It’s the Little Things in Life

Obviously, when traveling across the ocean to live on the other side of the world, you find that things tend to be quite different. Sure there are the obvious differences you find here in Japan, like temperature being measured in Celsius, the use of the metric system and driving on the left side of the road.

However, there are so many little things that I’ve noticed that I find rather interesting. Here are some unexpected differences that I found while living in Tokyo!

“They bow to me after making a purchase and thank me several times for shopping there. Every time they do this it feels genuine and not just something they are obligated to say and do as part of the job”

People use umbrellas all the time. People use them in the rain, and people use them for the sun. I’ve seen maybe one or two people use umbrellas in the sun in America, but here, people use their umbrella on a clear day as if it were raining. On a bright day, I’ve seen nearly everyone walking around with their umbrella shielding themselves from the intensity sun. Ironically, all the umbrellas were black.

Vending machines
They are everywhere, usually with two right next to each other. It’s not just that there is an abundance of vending machines, they are all well kept and never out of stock; At least I’ve never seen one that was empty. I can walk down the same street for about one minute and pass five vending machines. They are usually full of drinks (mainly teas) but other times they are full of snacks, ice cream or beer. But the machines are not limited to food. A few times I’ve seen a vending machine exclusively for cigarettes. Which brings me to the topic of smoking.

Smoking in public is really common here — so much so that there are designated smoking areas on and off campus. I’ve never been to a school where smoking on campus is allowed, so this was completely new to me. Every morning when I go to class, I see people smoking in the smoking area. When I go to the convenience store, there are people smoking in front of the store. Even in some restaurants and most arcades, smoking is allowed and it’s usually not separated. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to a restaurant and left with the smell of smoke completely absorbed into my hair, skin and clothes.

Like the vending machines, the ATMs are everywhere. They are in pretty much every convenience store (and there are many convenience stores). They are also in train stations, at the entrances of buildings and scattered around big shopping areas. However, at a certain time and on specific days — like Saturdays, Sundays and holidays — ATMs are closed or have shorter working hours. For example, the ATM on campus closes at 9 p.m. on weekdays and is not in operation Saturdays and Sundays. I’ve only ever known ATMs to work 24 hours so this was news to me. The way I found out was by trying to use one on a Sunday morning and having it not turn on.

Employees do anything to help
Employees here take customer service to a whole new level; they almost seem delighted to serve you. Even cashiers seem extremely thrilled to serve customers. They bow to me after making a purchase and thank me several times for shopping there. Every time they do this it feels genuine and not just something they are obligated to say and do as part of the job.

Once, I needed to get a procedure done, but I was informed about it minutes before closing. I arrived expecting them to send me away, telling me I was too late. Instead the staff quickly figured something out and even stayed open later just to accommodate me. When I ran into problems purchasing an item, I probably went through about eight employees who were trying to assist me, and they all seemed disappointed when they couldn’t help me.

Even when my email address, for some reason, stopped working and the school could no longer send me messages, a faculty member came to my classroom and approached me specifically to get it situated. And when that didn’t work, a faculty member actually left a note on the door of my room politely asking me to get it situated again.

In all these scenarios I was expecting to be left by the wayside and fend for myself, but the employees wouldn’t let me. They went out of their way to attend to the needs of a single person, like a shepherd and a lost sheep.

Observing these little differences are enjoyable to me. I look forward to seeing how other things get done differently here!

Dalayah Baker is a third-year transfer student majoring in Japanese. She is studying abroad spring semester in Tokyo, Japan.



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