown feature so you know how long it will stay green and they also play music or talk when you are allowed to walk. The walk signals also flash when they are about to turn red - very helpful.
  • Walk signals for crossing the main road turn red and the traffic lights for the main road turn green - cars are moving along the main roads and people can walk along them still crossing the side roads.
  • Walk signals in all directions are red, traffic lights for the main road turn red and traffic lights for side roads are green - no pedestrian traffic allowed across any of the roads so the cars on the side roads can easily go straight or make turns without fighting pedestrians.
  • Cycle repeats.

I love, love this system because it allows a pedestrian to cross on a diagonal (like right in front of Pike's Market) and it is easier for cars to turn because they don't have to fight pedestrians. Also, the walk signals convey a lot more info than in Seattle.

2) Grocery Stores. I love grocery shopping in the US so it was a pleasant surprise to find that I also love it here. Plus with me having 24 hours of free time a day, it is good to have a daily errand. Grocery stores in Japan (the ones I have been in thus far) have a very good selection of ready-to-eat items, frozen items, fresh produce and fruit, packaged items, staples, etc. I find the ready-to-eat section indispensable since we only have a tiny fridge and microwave. The quality of the food in this section far surpasses what I have been able to find stateside. For instance, they always have sushi out. The Japanese have rules about how long sushi can be in a display case so they meticulously put out new, fresh sushi all day (as a bonus they mark down the old sushi right before taking it you can imagine, Tom loves this feature). Plus, and this is the best part, they all have little bakeries inside them. They still have an aisle of packaged carb goodies (bread, rolls, doughnuts, etc) but they pale in comparison to the fresh-baked choices. This little feature has made my daily trip to the grocery store a bit of a land mine. However since we walk or bike everywhere, I have no trouble justifying my new pastry a day habit.

3) Not understanding the language. So this is a little bit of the ol' love/hate scenario. The thing I love about not understand the language is that I don't get sucked into everything little thing going on around me. Let me explain...I went onto the Naval Base to mail a package to my sister. The post office on the base is no different than a post office in Seattle...except you have to fill out a customs form to mail anything besides a simple letter. The lady in front of me was having a very difficult time with this and the nice guy helping her (the only person working at this particular time) explained over and over and over how to accomplish this. Needless to say by the time she was done and it was my turn I was super annoyed and frazzled - I mean how hard is it to make a list of what you are sending and sign your name?! A couple of days later I am at the grocery store and the lady in front of me is having some problem with something...I have no idea what...maybe something got rang up twice, maybe she thought a price was wrong...who knows! I was standing behind this woman easily as long as the post office lady but since I had no idea what they were saying, I stayed totally calm. In both situations I wasn't in any particular hurry (remember, I have 24 hours of free time) but just by understanding what was going on, I got sucked into the situation and my mood was affected. I plan on taking this realization back to Seattle. It won't be quite as easy since I happen to understand English quite well but the moral of not letting every little thing that occurs around you occur to you is a good one to hold onto.

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