Culture Shocks and Other Surprises

On October 27, 2016, in English, Life in Japan, by 01. Hannah

For someone who moved to a new country but 3 months ago I feel I am quite well adjusted. I didn’t experience as much of a culture shock as lots of people do. I credit this to the fact that I spent 5 years taking lessons in Japanese language and culture prior to my move. Within the first week I had gotten used to the city, the trains, the food (and eating with chopsticks) and speaking in Japanese (though not well) on a daily basis. It may seem silly but I’m kind of proud of that. But like all new experiences I did have a few surprises along the way which I thought I would share. So here are a bunch of things, small and large, that surprised me since moving here divided into neat little categories for your convenience.

Tokyo is a very pedestrian city. There are people walking everywhere and comparatively few cars. In the suburbs you may find that you almost never see cars on certain streets, to the point where you forget they are roads at all and not just really wide footpaths. When a car does come through it can be quite surprising. This is all very new to me, particularly in such a busy city. Apart from the large amount of pedestrians, there are many cyclists on the footpaths and roads also. Often I feel I see more bikes around than people. Almost everyone seems to own a bike here. Not only this but it doesn’t seem to be a legal requirement to wear a helmet like in other countries. Many of the cars on the roads are very square in appearance, like little cardboard boxes on the roads. This is a style of car I have rarely seen in my lifetime before moving and now I see them everywhere. Another thing I have seen before is passengers in the back seats of cars not wearing seat belts. As I’m sure you can guess I was completely shocked by this. I must also add that apart from being obviously extremely dangerous it is completely illegal. I did some research on this and it wasn’t always the case, in fact, only in 2008 was it made a legal requirement for back-seat passengers to wear seat belts. Even so, as it is difficult to enforce there are many people (often children) who still don’t abide by this law.

Most people know that the Japanese eat raw food and that you can find a bunch of strange food items for sale here. I was expecting that so I wasn’t really surprised by this. There definitely were some things I was surprised by though. For starters, fresh fruit here is very expensive here and almost everyone I’ve spoken to here agrees, including the Japanese, neither my friends or I quite seem to know why though. Anther thing that really surprised me was that with most fruit, people will remove the skin before eating it. This includes everything from apples to places and even grapes. On the topic of grapes, the grapes here taste completely different from the grapes back home. In Australia we have red grapes and green grapes and they taste very similar. In Japan we have large dark coloured grapes called kyohou which taste like red wine. The other type I have seen here are small and round and taste exactly like the grape flavour used in lollies and drinks. I never knew when that flavour came from before as it tastes nothing like the grapes I had tried before. But it’s true, it’s not like strawberry flavour or orange flavour for example. Grape flavour really tastes like these grapes. Other things about food that really surprised me are the abundance of raw egg and things like offal. In Australia offal is around but it isn’t very popular and raw egg in foods is a very foreign concept. Perhaps the thing that surprised me the most is that the Japanese eat gristle. You know, the little pieces of cartilage that we would cut off our meat and avoid. I have seen that served here as its own dish and out of all the weird things I have seen this is the one in particular I cannot fathom. I have tried it but I really don’t understand it at all. Each to their own I suppose.

Health care and emergency services:
Shortly after arriving in Japan, I went to the doctor’s clinic to get a follow up prescription for a medication I was already taking he looked at me strangely and told me that not a single dose existed in the entire country. A medication that my med-student friend assured me is very commonly prescribed. This is perhaps one of the most perplexing things I have experienced as never in my life before this point has a doctor not been able to help me in any way what so ever. This is, of course, was not his fault however it did take me quite by surprise. Another thing different about the health care system is that some pharmacies only sell over-the-counter drugs. If you want to get a prescription filled you have to go to a certain ones. Another thing that surprised me is that the word for hospital (byouin) is used for everything from small clinics to actual hospitals and I honestly wonder how this doesn’t confuse people. It certainly confused me. On the topic of hospitals, I hear sirens all the time. I realise that I live in a big city with a large population but even so, the amount of emergency service vehicles I hear go past still seems to be more than it reasonably should. Despite Tokyo being a very safe city I do sometimes feel concerned about the amount of sirens I hear. Finally, Japan has 2 emergency numbers, 119 for ambulance and firefighters and 110 for police. It’s a small thing but it was still something I did not expect.

I had to bring this up because there are some things you need to know if you travel to Japan. Often public bathroom have no soap and/or hand dryers. Because of this it is good to always carry hand sanitiser and a small hand towel with you. Another thing to note, it is something I’m not sure I will ever get used to, is that there are lots of old fashioned toilets in women’s public bathrooms. The ones that are pretty much just holes in the ground. If, like me, using these is not up your alley be careful before you enter a cubicle. All of these things I actually knew about before moving to Japan but I was surprised at how frequent they actually were.

Now for everything else. Firstly, I knew Japan would be convenient but I had no idea how much so (but I’ve already written a full blog on that). Secondly, whilst I expected Japan’s drinking culture I did not expect it’s smoking or gambling culture. In Japan lots of people smoke and it’s still ok to smoke in a lot of public places, including inside buildings. I’ve probably done more passive smoking in the last few months than I have in the past few years prior to moving. If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s cigarettes. In the case of gambling, I see pachinko (Japanese gambling machines) and slot places everywhere. Even some arcades have machines that are essentially gambling games without the name. Other things I was surprised to see, or rather not see, were common household machines such as ovens and clothes dryers. These are apparently are quite uncommon and most people live without them. The rubbish system can take some getting used to as well. Everything is separated between burnables and different types of recyclables, and there are almost no bins in public but the streets are perfectly clean. Perhaps the most surprising thing though is that for a country seemingly concerned with the state of the environment, everything is over-packaged and individually wrapped. You want a piece of fruit? That will be triple wrapped, boxed and placed in a plastic bag for you (unless you are in a super-market where you have to bag your own shopping). Which begs the question. Why? To me this all seems rather unnecessary. Other things I don’t understand include (but are not exclusive to) the amount of women exclusive deals in restaurants, cinemas etc., why the trains stop so early in the night despite the party culture and the fact that the left handed-taboo still exists here.

Un-expect the expected:
My final point is about preconceptions. For example, I was told when taking food from a shared platter it was culturally appropriate to use the reverse end of my chopsticks rather than the end you eat with. When I tried this I was laughed at and quickly corrected. It turns out that is a very strange thing to do here. Another thing I was told was to expect a lot of stares and even for people to ask for pictures because of my foreign appearance. The closest thing I have had to serious pointing or stares was when a child pointed to me and said ‘look mum, it’s kitty’ )as I was wearing a Hello Kitty t-shirt). My point is, of course there are some cultural things that you should learn if you ever wish to come to Japan. But don’t make too many assumptions about what is true and what is not. Come here, learn, and form your own conclusions. No matter how well you prepare there will be surprises along the way and that’s half the fun.



Although this is not a common topic between individuals, it is an important part of living. No matter how much you dodge it, laundry is one of those chores that will eventually have to be completed. Laundry in Japan is much like most other places except for one thing; the dryer. In the United States most areas of living have a washer and dryer unfortunately in Japan there is less space so there might not be room for both. For these situations there are washers that have built in dryers to save space. These washer/dryer combos pose the issue of not actually drying clothes. As someone that came from the United States it is foreign to me that the dryers in most apartments and houses I have seen are non existent or exist as a setting on the washer itself. The idea of this, while very interesting and intriguing, does not work as intended. In most cases it seems that the “dryer” only spin dries and does not add heat. The result is that the clothes just don’t dry they end up moist and needing to be hung anyway. In some cases even setting the drying mode for as long as 3 hours does not leave the clothes dry.




In Tokyo this does not seem to be an issue but rather nothing more than the normal way of life.  Walking across Tokyo and it is easy to see that the residents seem to just hang all their laundry outside before starting their day. Allowing their clothes to dry throughout the day. Unfortunately this becomes problematic during typhoon season or during rain storms. The only solution that seems to be available for this dilemma is to hang dry your clothes. There are said to be aides to this in the form of machines. These look like a small air conditioner that can be placed under your clothes and will blow air directly at the clothes to dry them. Sadly this has its own set of issues noticeably the space needed inside in order to hang clothes, and the amount of time it takes to dry the clothes. Nonetheless this seems to be the best answer for this dilemma, as I have been told by the few Japanese people I have been able to speak with.




When asking other foreign students about laundry on the other hand I got mostly the same response; “Laundry is the same, and the machine is easy to use, but there are no dryers.” This Issue seems common among most students but there is a small amount of students in share houses that have a pay for use of a dryer. These cases are few and far between, based on a study of around 30 students only 2 students had actual dryers both being a communal machine and pay for use. Another important note is that there is a really severe lack of laundromats here. In the United States we have laundromats around towns for the public but it seems like in Japan or at least in Tokyo that there are only public dry cleaners and not laundromats. When this is added to the fact that Tokyo tends to have unpredictable weather patterns, where rain can appear even on the sunniest of days without warning, making it difficult to consistently complete laundry.




In the land where the best video games are made and electronics are all the craze, It might just be a matter of time until a better drying solution is found. We live in a world where the computers at home are crammed into a device the size of your hand yet we still have trouble getting clothes dry in a reasonable amount of time. Perhaps the solution is already here and we just haven’t seen it or heard about it. Perhaps it is something being worked on as I write this blog. The answers to this are unknown to me and remain questions. However in order to achieve the answers to this, we must learn to ask. How is your experience with laundry in Japan?


Gundam Front Tokyo

On October 25, 2016, in Uncategorized, by Kristen

I am an avid Gundam fan. I thought that at least one entry to this website should involve some sort of evangelizing of the Gundam franchise, so, I decided to write about Gundam Front Tokyo in Odaiba.

First, let’s back up. Gundam is a franchise of anime, movies, manga, video games, and plastic model kits—dating back to 1979. Gundams, and other mecha in the series, are large humanoid robots that can be piloted in sea, air, ground, and outer space within their respective fictional histories. Gundam is a very large franchise, and has been airing almost continuously since it’s introduction with Mobile Suit Gundam, the original anime, in 1979. Now that you know what Gundam is, let’s continue.

Gundam Front Tokyo in Odaiba is a sort of a Mecha…Mecca. Its most prominent feature is the gigantic, life-size Gundam RX-78-2 statue from the original anime. This statue is sort of a living installment, as it occasionally gets upgraded and moved around to different places. It is also important to note that the Gundam statue lights up, moves, and has a projection video show with sound and audio that you can watch when you stand out in front of it.

Gundam Front itself is actually inside of Diver City mall, near Pallet Town and the gigantic Ferris wheel, Daikanransha. You can’t miss both the Ferris wheel and the Gundam statue. Inside, several floors up, features a Gundam Shop, where you can buy all manner of items, most notably exclusive Gundam Front model kits of figures from the series. Next, there is a clothing shop called Strict-G which features high-end fashionable clothes with a Gundam theme. The clothes and accessories are very cool, but quite expensive.

The main area of Gundam Front is a museum-like exhibition center which features life-size exhibits of Gundams, Fighter Jets, and many other amazing samples of the enormous Gundam franchise (and it, unfortunately, bans photography.) My favorite room, the Gunpla exhibit, features one copy of nearly every single Gundam plastic model figure every made, and additionally it exhibits custom models from famous modelers and celebrities. The line-up of figures changes throughout the year, so if you’re a fan of plastic models, toys, or any kind of tiny cool doodads, you should check this out.

The Gundam statue out front is free to walk up to and view, and it is Gundam Cafe adjacent. Gundam Front itself only charges for the museum portion of the floor, and additionally offers a paid course in how to build a model and how they are made. If you’d like to buy something Gundam, you have the option of buying it out front next to the giant Gundam, or, if their selection isn’t big enough, go inside of Gundam Front and you’ll find the full-size gift shop that contains all of the limited edition stuff as well as a ton of regular Gundam merchandise. If both your pockets and your love for Gundam are deep, Strict-G has some fashionably nerdy attire and accessories that look good and don’t scream “I’M AN OTAKU PLEASE STEP TO THE LEFT.”

Fortunately for us English-speakers, their site provides a guide in English to score early tickets and explains the exhibits and prices. If you’d like to see the place for yourself, go ahead and head to and figure out your trip.

“Who will survive?”



Odaiba Decks and Tokyo Waterbus

On October 25, 2016, in Uncategorized, by Kristen

I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge to a lot of foreigners living in Tokyo, but there is a way to travel that isn’t as slow as walking or as crowded by trains. Boats! That’s right, you can take a big, weird boat in between places like Asakusa and Odaiba, and it’s pretty cheap.

img_6164-1-1 img_6161-1Truth be told, my girlfriend and I took this trip in August, when the weather was much nicer, but our boat trip to Odaiba was a pretty great experience for both of us. We had been looking for an excuse to try a boat ride for a while, and on that day we had a craving for Takoyaki. A bunch of kinds of takoyaki. In a museum. In Odaiba.

If you check Tokyo Waterways online, you’ll see that there are a variety of routes and boats to choose from. Our boat was a standard party-boat, but there are several others such as two boats designed by the same guy who designed Space Battleship Yamato from its eponymous series. Our boat, as plain as it was, did featured multiple decks of seats and plenty of viewing space, as well as a small bar and snack counter on the lower level.

img_6142-1 Our trip was under an hour, but we got to see a completely different side of Tokyo for the very first time. The air was crisp and trip was smooth. We took a lot of photos. The snacks weren’t anything special, but the beer was a limited Asahi brew from the nearby Asahi beer company building, and it was delicious. When we finally got to our port, we took a few photos of the incoming boats, and made our way to Odaiba Decks.

Decks is a multilevel indoor-outdoor mall full of lots of shops and restaurants right next to the water. If you’re a fan of retro video games and spooky stuff, Decks has an old-school arcade stocked with games from the early 80s as well as a mini haunted house. I even found retro soda cans, a 3 wheeled Daihatsu Midget, as well as a man-sized robot from Tetsujin 28.

img_6198-13-11Decks also features the Takoyaki Museum, which is less of a museum and more of a food court with several varieties of takoyaki to choose from. There are about 6 different stalls for takoyaki, and each stall has it’s own vending ticket machine with a huge variety of quantity and choice. We got a variety set, and took our place in the seating area. The smell of this whole place is wonderful, and the taste and texture of our meal was fantastic.

img_6226-22-18After the meal, we walked around a bit. Fun fact if you are a fan of Dippin’ Dots ice cream—Decks has Dippin’ Dots on the first floor! It was the last snack I expected to find in Tokyo. Eating mint-chocolate Dippin’ Dots in Tokyo really made my trip perfect. After that, we walked around the side of Diver City to score a few shots of the miniature Statue of Liberty nearby. Why is there a miniature Statue of Liberty within a few steps of a giant Gundam statue? Not sure, but it’s pretty awesome.

Odaiba lends itself to a lot great photo opportunities and good food, and next time you’re in the mood to see a different side of Tokyo, why not try Tokyo by boat?


Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon ~Amour Eternal~

On October 24, 2016, in English, Life in Japan, by 01. Hannah

Manga is often adapted to and from many other mediums, such as anime, light novels, visual novels, video games and, in this case, musicals. Many famous works in these mediums have been adapted to musicals, most notably, Sailor Moon. The Sailor Moon musical franchise consists of 31 installments that have been running since 1993. Last Thursday a friend I went to see the latest release, Amour Eternal, at the AiiA Theatre Tokyo. I am no theatre critic but I shall do my best to comment on the show both subjectively and objectively.

The first thing we did before entering the theatre was hire subtitle glasses. I feel the need to talk about this because the idea of subtitle glasses is just awesome! Although I have seen shows here in Japan without subtitles and mostly understood, the option of 100% comprehension is very appealing. In theory these are perfect but in practice they need some tweaking. Inside each lens is a clear computer screen with the subtitles projected onto them. You could adjust the position and size and language (between Chinese and English) of the subtitles with a small handset. The problem with these lenses is that if the subtitles weren’t placed over a dark area they were very difficult to read, which sometimes made it hard to focus on the acting. Also very occasionally the subtitles weren’t aligned well between the two screens which led to seeing two overlapping images instead of one. I couldn’t tell if this was a calibration issue or if it was because I repositioned the glasses. The weren’t exactly very comfortable either. Overall these are mild complaints and the benefit outweighed the problems I had (and they made me look fabulous). I think it’s a service that should be offered at more shows.

The musical itself was about 3 hours long with a 15 minute interval. The entire cast was played by female actors, including the male and gender ambiguous characters. The story is based off the Dream Arc, the fourth arc in the original manga. It was fairly cliché at a lot of points but enjoyable regardless. The costumes were very bright and colourful and the acting was dramatic and captivating. The special effects weren’t groundbreaking and often didn’t have the desired effect if you weren’t viewing the stage from straight ahead (like my friend and I) but they definitely added to the show. The music was a catchy cross between anime music and stage music. The dancing was energetic and incorporated elements from the anime and manga such as the battle stances and special attacks or each of the Sailor Senshi. The show was by no means a theatrical masterpiece but it was certainly a unique experience and I loved every minute of it! It had a different atmosphere from western musicals and was definitely an enjoyable experience, particularly if you are a big fan of the Sailor Moon franchise. I would highly recommend going to see a Sailor Moon musical if you have any interest at all and the opportunity to do so.

Before the curtains dropped for the final time there was an encore performance of the show’s main number and of ‘Moonlight Densetsu’ for a dose of nostalgia. When the lights came on again after the show I took a moment to look around. The audience was almost entirely comprised of adults (the gender ration was quite even as well). Whilst most people consider Sailor Moon to be for little girls it was nice to see the adults who grew up with Sailor Moon there to appreciate the show. On the way out we passed the actresses who played the Inner Planet Senshi waving, smiling and thanking the audience for coming. After vacating the premises we stopped at the merchandise stall and probably spent way too much money before heading home. I couldn’t have asked for a better night.

Now to quickly summarise by answering all the important questions. Was it overpriced? Probably. Was it cliché? Definitely. Were the subtitle glasses a cool idea? No doubt. We’re they practical? Not quite. Was it the show the best thing I’ve ever seen? By no means. Did I have way too much fun? Yes. Did I lose it when Tuxedo Mask winked at the audience? God yes! Did I spend way too much money on merchandise? Maybe…

And most importantly, despite its flaws would I do it all again next year? Absolutely!