More Japan Trip: Food and Culture

Japan is such an interesting place to a foreigner like me. No matter what you hear about Japan in the media, it doesn’t prepare you for what the reality is.  Here are some photos and observations I took note of during my trip.

Food

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Sushi was very fresh. They do not offer any rolls with avocado (so no, there are no California rolls).

I had already been advised that sushi is not the mainstay food in Japan. In fact, I only ate sushi 3 times while I was there.  The food we came across the most were:
• ramen
• donburi (beef rice bowls, think Yoshinoya)
• “curry” (which is like a brown gravy with a little bit of spice)
• tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet)
• yakitori (chicken skewers)
• tempura
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We tried just about everything – my favourite new dish is called Omurice, which is rice wrapped in an omelette with gravy. So simple, but so delicious!

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This was an interesting place – every table had a hot plate built in. The food is brought out to you already cooked so the hot plate is more for keeping the food warm, rather than cooking it. I had this noodle / egg pancake thing that was delicious!

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Tempura on a bed of rice. SO had dumplings.

While the majority of restaurants we saw were local Japanese food, we also came across lots of Starbucks, KFCs and McDonalds. We did go to Starbucks and McDonalds – they taste the same as at home.

McDonald's Japan does offer a burger with an egg on top. And a 48 pc chicken McNugget bucket for 1800 (approx $)
McDonald’s Japan does offer a burger with an egg on top. And a 48pc chicken McNugget bucket for ¥1800 (approx $21.80 CAD)

And we came across Red Lobster, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Denny’s and even a Sizzlers.  We didn’t eat at those places so I can’t compare their menu to the Western counterparts.
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At some fast food places, you place your order at a machine outside the restaurant and it spits out a ticket. You go inside and sit at the counter and your number gets called out when your food is ready.

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Egg and chicken on rice. Japanese comfort food!

We did not find food to be very expensive, it’s very comparable to how much we’d pay to eat out. So for a casual meal, it would be around $15 per person.

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The most epic meal we ate was at the ryokan. I tasted things I’ve never tasted before and I can’t describe to you what I actually ate. But they were delicious!

Many fast food places have a menu placemat at the counters, which show all of their menu items in pictorial form, along with the prices. All you need to do is point at the item you want to order!

Mos Burger is the Japanese McDonald's
Mos Burger is the Japanese McDonald’s
When travelling by train, it's common to pick up a bento box type meal to eat on the train.
When travelling between cities by train, it’s common to pick up a bento box type meal at the train station to eat on the train. I saw a man boarding the train with a bowl of fresh hot ramen, without a lid – brave man!

Restaurants are often found at the top level of a shopping mall or a department store. The restaurants are laid out side by side and all you need to do is walk around on the floor and decide where you want to eat – very convenient.  There are also massive food halls where you can buy food to take away:
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Alternatively, there are buildings just devoted to food:
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I also loved all the fake food displays:
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Yes this is fake food!

At every place you go to, whether Starbucks or sit down restaurants, they provide you with an individually wrapped disposable wet napkin to wipe your hands before you eat. I fully support this practice coming here!

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At the food court, they give you this little device that buzzes when your food is ready. They make everything fresh so it took about 10 minutes for my food.

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And yes, there really are vending machines everywhere: along the sidewalk, in the malls, in the train stations, in parks, etc.
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The most prevalent product they sold were drinks: sodas, water, canned coffee, energy and sports drinks. I also saw vending machines selling ice cream, and cigarettes (separately 😛 )  I never did see any machines selling used women’s undies, sorry, I think that’s a myth.

Ice cream vending machine.
Ice cream vending machine.
Cigarette vending machine.
Cigarette vending machine.
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Vending machines right on the train platform – super handy!

Snacks!
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We tried out a variety of Japanese snacks. We noted that their flavours aren’t as strong as what we’re used to in Canada. Their savoury stuff weren’t as salty, and their sweets weren’t as sugary.  And it wasn’t a bad thing – it allowed the flavours to come through better, if that makes sense.  Here are some pictures I took of stuff we snacked on.

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Some of the drinks I tried: peach tea, green lemonade, orange Coke, litchi soda. I also loved a pear soda I had.
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Matcha green tea soft serve ice cream!
A traditional Kyoto snack is chilled cucumber soaked in brine. It was actually quite refreshing on a hot day.
A traditional Kyoto snack is chilled cucumber soaked in brine. It was actually quite refreshing on a hot day.
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Hard boiled egg wrapped in rice!
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Rice flour paste on sticks with miso glaze – so yum!
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I loved this lightly sweet pastry – I think it’s lotus seed paste inside.
I was a little hesitant to try this “cheese” frozen snack but it turned out to be like a creamy ice cream sandwich – the outside shell is like a cone / biscuit.
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This was a favourite of both of ours – it’s a flattened ice cream cone like a Drumstick but it’s coated with a chocolate shell,  the chocolate coating was so rich.

People

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The first thing that hit me about Tokyo was the density of the population. I’ve visited populated cities like NYC, Hong Kong, and New Delhi but nothing prepared me for the sheer volume of people just hanging out on the streets (especially in Shinjuku). We arrived in Tokyo on a Sunday evening and it was just wall to wall people on the streets. Don’t they have homes to go to? I just couldn’t comprehend it. Even on a random Tuesday afternoon, the streets would be filled with people.
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Of course it wasn’t like that everywhere – even in Shibuya it wasn’t as densely packed. I’d say if you’re not a fan of crowds, do not visit Japan. To put it into perspective, there are 13.5M people in Tokyo, New Delhi is 9.8M, New York City is 8.4M, Hong Kong is 7.2M and… Toronto is a measly 2.6M! 😛
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Most of the younger generation understand English, and speak it fine. A lot of the older generation can understand English, but do not speak it. I tried speaking some Japanese but the only thing I really got fluent in was saying “thank you!” (“arigatou gozaimas!”)  Many signs and announcements (especially in the subways) were in both Japanese and English.

This is likely a huge over-generalization, but my observation about Japanese culture is that they value efficiency and politeness above all else.  Common occurrences:

• The bill for your food arrives when your food is served to you. It’s not viewed as rude, it’s viewed as efficient – as soon as you’re finished eating, you can pay your bill without having to wave down the waitress.
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• Smoking is confined to special smoking rooms or designated areas (restaurants still allow smoking, so there are smoking sections) – people don’t walk and smoke on the street. I love that!

Bowing. Yes, what you see on TV is true. The Japanese bow a LOT.  I found myself starting to bow back in response.

• There’s no tipping for restaurants or hotels.  They’re paid a fair wage and customers don’t have to figure out how much to tip.
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• There are arrows on the floors to help guide flow of pedestrian traffic – rule of thumb is stay on the left hand side. On escalators, stand on left and allow people to walk on the right side (this was confusing for me since it’s opposite of here!)
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• Many people sport surgical face masks to either protect themselves or prevent the spread of illness in public spaces if they’re not feeling well. It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, a nerd, a fashionista – people wear the masks without any qualms.

• It was quite warm during our visit on some days (28 C plus humidity) but we noticed that they don’t blast the AC like most other places we’ve visited (I love the blast of AC in Hong Kong subways and malls!) I suspect this is an effort to save energy / money.

“Sugoi”
This roughly translates to “awesome” or “cool”. And was uttered everywhere we went to…
Aquarium: sugoi!
Zoo: sugoi! (along with kawwaii! “cute”)
Tokyo Skytree: Sugoi!
Temples: Sugoi!
Everything is SUGOI! 😛

Transportation

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It’s all about the train in Japan. The Tokyo subway is famous for how complex and wide reaching it is – you really can get everywhere on the subway. We also took the regional rails which took us to the various cities outside of Tokyo.  And yes, trains are punctual.
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Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t anyone standing at the platform pushing people and packing them into the subway trains – it does get crowded and personal space is nonexistent, but all of the pushing is done by the passengers themselves. There are agents who stand along the subway platforms to keep everything flowing but the automatic gates / barriers do all of the work.

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Yup, this chick is applying makeup on the subway! My SO is glaring at me for sneaking her picture. 😛

Also, it’s not completely silent or orderly in the train stations. In fact, it was quite chaotic in the stations, there’s no neat flow of walking traffic – everyone walks wherever they want but everyone is polite and will move out of your way. People talk quite loudly on the trains but there are announcements that remind people to keep their mobile phones on silent and to refrain from talking on their phones inside the trains.
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I enjoyed taking pictures of various signs on the subway. 😛
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“Danger walk smartphone” ie. don’t walk and read your phone at the same time.

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Bicycles are also a common mode of transportation. But they’re rather annoying because they’re allowed to be on the sidewalks. They’re supposed to stick to their own bike lanes but they don’t. So imagine walking down a crowded sidewalk and a bike is heading straight toward you. They also don’t wear helmets and some of the cyclists don’t look too steady on the bikes!

Miscellaneous

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There are police stations dotted throughout Tokyo – they look like tiny one room offices usually at a street corner, with the word “Koban”

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The sun rose at 4:30am! We learned this the hard way the first night when we left the curtains open when we slept. It was so bright at 4:30am we thought it was around 8am. Nope! The sun set at around 7pm.
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Toilets with built-in bidets are the standard. They’re called Washlets.  The toilets typically feature a bum washing mode and a female parts washing mode. And heated seats! Some also play a flushing sound to mask poopy noises. 😛  Some offer a deodorizing option. Both the SO and I finally tried using a bidet, and we’re both wondering why the trend hasn’t caught on in other countries!
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Public washrooms are abundant and very clean. And you don’t need to pay to use them. And a lot of the women’s washrooms featured a separate powder room just for checking your makeup!

I was surprised to hear mostly Western music played in public places. I heard lots of Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, even The Weeknd… pretty much just whatever popular music is on the radio these days in the West, they played it there.

TV shows don’t have commercial breaks. At the end of the show, they show an infomercial that’s about 10 minutes long. Typical infomercial products include weight loss pills, weight loss gadgets, supplements to make you look more youthful, and kitchen appliances. I even saw an ad for Proactiv!
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So, those are my random, general observations about Japan (with my very limited exposure, obviously! A 2 week visit does not make me an expert! 😛 )  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments!

74 thoughts on “More Japan Trip: Food and Culture

  1. Wow! So many amazing food choice and to be honest, I love tempura as it is so crunchy on the outside and I love it. And, what a great presentation! Amazing!
    So many surprising elements with toilets which I’ve never ever heard of. It sounds so stylish and a powder room attached and I could imagine a woman’s life will be in bliss. Love the technology.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Super interesting to read! I love the idea that it’s someone’s job to recreate food as models! A 48 Bucket of Chicken Nuggets – would take me a week to eat all that! Love the signs too – think my favourite one is the subway finger one… I could have done with a sign like that when I stuck my finger in the blender ha!

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    1. We travelled during rush hours too but didn’t see any pushers, too bad! 😛
      I didn’t take pictures of the SUPER busy dense crowds, but I was mostly concerned with getting to where we wanted to go than to reach for my camera!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Shinjuku station is INSANE! It’s unbelievable. I couldn’t even capture on camera how crazy it is there. Madhouse! But everyone seems like they know where they’re going!

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  3. Love this. Japanese culture is so fascinating. And aren’t their tv shows crazy? Whenever my cable does free previews of TVJapan I watch pretty much yjat that channel the entire week (or month). Can’t understand a word being said but some shoes are just hilariously ridiculous.

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    1. Yes their shows are nuts! It was a guilty pleasure of mine. The game shows especially lol! And, also, they’re baseball FANATICS! Have you ever watched their baseball games? It’s so lively and LOUD.

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  4. What an awesome post! Thanks for making this post, it was a very fascinating read! So interesting how some things you hear are true and some aren’t 😀 so much I want to comment on!
    All of the pictures of the food, omg! I’m hungry now. The rice wrapped in the omelette looks sooo delicious.
    There’s no attendant pushing people onto the trains?! Mind = blown. Who made that up?! 😟 It’s a little comforting to know that even in the train stations in Japan, it isn’t 100% orderly.. you always hear about how much more organized their system is compared to everyone else, so it’s nice to know we aren’t a complete fail!
    Love all the efficiencies there! Giving the bill at the same time as the food, why don’t we do that here?? I hate waiting for the bill. Not having to figure out the tip would be nice too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I felt like I was rambling in this post, lol! I wrote some notes on my phone while I was in Japan so I could sum up some of my observations!
      And yes, I assumed everything would be SO orderly but it wasn’t. The main point of comparison for me was with Hong Kong… and to be truthful, I found Hong Kong to be cleaner especially inside the subway trains / stations. Don’t get me wrong, Tokyo wasn’t dirty per se but more used / run-down looking.
      Well Joyce said that she saw attendants pushing people during morning rush, I just wasn’t at the right place at the right time! 😛
      My SO LOVES the bill at the same time as the food – there’s actually a Japanese restaurant near us that does this, he loves going there! 😆

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Heh, great idea taking notes while you were there! Not rambly at all 😀
        Interesting about the difference between Hong Kong and Tokyo…although the cleanliness of Hong Kong’s subway trains and stations is pretty astounding (I was so impressed by it, lol), and would be difficult to beat!
        Oh poo, too bad you missed seeing the attendants pushing people. It would be pretty crazy to be on the trains during rush hour though, I imagine!
        That’s so awesome! More restaurants should give the bill early on – a lot of the times once people are done eating, they just want to go!
        Also: building devoted just to food? Sounds like heaven.
        Another thing: I can’t believe how many vending machines they have, and so much diversity to boot!
        I’m getting hungry again looking at pictures of your food. The cheese ice cream sandwich looks delicious. Did it taste like cheesecake? My fiancé and I would have been all over that peach tea, litchi soda, and pear soda too, lol!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Those buildings full of restaurants were quite daunting – sometimes too much choice is not a good thing!
          The frozen cheese thing was like a creamy ice cream light cheesecake filling, housed in a biscuit that is just like an ice cream cone shell! I was pleasantly surprised – I just wanted something cold that day because it was so hot and we had been walking around the temples all day. Glad I tried it – there are many items we’d pick up not knowing what the heck it was, just to try it! We didn’t get any duds, so that was good.

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  5. I loved this! It was so much fun to see everything. The food looks a little strange to me, but I’m all about Tempura 🙂 I also was amused by the building JUST FOR FOOD. I laughed out loud when you said your SO was glaring at you for taking a picture of the woman doing makeup on the train. I just did my mascara in my car before walking into work, so I get her situation, haha. The only con I see is the 4:30 auto wakeup call haha. I’d be cool with a 7pm sunset though. It would be easier to get my son to bed! Oh, and the toilets sound awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Japanese seem to like food in all little dishes, I mean, look at how many dishes they’d have to wish at that ryokan! Some were definitely strange even to us, and we eat a lot of Japanese food here.
      I was just shocked to see that chick whip out her makeup and mirror as soon as she sat down next to my SO. The train wasn’t that crowded mind you, but it seemed like she probably does her makeup daily on the subway.
      Apparently the temples align their schedule with the sunrise so they are up and about before 4am to set everything up!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Awww Stashy! I LOVED reading this! I’m desperate to go to Japan, so these pics were of particular interest to me. The Japanese are so efficient with their fastfood ticket machines, the pic of your matcha ice cream is gorgeous, I LOVE the pics of the fashionistas crossing the street with their designer bags (obviously) and the cucumber soaked in brine sounds amazing. Cucumber salad is big in Carribean culture so, I’m down. LOL! http://www.styledomination.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You definitely need to plan a trip to Japan! You’ll love it! The fashion was interesting… I feel like they’re somewhat stuck in the 1950’s in their shape / silhouette. A-line skirts with elastic waist bands and loose boxy tops. They love the platform sandals though. And yes, they’re brand slaves! (as per the “Deluxe” book! 😉 )

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    1. Yes, the presentation was really impressive – all the little mismatched dishes. I own some Japanese dishes at home but to experience them in use in Japan is so neat!

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  7. Now I’m hungry! That’s what I miss from home.. Food with lots and lots of rice! Haha I wanted to try their Gyoza as I’ve heard it’s great as well as their Katsu.. They also have a rotating sushi restaurant which is cool! Also, If I’m not mistaken they serve rice, sausage, eggs (etc.) for breakfast at McDonalds..😄

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    1. I found the rice in Japan to be extra flavourful! They’re more glutenous / sticky compared to what we have here, but they also season them so nicely. I’ll be honest, I’m not normally a huge fan of plain rice, but I enjoyed the Japanese rice a lot! Yes, we did pass by the rotating restaurants but I read they’re just tourist traps, haha!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! Japanese rice is the best.. Love love love plain rice.. Not a fan of flavored rice 😬. And the rotating restaurant I’m sure it’s tourist trap but if you’re in a rush that might be best?? No need to wait on your order..haha My old boss back home is Japanese so they always have the authentic rice.. Oh so good.. now I’m hungry again.. Lol

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  8. So interesting! I’m not sure I could handle the crowds, I have a very defined area of personal space. It looks so cool though!

    Your description of the bidets made me Lol! We’ve had one in our hotel room in Vegas – D loved it, I found it weird. Its such a logical idea though. And that’s all I’ll say about that. Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha I was hesitant about the bidets but after a while, it just became normal. It’s so interesting how the Japanese made something that seemed so personal, such a common thing. It’s similar to the public baths they have – they’re just naked but it’s not viewed as sexual.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Looks like you had quite the trip! I’m eager to see everything you got while you were there! I’ll just be waiting impatiently until that post goes up! LOL

    I have seen a few videos on Facebook about Omurice the last few weeks and thought it looked intriguing.

    It’s always very fascinating to observe a culture as an outsider while trying to immerse yourself in it. This was an awesome post, and I really enjoyed reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha I’ve just finished with the makeup haul post – it will be up tomorrow!

      I’ve never heard or seen Omurice before we stepped into that restaurant. And I didn’t even know there was rice underneath the omelette so I was pleasantly surprised! I’m trying to get my SO to learn how to make it for me! 😀

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  10. I think this is one of the most interesting posts I’ve read in a while! It looks like eggs are a popular addition to a lot of different dishes, were they generally chicken eggs or some other type of egg? Did you try any of the “strange” candy? A friend visited Japan a free years ago and he brought back bags of kit Kat bars in flavors like strawberry, wasabi and if course matcha.
    I have so many wires questions about the toilets! Did you feel like you needed a pilot’s license to use the toilet? The airport in Dubai has bidets in the toilets and I truly don’t know why that isn’t a thing here. It really should be.
    I can’t quite weak my head around what it would be like to spend significant amounts of time in such a densely populated area. I grew up in a town of 2000 people and moved to the “big city” where we have a booming 38,000 people 🙂 I think that a city of millions in the US would be more overwhelming than a city of millions in Japan just because of the cultural differences with regards to respecting those around you.
    Did you experience any culture shock? We’re there moments where you didn’t know how to properly respond to someone or to a situation? Was there anything that took effort to adjust to? I have so many questions!
    Fantastic post and I’m glad you had a good trip. Welcome back!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it seems the Japanese like to add eggs to everything. But I’m not complaining. 😀 Yes, they’re just chicken eggs.
      I’m not that into Kit Kats but yes, we spotted the matcha ones (we can get those down the street from us at home! We live near Korea town 😛 ) but also apple, and strawberry flavours. But we’re big fans of Hi-Chew so we discovered a few interesting flavours of those! I’ll show some of what we brought back in a separate non-makeup haul post! 😛
      Those toilets weren’t different to use actually – just press the buttons and make sure you’re SEATED when the water activates lol! I especially enjoyed the HEATED seat function. I mean, Canadians would all enjoy that function, wouldn’t they?!!
      Yes, I agree that the crowds work in Japan because they have a different mentality than North America. They’re a collective whole there – everything is for the greater good and being orderly is highly valued. They do not mind waiting in lines at all and don’t complain. It wouldn’t work here, I don’t think.
      I didn’t really have culture shock – we just rolled with the punches. I felt that the Japanese were very accommodating and tried their best to help out whenever we had questions (their customer service is top notch!) I’d say the only time we opted out due to worries about cultural difference was the invitation to go to the public bath at the traditional Japanese inn. We’d heard there were a lot of “rules” surrounding the baths so we decided not to go so we don’t offend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I feel oddly relieved to learn that they’re just chicken eggs. I don’t know why. Maybe I just love chicken eggs?
        Would the public bath be a semi-ritualistic thing or were the rules mostly things like “use a towel, don’t take your shoes into the changing room”? That’s nice that you opted for the choice that you felt was most respectful to the people around you. I guess Canadians really are nice! 😀
        I can’t imagine how vastly different the US would be if our culture put a bit more emphasis on prioritizing the greater good. I actually feel like we’re moving in the opposite direction most of the time. I do love how different cultures make you reflect on your own values and traditions and habits.

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        1. Yeah the rules for public bath is more procedural, like don’t allow your towel touch the bath water etc. I just didn’t know all the details so I didn’t want to risk it!
          I hear you about the US mentality – I fear all the time that Canadians are following suit. It’s terrifying to think that the lessons we learned in kindergarten have not stuck with us into adulthood, you know, things like, “sharing is good”, and “be nice to each other.” Stuff like that.

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          1. For what it’s worth, after ending a call with any of our Canadian customers at work, I still usually remark on how pleasant and polite Canadians are 🙂
            I hear you though, I’m not really sure what changed in society that made common courtesy so uncommon. The movement away from a sense of community and towards a state of total independence has done some weird things to our collective psyche. We’re bad at sharing and we’re bad at empathizing or maintaining awareness of how our actions and words affect those around us. The world is becoming a very strange place!

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  11. I totally get what you mean by the bowing thing… I was kinda surprised with the Sawadeekap, the slight bow and hands in salutation in Thailand! I always thought only stewardesses and receptionists did that! I was wrong! EVERYONE DOES!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It comes so naturally to them. I read that when they’re young, they teach the kids how to bow properly. And there are many different types / degrees of bowing for various situations. Fascinating!

      Liked by 1 person

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