Friday, January 6, 2012

Day 10 – Something about Japan that sets it apart from anywhere else.

With my recent trip to Korea and around Mie-ken behind me, I think this is the perfect time to write about the 10th prompt in the "30-Day Japan Meme." As always, leaving Japan even for a short while (a four day jaunt in Korea even) gives me some perspective on the country I live in, and when I come back, I rediscover what I like and don't like about my daily life here. More often than not, I'm ecstatic to be back on the clean and orderly streets of Japan.

I'm a city girl through and through (which is why living in the country-side of Kochi can be draining and exhausting... not at all lively around here), and have to say that Tokyo and New York are my favorite cities in the world (thus far). When deciding to visit Seoul for a couple of days, I was wondering if I'd fall in love with that city too, with it's expansive subway system, variety of cultural gems, and cheap shopping at every turn. Not so much the case, however.... The subways were too big and wide (if you wanted to transfer to another line, oftentimes you spent most of the time walking to the next station underground), people were pushy and rude, and the shopping wasn't all that exciting (though I did get to indulge in a little Forever 21 shopping spree...). I missed being in the country where I understood the language, the foot-traffic patterns, and knew what to expect of customer service and politeness between strangers.

Source. Look how happy they are to help! With neck ties and all.
What sets Japan apart from other places? A lot of things... but I think that the predictability is what I like best at times (and hate at other times). Perhaps more specifically, the predictability of customer service. I know what to expect when I go to the grocery store, and I'm not going to get glared at by the teenaged cashier just because he/she's having a bad day. I know that the post man will always come back at 5:30 when they miss delivering a package of mine. I know that the trains will leave at their scheduled times, I will be notified of a coming train, and I will clearly be told where that train is going/what type of train it is. Even if the train is late, I will be well-informed as to why (unlike in Chicago, where the reason will never be known or conveyed to you).

For me, while I like unpredictable things and being spontaneous, I like my day-to-day life and essential things like going to the store/bank/ATM/post office, to be systematic, predictable, and informative. It's calming and reassuring to know that the combini down the street is open 24 hours a day and I can pay my internet bill any time I please. At the same time, the systematic-ness of Japan can get irritating when you make a mistake. Take for example, my recent trip to Korea. I had to buy a bus ticket to and from Osaka. In the process of my trip, I managed to misplace and/or lose my ticket home from Osaka. When inquiring at the help desk the morning of my departure, they told me I needed to re-buy my ticket, a thing that I had clearly paid for since they had my name and phone number registered in their computer system. I feel like in the US, when you make a mistake, people will more often than not be forgiving and let you slide by. This however is not the case with the type of customer service you get here in Japan. You can whine and cry all you want, but the system is the system, and sometimes you must pay in order to get organized, reliable service.

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