Growing up, Japan held a special, weird place in my heart. The land that brought us some of the coolest things – samurai, giant robots, anime, sushi, the list goes on – and also some of the weirdest gameshows and commercials I’ve ever seen, was actually entirely mysterious from a ‘what is it like there’ perspective. I’d heard and read it was very safe and extremely clean, that people were very polite and the trains ran perfectly on time – or else. There was supposed to be sushi and ramen shops around every corner, ramune was the drink of the land, and toys and tools of every imaginable color and purpose lay on every store shelf.
It turns out that many, really most, of the fantastical things I’d imagined were true. The country is actually full of very polite, very clean people.
There are actually ramen and sushi shops all over, along with curry and udon and gyuudon and pastry shops and tempura and fluffy eggs and all sorts of other wonderful food. Tokyo is incredibly clean for a large city, but it is not utterly spotless. Outside of large cities though, everything is very, very clean. The trains do run incredibly on time, with apologies issued at the slightest mistake.
There are indeed stores full of toys and hobby materials – everyone has a hobby. Everyone. And Japan is the place to find a full building dedicated to it.
And there are things I never expected, like perfectly soft boiled and lightly salted eggs available in every 7-11.
And the fact that tickets for the metro and for your food are ordered through these retro, 1980’s machines that work perfectly despite being built 30 years ago and having none of today’s modern technology. Interestingly the machines at restaurants seem to be a side effect of the Japanese cultural requirement for formality in many interactions coupled with the desire to make everything fast and efficient. You can’t change the culture but you can reduce the need for interaction.
That there are stamps. Stamps! In every train station. And collecting them all is somewhere between a curiosity and an obsession. There were not many like me, but I was not the only person hunting for the stamp machine at various stations.
Japan seems entirely capable of enabling any given passion, and despite the formal and sometimes rigid culture, oddity thrives.
And giant robots are definitely a thing for everybody.