ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Japan: Land of Fascinating Contradictions

Updated on August 12, 2017

Extravagant is the adjective that many associate to modern Japanese civilization.

'Extravagance' comes to many minds because of the way movies and documentaries have made it their business to portray Japanese culture.

I'll grant you, Japan is different from what most of us are used to in our countries, but the only certainty we can derive from that difference is that it makes for an extremely appealing country to the open minded person.

Non smoking police, on patrol
Non smoking police, on patrol | Source

Japan is a fascinating country, a culture that doesn't have anything to do with anything else that we're familiar with in the western world.

Whenever I'm asked what's so different about Japan, I'm hard pressed to name this or that one thing…

In my opinion, the most impressive, unique factor in Japan is the juxtaposition of its fundamental rooting in tradition versus the most outrageous modern thinking and behavior.

The core of the matter is we can pinpoint many things that are different in Japan, but none of them can explain in and by themselves the singularity of that country. One's got to list them all together, as a string of unique beads, to explain why that wonderful country is simply not like others we know.

Becoming of age implies a ceremony organized by the town hall, or other municipal entities. Japanese men and women turning 20 dress up to the nines to embrace this new period in their lives, supported by the community.
Becoming of age implies a ceremony organized by the town hall, or other municipal entities. Japanese men and women turning 20 dress up to the nines to embrace this new period in their lives, supported by the community. | Source

Contradictions in Japan

I will name a few things that caught my eye as fascinatingly contradictory.

It's not a comprehensive list by any means, just some tokens that exemplify the differences with western societies.

Smoking

This is seen on the pavement in most major streets in any city
This is seen on the pavement in most major streets in any city | Source

It is allowed to smoke in the huge majority of public venues. Restaurants, bars, clubs allow smoking. However, out in the street, it is forbidden to smoke except in some nooks and crannies that are very well marked to that effect. Additionally, there are convenient smoking areas in crowded zones of the city, such as Shibuya in Tokyo.

Apparently, the reason behind this funky contradiction is that public spaces are so crowded (true!) that carrying a lighted cigarette in one's hand lends itself to accidents.

And an accident did happen that was publicly out cried to make this a sort of standard in Japan. No smoking in the streets downtown… but feel free to have a beer and a smoke, by all means.

Tip for smokers

In you find yourself in the middle of a huge city, say Osaka, right downtown where it's not allowed to smoke, and you have no clue where you'd be able to light up, go and find a row of vending machines. It is generally allowed to smoke right next to the vending machines, and almost always there are ashtrays next to the machines as well.

Finding your way around

Source

Many of the streets in Japanese cities don't have names, and the numbers are anyone's guess.

What I've been able to devise is that numbering goes per 'block'. Whatever that may mean wherever you are in Japan...

This means that it may become quite an adventure to find your destination, if you have one in mind. The same goes for Japanese folks, it's not just us foreigners that are street-challenged…


Tips

  • Search the business in Google Maps and print out a Google Street View of where you'd like to go. 'Visual' support comes in handy in a country where most citizens don't speak a foreign language

  • Note down the phone of the business you're going to. In big cities, most (not all!) taxis have a locator-by-phone service, so by providing the phone of your destination they will be able to locate it.

  • In their website, most businesses will indicate what exit to take from the subway station closer to them. No joke, make a note of that, as some subway stations can have up to 30 exits, some being many blocks apart from each other.

Cleanliness

Everyone, including construction companies, clean their space.
Everyone, including construction companies, clean their space. | Source

All cities I visited in Japan are outstandingly clean. Shining clean, and not just "compared to" most of the cities I've even been to in the Western world. They are clean. But it must be a miracle indeed, because there are no trash baskets to be seen anywhere. None, zero, zilch.

One must 'save' their trash until such time as one finds a place where one can dispose of all the garbage. Literally. And the thing is, everyone carries a bag of some sort to put trash in. Everyone.

The thing is, there is an unwritten rule, a tacit agreement between the citizens of Japan, to keep clean one's front yard. Or back yard. Whatever space 'corresponds to you', you will keep clean, implicitly.

I've read that if any disabled people, or older citizens, live in a neighborhood, the rest of neighbors will take care of that space on behalf of the less fortunate, so everyone's citizenship responsibilities are covered.

Tips

  • One very handy "trash location" are the many 7/11 joints all over any city. 7/11 is just one brand of combini, as they call it in Japan. Delis, or all purpose stores, is what we know them like in our neck of the woods. There are Lawsons, Family Marts, etc etc They have big trash cans and ashtrays there, presumably for customers who just bought and consumed something, but …. Help yourself.

  • Another very convenient way to dispose of garbage are the many malls. I would go into one to have a bite, or take a look at some clothes, or use the restroom area, and lo and behold, I realized those monuments to consume were exactly the place where I could unload all my 'stuff to discard', be it tissues, plastic bags from my breakfast, anything!

We don't accept ...

Credit Cards are generally not accepted in Japan
Credit Cards are generally not accepted in Japan | Source

Consumer Society

We've all heard how Japan is one of the biggest consumer economies in the world. It is true. 24/7 shopping occurs right in front of your eyes.

Then how come it's not possible to pay by credit card? Credit cards are only accepted in a few businesses. Tokyo is a bit of an exception, but a bit only.

As everyone knows, Japan is the country in the world where most Michelin stars reside. This means there are Michelin star restaurants pretty much anywhere you go in Japan, primarily in Tokyo and Kyoto.

It's not that these restaurants would require you to take a loan or anything… but they'll want cash.


Tips

  • Bring cash. Don't count on paying by credit card in Osaka, or Kyoto… or anything of a lesser size. It just won't happen. Hotels are the exception. Tokyo is a bit more credit card friendly, but don't expect to find the store fronts half covered with "We accept VISA, Master Card, AMEX" stickers. It just doesn't happen.

  • Most restaurants don't accept credit cards, just cash. If you're aiming to have dinner at any nice joint, don't count on your AMEX saving the day!

  • Credit cards are accepted in pretty much all transportation offices: Shinkansen welcomes Master Card! Yay!

When all is said and done, the question is: For all of those things that we view as singular and contradictory about Japan, what does Japan think of those same things as established in the rest of the world?

Worth a thought, if one's got an inquiring mind. Domo arigato.


The longer and deeper the bow, the stronger the emotion and the respect expressed. Obama probably got a strong approval for his well performed bow, as a symbol of deep respect to Japanese emperor.
The longer and deeper the bow, the stronger the emotion and the respect expressed. Obama probably got a strong approval for his well performed bow, as a symbol of deep respect to Japanese emperor. | Source

© 2013 Elena.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Elena. profile imageAUTHOR

      Elena. 

      5 years ago from Madrid

      Many thanks, Genna! Those bits you highlight are really 'contradictory' to what we live in our own countries, aren't they? But they are the norm in Japan.

      From your comment, I think you would really like it there. I did, so much so that I'm going back next spring!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      "In my opinion, the most impressive, unique factor in Japan is the juxtaposition of its fundamental rooting in tradition versus the most outrageous modern thinking and behavior."

      How very true, and your hub points out many of these.

      “It is allowed to smoke in the huge majority of public venues. Restaurants, bars, clubs allow smoking. However, out in the street, it is forbidden to smoke except in some nooks and crannies that are very well marked to that effect. Additionally, there are convenient smoking areas in crowded zones of the city, such as Shibuya in Tokyo”.

      How interesting…here, it is the exactly the other way around.

      “I've read that if any disabled people, or older citizens, live in a neighborhood, the rest of neighbors will take care of that space on behalf of the less fortunate, so everyone's citizenship responsibilities are covered.”

      In the US, for those of us who don’t take care of our elders, they are warehoused in nursing homes, etc. I think Asian cultures are far superior to us in this. There is a respect for elders too many Americans seem to have lost sight of.

      Fascinating hub, Elena.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)