Which cell provider do I want, AU or SoftBank? AU has better service, but most of my friends are on SoftBank, and you get free calls and texts between SoftBank customers – and when calls are 50 cents a minute and 5 cents a text, it will add up (there are no calling/text packages in Japan). Do I get the iPhone 4 or 4S? You have to buy the phone up front here, so it’s either $250 for the 4 or $600 for the 4S. Is it really worth it to get the 4S? What if I lose it? That’s $600 dollars down the drain. Do I want to get a car or stick to public transportation? Public transportation will get you just about anywhere, but what if I go to IKEA and buy a bunch of stuff? I don’t want to bring it back on a train. But parking and car insurance are hundreds of dollars a month and if I hit someone the penalties are much harsher than in the States. Hmmm… Where should I live? I could get a fantastic apartment in Zushi, overlooking the beach with a view of Mt. Fuji. But Zushi is pretty quiet except for in the summer. Should I live somewhere that is lots of fun only three months out of the year, or live in a large city like Yokohama where there’s always something going on and I’ll meet lots of people. And Netflix doesn’t work in Japan! What to do??
Problems of the First World.
My decisions were: SoftBank, 4, Public Transportation and Yokohama.
The common perception of Japanese culture is that it’s safe, the people are polite, quite, and helpful. That’s absolutely true. The people on the trains are silent so they won’t bother each other. They have a low crime rate, you can walk anywhere and never feel in danger, and schoolchildren, as young as 5, ride the train system by themselves. Anytime I’ve asked for help finding my way, the Japanese have been very accommodating.
One thing I’ve noticed, is that Japanese value space over just about everything. Everything is small here and rightfully so. The houses, shops, cars, everything. Most American furniture won’t fit in the apartments here because it’s too big to get through the doors.
There are 130 million people in Japan in a country about the size of California, and the kicker is, they can only build on 25% of the land. The rest is mountains. So imagine everyone living west of the Mississippi, condensed into southern California. It’s dense. The weird thing is that even though it’s densely populated, it doesn’t feel too crowded. Mass transit moves people around quickly and efficiently. Many people don’t have cars, which fundamentally reduces road traffic and saves the space you would need to park the cars. I think that close proximity to each other is a reason why they’re so quite, polite and helpful. If they weren’t, it would be absolute chaos. It’s something that everyone accepts and follows not because it’s a law, but because it makes their country better.
The biggest thing I realized after the first week in Japan, is that I HAVE to learn basic Japanese. I can’t point, smile and nod my way through the dozens, hundreds (probably not hundreds) of weeks that I’m going to be here. I feel like an idiot and I probably look like one. Greetings, numbers, foods, directions, basic conversation is a must. No one speaks English, but at least all of the menus at restaurants have pictures of every food item they serve, otherwise I’d be really screwed. The second biggest thing I realized is that there are a lot of Japanese people here. Obviously, right? But, I mean A LOT. I can walk around the city of Yokohama, a city with millions of people, for hours, and not see another non-Japanese person. What other major cities in the world can you walk around and see only one nationality? New York, London, Rio de Janiero, Hong Kong, I don’t think so. Japan is not a melting pot like the US, it has less than 1% non-Japanese people inside the country, and it’s obvious. I’m certainly not blending in, but I had no delusions that I ever would.