What’s it like living in Tokyo? Part two

In today’s post I would like to continue with “What’s it like living in Tokyo? Part two” After reading this post you will have a better understanding of what to expect when you visit Tokyo for the first time.  If you haven’t read “What’s it like living in Tokyo? Part one” click here.

During springtime you will see many people wearing surgical masks!

The first time I saw people in Tokyo wearing surgical masks I thought that they must have been doctors who forgot to take them off after an operation!  It wasn’t until later that I was told, that wasn’t the case.  You see, there are two occasions when you will see someone wearing a surgical mask.  One is during spring and the other is when the person caught a cold or is sick.

In spring time there are many ceder trees that give off pollen.  As a result many people come down with hay fever.  A surgical mask helps to block the pollen from entering the nostrils and mouth.  The second reason is when someone is sick.  By wearing a surgical mask it helps to prevent the spread of germs to other people.  Even people who are not sick will wear a surgical mask to keep them from getting germs from other people.

While taking an extremely crowded train last night, I came across two passengers wearing surgical masks

You can buy surgical masks by the box. There are 50 inside this one.

It’s all about information, convenience and comfort!

Another thing I’ve noticed while living here all these years is that the Japanese place much importance on convenience, comfort and providing as much information as possible.  For example here in Tokyo on many platforms at train stations, there is usually an enclosed seating area.  During the winter months this indoor seating area is heated so passengers don’t have to stand in the cold while waiting for their train.  The opposite is true during summer months.  Passengers can sit and wait in an air conditioned seating area.

Now let’s talk about vending machines.  You will find so many scattered throughout Tokyo.  Many are located on station platforms as well.  Many of these vending machines sell Green Tea, Chinese Tea, Coffee, Sports Drinks and Soda.  During the winter months the tea and coffee are usually warmed up.  Many of the recent vending machines are really hi-tech.

Here is a vending machine that I came across that has a digital display board.  In addition to accepting digital money as payment, it also provides the date, time, high and low temperature for the day and even informs you if there is a chance of rain!!  Where else in the world would you find such a hi-tech vending machine!!

There is something new that I came across a few months ago while I entered the men’s restroom at Shinjuku Station.  That is an information monitor.  Basically this monitor was located at the entrance to the men’s restroom.  It informs you of the number of toilet stalls that are being used and the number that are available.  It even goes so far as to recommend other public toilets in the area in the event that all the toilet stalls are occupied.  Now, that’s convenience!

I recently found this toilet information monitor inside the men’s restroom in Shinjuku Station

There are Unmanned vegetable stands!

In some rural parts of Tokyo, outside of the downtown area you will notice more agriculture and farmland.  In some instances you might even come across an unmanned vegetable stand!  Basically it’s a very small outdoor stand with vegetables on display including prices, for anyone to purchase.  There is one thing that is missing however.  And that is a human being!  Yes, I’m not joking. You are probably wondering, “How does one pay for the vegetables?”  Well, there is a little bowl or box for people to put the money into!

Actually, when I first heard about this I didn’t believe it and thought it was a joke.  That is until I actually saw one with my own eyes.  There is no way this would exist in New York where I’m from.  If it did then people would take the vegetables and steal the money inside the bowl!  This confirms just how honest and trustworthy Japanese people are.

I was walking around my neighborhood the other day when I came across an unmanned vegetable stand!

There are women only cars on trains!

When I first moved to Japan in the early 1990’s I was surprised to learn that there were male gropers on trains!  Since trains are extremely crowded during rush hour, and people’s body’s are pressed against one another, this type of thing would occur.  And due to the culture, many Japanese women would not do or say anything out of embarrassment.   Back then I used to think that one day there would be women only cars.

Well, about 15 years ago the Keio Railway started train service with the first women only car.  Basically, only women, children under 12, males that are  physically challenged and male care givers are allowed to ride in this car during morning and evening rush hour.  This car is usually the last car of the train.  Outside of rush hour men are allowed to ride in this car.

A sign for the women only car on the Odakyu Line

A women only car sign on the Odakyu Line

You know after the women only car was first introduced, it got me thinking.  If there is a women only car, then it’s only fair to have a men only car!!  Hmmmm……but even if there was, I don’t think that I would ever ride it!  LOL.

You will sometimes find women in the men’s restroom!

In addition to information monitors inside the restroom, another surprise you might find is women inside the men’s restroom!  Yes that’s right I’m not joking.  Well, let me explain.  I’m talking about female janitors.  Many of the restroom janitors that you will find at train stations are typically older women (50+).  The first time I entered a restroom in Japan and saw a female janitor there it kind of freaked me out.  If I recall correctly, I think I turned around, walked out and waited for her to leave.   So if you are a man and visit Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan don’t be surprised as this is normal.

Courtesy is an integral part of Japanese society!

Courtesy and respect for elders are very important here in Japan.  Customer service here is also one of the highest in the world.  I remember the first time I entered a department store right after it opened.  The staff were all lined up along the aisle and bowed to all the customers that walked by.  In addition, when staff talk with customers, this applies not only to department stores but all businesses, they will use honorific form of Japanese.  This form of speaking is used when conversing with customers, people older than you and those who have a higher position than you in a company.

Then there is the casual form of speaking.  You would use this form when speaking with friends and family members.  This can get quit confusing if you are learning Japanese for the first time and are not sure what form of Japanese you should use or how polite you should be.  When in doubt, use the polite form.   Japanese frequently use the words “Senpai” and “Kohai”.  Basically they translate to mean “Senior” and “Junior”  Many students will use Senpai to refer to another student who is in a higher grade and Kohai to a student who is in a lower grade than they are.  Business people use Senpai to refer to a coworker who has been in the company longer than they or have a higher position.  The opposite is true when using Kohai.

Discrimination does exist!

If you are visiting Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan for a short time, chances are that you won’t come across this.  However, if you live here long term you will most likely experience discrimination in one form or the other.   The places and instances where you will most likely experience discrimination are as follows:  real estate agents, bars, the labor office, small restaurants, brothels and even at hot springs.  Although discrimination is illegal, nothing can really be done if you are discriminated upon.

I remember when I first moved to Japan and was looking for an apartment with my wife who is Japanese.  I vividly remember the agent calling up a number of apartments we were interested in.  When she told the landlord that I was an American many of them flat out refused.  Even when she told them that I could speak Japanese and that my wife was Japanese they still rejected us.  However, we finally did find a landlord who didn’t turn us away. As for the reason why many landlords refuse foreign tenants, I’ve heard various reasons including language barrier and cultural differences.  If you are planning on moving to Japan, you will have to be persistent in finding an apartment that accepts foreigners.

Regarding bars, most bars will accept foreigners.  The type of bars where it would be difficult to enter is a “hostess bar”.  Basically a hostess bar is a type of pub where women sit with male customers, pour them drinks and chat with them.

If you are looking for employment here you can go to the labor office (government organization that helps you find a job) or “Hello Work” as it’s called here.  I remember when I looked through some of the classified ads of trading companies that were looking to hire English speakers.  After picking out a few companies that I was interested in contacting, the labor office staff then proceeded to call each of those companies.  When she informed them that I was American they all refused to interview me even though they were looking for an English speaker!!  In the end, I finally did find a company that hired me.  But it took a lot of persistence.

The main reasons that I hear why many of these types of establishments refuse foreigners is because of the language and cultural differences.

Here is an example of a Japanese only sign. But the sign above it mentions that if you can speak Japanese then you can enter.

(April 20th Update)

I was online yesterday and found two real estate agents that cater to foreigners.  They speak English and also have  English websites!  This is definitely good news if you are looking to move and find a place here long term.   Click to visit the websites of Daito Kentaku and Leopalace21.

The suicide rate is very high!

An average of 70 Japanese people per day committed suicide in 2014.  Fortunately this number has been decreasing.  Common reasons for committing suicide here include financial trouble and depression.  The most common form of committing suicide is by jumping in front of an oncoming train.  When this happens many trains on a particular line are halted.  At train stations the information board with state the reason for the delay as “Jinshin Jiko”.   This literally translates as “Human Accident”  However, Jinshin Jiko or human accident doesn’t necessarily always mean someone jumped in front of a train.  If someone falls onto the tracks accidentally this is also called Jinshin Jiko.  The term itself is rather vague.

This morning when I arrived at the train station the information board stated that there was a “Jinshin Jiko” and that train service would commence around an hour later.  When it takes an hour or so for train service to start again then it is most likely a suicide.

Info board at my station stating there was a Jinshin Jiko which was most likely a suicide

Japan has a high standard of living!

90 percent of Japanese people are in the middle class.   Although there are homeless people here, you won’t find slums and dangerous neighborhoods.  They simple don’t exist and even if they did, I have yet to see any!  The literacy rate is extremely high at 99%!  This is particularly interesting considering that  Japanese writing is one of the most difficult forms of writing to learn.

The majority of Japanese high school students will go on to university in which their parents will pay for.  If you ride on a train you will most likely see the majority of adult passengers using either a smartphone or tablet.  Also, just about every high school student has the latest smartphone here.  Even elementary school students have phones as well.  It is quite common nowadays to see people in coffee shops doing work on their laptops or tablets. This was a very rare sight 10 years ago.

I remember when I first moved here back in the early 1990’s.  It was at the height of the bubble economy.  At that time just about everyone owned a Rolex and/or brand name wallet or bag such as Gucci or Louis Vuitton.  Although Japan has been in a recession since then, you will still see many people who own brand name items.  According to the Average Salary Surveythe average gross salary in Tokyo is USD$72,458.

If you are in the market for a Rolex there are many places where you can buy one.

Well, that’s it for today’s post.  If you have any questions about Tokyo, feel free to leave a message in the comments section.


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