I can't say I know Japan at all well, having spent a grand total of a little over two weeks here, much of it in the house, doing my grandmotherly bit. But even walking to the store and (as the days progressed) as I've explored Osaka a bit more, I've noticed some interesting and quirky stuff. Here are 10 - actually 11 - things I've enjoyed about Japan - aside from the great tourist sites (temples and castles), the yummy food, and the experience of being part of a newborn family celebration, complete with kimono dress-up (about which more in another blog).
In no particular order:
1. Cool guys on granny bikes: No self-respecting cyclist in New Zealand (let alone France) would be seen dead on 99% of the bikes in Japan. Baskets are standard, baby carriers are really common (some bikes can carry a baby in a sling thing on the front and an older kid on the back), and a special attachment on the handlebars allows you to fix an umbrella as protection from sun or rain. People often/mostly ride on the pavement, helmets are rare (even for children), as are lights or fluoro vests. I never saw lycra. But checking your mobile phone while cycling along is de rigueur. Japan passed bike safety laws in 2015 which banned, among other things, cellphones on bikes. I would suggest they have an enforcement problem. (Scroll across for bike photos. NOTE: The one of the woman with the umbrella isn't just a crappy shot - it was actually pretty much dark, and not raining. Not sure why she needed an umbrella. Just because everyone else had one? Also note, the shot of the special bike for wearing when you are wearing a kimono is stolen from the internet.
2. Silent cellphones: No one talks on their cellphone in public. Part of the serious quiet in Japanese streets and on public transport. People are on their phones, but no one speaks. Walking along one shopping street, we noticed a man crouched down behind some bicycles. Not a wino or a kid having a quick smoke. Just some business guy taking an urgent call.
3. This man's outfit. Check out those shoes.
4. Bum-wash toilets. Press a button and the loo squirts water (choice of warm or cold) at your bottom. I WANT one of those. Scroll across below for a couple of photos of the flight deck of our toilet here, though they have them everywhere. Bliss!
5. Green tea/vanilla ripple soft serve ice cream.
6. Museum entry. It's seriously cheap, at least compared to the cost of green tea/vanilla ripple soft serve ice cream. I paid Y900 (that's about NZ$11 or £6) for a joint entry ticket for the Museum of History and the Osaka Castle. Meanwhile, I paid Y450 for a green tea soft serve ice cream outside. Spot the better value.
7. Almost no litter. Almost no crime. Anyone could walk into the front door of our house here any time day or night, people park kids' bikes unlocked on their front porch, and apparently it's fine to leave your handbag on your seat in McDonalds when you go up to order.
8. Bubbly sake: Delicious, 5% alcohol, and rather a fine-looking bottle. Oh, and this rice snack I bought is pretty - and yummy too. Don't forget that the green wrapper just underneath the plastic is edible too.
9. SIxteenth century warrior helmets. From the famous folding screen depicting "The summer war in Osaka", held at the Osaka Castle museum. I want one of those too.
10. Caligraphy. We got back one day and Saho's mum had left this note. Beautiful. I assumed it was some deep meaningful thought or quote. But no. It was asking Saho to pay the dry cleaning guy when he came, and saying they wouldn't be over later because her brother had a cough. What class!
I already have 10, but I couldn't miss this one out. So... 11. My first errand Japanese TV show. While the media in NZ (and elsewhere, I suspect) fret over whether we are over-protecting our children, Japanese parents send kids as young as three or four off to the shops or to school - unaccompanied, sometimes even if it means a train or bus ride. The argument is that Japan is safe, and heading off early will promote independence and self-reliance. If you don't have young children to push into the scary world, you can watch other people doing it. "My first errand" (Hajimete no Otsukai) has been a top-rating show in Japan for more than 25 years. The film crew follow small children as they carry out errands for their parents. Actually, it's strangely compelling and entertaining viewing. Watch this episode, which has English subtitles - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5k5XTZy0rA.