Life in Japan – Part 3

Written on October 2, 2010. Written by .

Hokoku-ji
Bamboo forest in Kamakura.

It’s been a month since I came to Japan! Tokyo is indeed expensive…

The total is $2177. It can definitely be done a lot cheaper if you are willing to share a bedroom or live further from central Tokyo, but even then it won’t be that cheap. On top of all that, I broke my camera while trying to take a picture of the Ferris wheel in Yokohama. I had my umbrella strap around my wrist and I thought it was my camera strap, so I wasn’t being very careful and I dropped it from a railing I was resting it on. I wasn’t too upset though because it gave me a good reason to get a new camera. I ended up buying the Canon Kiss X3 (EOS 500D/Digital Rebel T1i) DSLR. So now I’m trying to learn how to use it so I can take some nice pictures while I’m here.

Daibutsu
Giant Buddha statue in Kamakura.

The same day I went to Yokohama, I also went to Kamakura, which is one of the old capitals of Japan. This is where I visited the famous giant Buddha statue and a serene Japanese teahouse in a bamboo forest.  I wish it was easier to find such peaceful places.

Even though I’ve been really busy working and studying at the library lately, I’ve had many good opportunities to practice Japanese.  Today I went to a Japanese learning club where I talked for 5 hours straight in Japanese — my longest ever.  And on my birthday, my friend invited her coworkers to come celebrate with us, so I got to experience a little bit of the Japanese custom of after-work dinner with coworkers. Also, the friend I met in Roppongi introduced me to another one of his friends and we all had an interesting conversation at  a restaurant called Saizeriya, which is definitely one of the  most affordable diners in Tokyo.

Another way to get really affordable food in Tokyo is to go to fancy Japanese traditional restaurants for lunch. Yon can eat in the same beautiful tatami room and have delicious sashimi or grilled meat dishes for under 1000 Yen.  After going to such a restaurant, my friend and I tried going to the Akasaka estate, which was labeled like a park on my map. When we get there, the guard told us that visitor are not allowed. At first I was surprised because it looked like one of the biggest parks in Tokyo, but the guard explained that it was the private residence of the Emperor’s heir. I was really curious and asked about how the imperial family got such a sweet deal. He explained that the Japanese government gives a lot of Japanese taxpayer money to this one family for no reason!  Actually, that’s a pretty loose translation because he was being employed with that money and seemed a little awkward answering the question. I later read in my guidebook that this is somewhat of a taboo subject in Japan.

Hokoku-ji
Near the entrance to the bamboo forest in Kamakura.

I also discovered another taboo while walking through the crowded streets of Shinjuku: the black propaganda vans. There is a group of radicals who want Japan to return the imperialistic glory of the “Axis of Evil” era.  They mount giant speakers to the roofs of black vans with the old Japanese flag painted on the side and blast war music to the masses. The best part is that everyone completely ignores them; I didn’t see anyone else look at the van.

Recently I made an interesting cultural observation.  It is well known that Japanese people are less inclined to argue, but perhaps less well known is the consequence that rules are more strict. As I see it, being strict doesn’t pay in America because it frustrates people and they defiantly scorn unnecessary rules and requests. But in Japan, people will generally just obey the rules, so businesses take advantage of the easy compliance. For example, I was made to redo a two-page form because I wrote it in pencil, despite the fact that there were no instructions.  But on the other hand, many Japanese think America is strict because in Japan you can buy Alcohol at any street corner convenience store 24 hours a day without showing a license, drink it on the street, and then take a leak on the sidewalk. Go Japan!

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