When I first got to Japan I was at the airport in Osaka. I had a layover. That was my first impression of Japan. Pretty standard, actually. When I got to my final destination, it was night and I was exhausted. I stepped out of the airport and it just seemed like there were so many people, so much noise and so many lights. The funny thing now is that when I go back to that airport, I see just how small it actually is!
Bright lights, big city
There are a lot of rumors about how crowded Japan is and how many lights there are. Well, that’s true for a few parts of Japan. When you first arrive it can be a little overwhelming. Though, your impression is based on where you’re from. I’m from a smaller, spread out city with a low population density and very strict laws about advertising, building and zoning. Japan doesn’t have such stringent laws. Streets are narrow and full of buildings. The larger cities have the tall buildings and skyscrapers and small cities have the shorter building. But they are all equally close together! There is a lot of advertising. Some structures that I had once thought to be parts of buildings actually turned out to be billboards.
You could eat off it
Once you get over the initial shock of being in a new place, you notice that it’s clean: like really clean! Japanese people litter just as much as anyone else, but it’s cleaned up. You might think, “Oh, that’s not too strange.” But actually, it’s not usually cleaned up by government crews. You will see shop owners, employees at nearby companies and even retired people out cleaning. It was very funny when I saw people in business attire out sweeping a small park. Or the little old man who cleans a river every morning.
Here a shop, there a shop
Another interesting thing to me was that there are little shops and restaurants everywhere! Even in residential areas. Want some ramen? Go down the street. You could spend a lifetime wandering around one city, trying all the little places to eat. Much of what you need is right around where you are living or staying.
Another thing you notice is that there are convenience stores everywhere. There are two that are a reasonable walking distance from my apartment. If I choose to ride my bike, I could get to a dozen in no time at all. A Japanese friend once said to me that because Japanese peoples’ refrigerators are so small they need the convenience stores to hold the things that they needed. And they are so popular in Japan that it is huge business. There are over 10,000 different convenience stores. That’s not individual markets, there are over 10,000 brands! Who knows how many individual stores there actually are.
Back home the convenience stores are full of junk food. Chips, candy and sweetened drinks are mostly what’s sold. In Japan you can get whole meals that are made at the convenience store! Of course they have the junk food too, but they also have ready made side dishes for the person who wants a little help cooking, ingredients, such as seasonings, and sometimes even vegetables and fruit. Now that’s convenience! The prices aren’t that too radically different from a supermarket either. You an buy wine, magazines, rain gear, long underwear, umbrellas and a bunch of other things. It’s really amazing what you can get.