Japan loves karaoke! Too be honest, I think it’s because they do it correctly. In the UK, karaoke is when you stand in front of an entire bar and sing to everyone in the room. So unless you’re an extrovert with something to prove, or, sound exactly like Michael Buble, you’re probably going to be a little apprehensive.
In Japan you are given a private sound proof room with your select group of friends (or on your own) where you can order drinks & food and sing to your heart’s content. It’s more like private dining in a restaurant than a very public spectacle in a bar. Two years ago you would have never caught me dead at karaoke, now you can’t tear me away.
There is a bit of a love hate thing going on in Japan at the moment surrounding Pachinko, especially recently. According to a study 1 in 4 are regulars at Pachinko parlors. It accounts for nearly a third of Japan’s entertainment and leisure market and makes more money per year than New Zealand’s total annual GDP.
Gambling in Japan is illegal, but utilising certain loopholes Pachinko parlors can get away with it. Pachinko works like this: you go to the kiosk at the back of the parlor, exchange money for little balls, use the balls in the pinball style machines, which, (hopefully) will pay out more balls. You then take those balls outside and (usually) around the back of the parlor to a dodgy alley and exchange the balls for money. And the cycle continues. It would appear however, that the industry is rapidly decreasing due to a lack of new players, and a disappearing older generation.
The appreciation for natural beauty
Of course appreciating natural beauty is not unique to Japan, however, Japanese people do have an unquestionable connection to the natural beauty of Japan. There have been countless books, movies, and music written about the subject, but I have also witnessed it myself.
I was walking to the shops for my weekly avocado squeezing sesh and coming the opposite way were a group of teenage boys doing what teenage boys do best, look like they are about to murder someone. They all had black hoodies on covering their school uniform. Some were on bikes, some were smoking, all were a public nuisance. However, as soon as they came across a particularly vibrant array of flowers blossoming out of a bush at the side of the road, they totally broke character. “Amazing!” They all said and jumped off their bikes and started taking pictures. It’s a running joke between me and Marianna Vlogs that Japanese people just can’t help but take pictures of beautiful scenery.
I don’t know about you but as an Englishman, I can’t picture myself putting on a powdered wig, whitening my skin, rouging up my cheeks, and bouncing down fleet street with a cane in one hand and a busty “wagtail” in the other. However dressing in a Kimono, enjoying a tea ceremony on tatami mats, and making mochi by hand using 1000 year old tools is totally normal here.
I was on a day trip to hike to the top of a mountain where a very old Inari shrine is located (Inari is a kami that grants prosperity). I was feeling positive about the hike as I was making good time, and out of nowhere a Japanese businessman in full business attire shot passed me in a semi-sprint. It was totally odd because everyone was dressed for climbing a mountain in winter except this guy. By the time I got to the top, the businessman was rushing back down. “Must be going to a job interview” Marianna Vlogs says. It’s crazy (and impressive) to me that Japanese people still hold those traditions.
Onsen and Sento
Onsens and sento are all over Japan and they come in all shapes and sizes. They range from private small ones to huge public ones. From open space, scenic mountainscapes to built up indoor inner-city’s there are thousands of them.
Japan’s intensive volcanic activity has a huge positive, it creates the perfect hot spring water. A Japanese onsen is a natural hot spring that is used for bathing. Many traditional Japanese accommodations such as ryokans use this hot spring water in either private or public bathing facilities. Aside from pure relaxation, there are many benefits to using an onsen. Onsen water is revered for the medicinal and therapeutic properties and is believed to benefit everything from blood circulation to relief from skin conditions.
Although similar to the onsen in some aspects, a sento is a public, communal bathhouse. The difference between a sento and an onsen is that unlike the onsen, a sento does not use the hot spring water for its bathing facilities. Instead, the water comes from a man made source and therefore lacks some of the therapeutic benefits of the hot spring water. Both the sento and the onsen however, are highly popular and found all over Japan.
I have never been to an onsen because I have a tattoo. Most onsen owners / most Japanese people in general, have a problem with tattoos. It doesn’t really bother me however, because the idea of sitting in a hot public bath doesn’t really appeal to me anyway. I mean I could just have a bath at home without naked people I don’t know walking around. Yes, I get that there are all sorts of salts and minerals in the onsen water but I’m not really bothered.
When I first arrived I thought I’d have to check in to a super 5 star hotel with electronic sliding curtains and smart mirrors that display the news before I saw my first smart toilet, but no! The airport, the train station, the restaurant, and my cheap share house all had one! Four smart toilets on my first day in Japan! Maybe I’m wrong, maybe England is the only place on planet earth without this smart technology built in to its toilet seats but Japan’s “smart toilets” are pretty much the standard here. You could go into almost any public restroom and you will be greeted by one of two situations. A squat toilet, or a smart toilet. I have googled the price of them in the UK and the cost of them is ridiculous! Here they are so cheap in comparison!
Apparently it’s down to the wiring. In the UK there is some sort of law that requires bathrooms to not have standard electrical plugs in them (maybe an electrician can comment and help me on this one). Instead you have to have stupid shaving plugs that no one has used in the last 30 years. So basically, having a smart toilet in the UK is illegal. If I ever have to live in the UK, I’m 100% breaking the law and having a standard socket put into my bathroom to get a smart toilet put in.
100s of flavours of KitKat
In the UK we have one flavor, regular. Sure we have KitKat Chunky, but that’s just a bigger version of KitKat. In Japan there are literally hundreds of flavors! They bring a new limited edition one out every month. I have actually just finished a bag of lemon shortcake KitKat (delicious, obviously) but I just can’t understand why we don’t get the same treatment! I’d love a lemon sugar, or a salted caramel, or a rum and raisin version of KitKat.
Come on Nestlé, have we not been good to you!? Isn’t our obesity level a testament to how much we spend on chocolate? There are no fat Japanese people! How much could they possibly be spending on chocolate!?
Japan is the most trusting place on earth. There have been so many occasions that I have witnessed a degree of trust that my English brain just can’t comprehend. There is a motorbike repair shop next to where I live that just leaves all their bike parts outside after they close. Seats, engine parts, wheels, exhausts, things that even I know have value to the right people. There are vegetable stalls in various parts of Japan (including Tokyo) where farmers leave their vegetables on an unmanned stall and come back at the end of the day to pick up their earnings.
In the UK, if it isn’t bolted to the floor it will get stolen. It’s why we don’t have drinks, food, or cigarette vending machines littering our streets. Even bolted to the floor ATM’s get stolen from time to time. In Liverpool a few years ago they implemented a sort of community push bike rental thing. Basically you put your card details into an app, it generates some sort of code, you unlock the bike for a price and then you put the bike back when you have finished. Can you guess what happened to most of the bikes?
I had bought myself a ridiculously expensive umbrella last year. It was massive, it was specifically a storm umbrella. It was incapable of turning inside out during windy conditions and it was made of this expensive feeling waterproof material. On my way to work one day I left it in the communal umbrella holder outside of my local 7/11 and totally forgot about it. The doors of the train closed on me and I thought, CRAP! I left my umbrella! But it was too late. I worked all day and at one point, confided in a colleague about how gutted I was that my ridiculous umbrella is lost forever and he said, “don’t worry, this is Japan, it will still be there when you get back.” It totally was! It was after 12 o’clock (midnight) by the time I got back to the 7/11 and it was the only umbrella left in the stand.
That would never happen in the UK! In the UK that umbrella would have been gone in two minutes. In fact, we don’t have umbrella stands outside our shops.