Since this is my 3rd consecutive trip to Japan, I don't have great additional wisdom from that I posted in 2013 and 2014 as well as another shout out to this article Japan, and How I Failed to Figure it Out.
This year's trip was a bit different though since I was taking my dad around mostly to places I had already been, to show him Japan 30 years after he had last been there for work. We obviously went at slower pace since he's a bit older than me :) and we took the time to have 2 Nagomi dinners, i.e. dinners with Japanese families who wanted to invite foreigners for dinner to chat with them in English. My dad didn't really visualize what it would be before we got there, but loved it afterwards, and both families who nicely hosted us for dinner also seemed very happy.
In the last years, I listed what I liked and surprised or amused me. I'm left with only a few of items this year, unfortunately not all positive:
I hadn't paid attention to the fact that I hadn't seen a single beggar in the street anywhere ever. It's not like there are 0 homeless people, even if the Japanese government apparently does a good job providing small little jobs to more people to give them a sense of purpose and base income, and that's a great thing, but from what I read the few(er) people who need help are too proud to beg in the street and get help from charity organizations.
Needless to say that I was impressed.
As far as shoes are concerned, with mine being difficult to remove and put back, that part of Japan is painful for me. Worse, when a place like Himeji Castle makes you remove your shoes and carry them for 30mn or even 1h as you go through the entire castle with just socks, this is just painful to people like my dad or me with flat feet (my dad) or feet like mine that need an insert to provide arch support. Walking without shoes on wood for so long was just painful and unpleasant :(
I understand people want to keep their home clean, but when it's a castle/museum, that's a bit more annoying. Also, none of the loaner slippers I've seen anywhere fit my double wide feet. I guess I should bring my own next time.
Japanese people are very respectful of rules, which is a good thing most times. On the flipside however, I haven't found them to think outside the box or be flexible when the rules might not make as much sense. They'll just be very sorry but I'm not sure if they'll try to adjust the rule in the future. Examples I've seen:
- after paying JR lots of money for a train pass, having them prevent you from taking nearly empty nozomi trains due to an obsolete rule that doesn't make sense, was annoying to say the least (you have to wait 30mn or more, for the exact same train, call hikari, and that does more stops except between Nagoya and Kyoto where both trains take the exact same time, but you still have to wait up to 30mn for the next Hikari, just because).
- I went to a neko cafe in Osaka that was closing in 12mn (their times posted online were incorrect). They nicely warned me of this and I said it was fine, I'd rather see their cats 12mn than not at all. Because they were the owners, they could have given me a discount from the full price of 1200 yen, but I could tell it never occurred to them. In other countries it's been offered to me without asking, or in a couple of places they even just let me in for free because they felt bad about charging me for so little time. To be fair, I didn't ask because it was a bit hard in Japanese and I didn't want to waste the 12mn left anyway.
- In Kobe, the ropeway becomes cheaper at 17:00 because the garden at the top closes, but the garden entrance closes at 16:30. I arrived at 16:20 and was notified that the garden would be closed by the time I got up, but I still had to pay full price. Ugh? How long have they worked with this? Didn't any employee point out that maybe lowering the price at the time you can't make it to the garden entrance anymore, be a good idea?
On that last point, nothing is perfect. If people think a bit too much outside the box like the French, they are more likely to rationalize rules and laws and not obey them all depending on the situation. You can make an argument that's it's not always a good thing. On the flipside, being very orderly and respectful of rules like the Japanese makes for a nice and clean society which is appealing in many ways, but from time to time I think showing a bit more initiative and being able to rationalize a rule that really doesn't make sense in a given situation, can be a good thing too.
Anyway, enough rambling, I still very much enjoyed this third trip to Japan and am thankful to all the very nice and helpful Japanese people we met.
And for the French speakers, here is some French Engrish :)