I'm in a McDonalds hiding from the rain! I used to hate times like these when I first started my trip, but now that the end of my stay in Japan is approaching I find myself treasuring these simple times. McDonalds is convenient because I can stay here for as long as I like and I can recharge my laptop. Although some people might say that going to a McDonalds in Japan means that you're not really experiencing Japanese culture, I beg to differ. McDonalds restaurants are everywhere in Japan, and although the food is the same in any country, the Japanese McDonalds-culture is unique to this country, and probably cannot be found anywhere else. Sleeping salarymen at 2AM, chattering high school girls and middle school girls, homeless people scrounging up the money for a 100 yen hamburger, etc. etc. - all of it overlayed with a distinct Japanese 雰囲気.

For me, part of Japanese culture is their peculiar conception of convenience. There's a lot of contradictions in how this country approaches convenience. Or perhaps it's better phrased as 'Japanese people's convenient things are different from other countries'. In many ways it's the opposite of Holland. In Japan, convenience stores (conbini) are everywhere, yet trashcans are nowhere to be found. Public toilets are easy to locate, yet you have to walk for 20 minutes to find a suitable place to sit. For that matter, comfortable places to sit are hard to find! Backrests, tables, chairs, they're hard to come by once you venture into the countryside. A stay in a youth hostel generally involves a tatami room with a small low table and a pillow to sit on. No comfortable backrest for you! I had finally gotten used to sitting without a backrest when I rode in a friend's car, and the soft comfortable seat surprised me, and unexpectedly made my back hurt even more. Once you get used to a particular way of living it can be painful to change sometimes.

From my perspective, in Japan, some things that should be convenient are not, while other things that I wouldn't expect had a convenient solution, are in fact very convenient. Banks have annoyed me in particular. For example, even in a big city like Kagoshima the ATMs close on weekends. I think that's a huge WTF for any civilized country. In the Tokyo area you can use ATMs in the weekends but they will charge you more to withdraw cash. It's almost as if the system has just been thought up and hasn't been tested much, because this kind of 'bugs' are easily discovered when the system is put into production. Unfortunately it's been like this for years and doesn't like it'll change any time soon. Banks throw you another curve ball by closing their offices on weekends, meaning if you have to do anything bank-related you have to sacrifice working hours for it. You can imagine my surprise when I went to the bank last week to change my address, and was able to do it all by myself from an electronic terminal, without human intervention. Common actions are inconvenient, yet something as uncommon as an address change is extremely easy. They repeatedly betray your expectations. One instance where expectations are not betrayed is international money transfers: a fairly rare action, which is fairly cumbersome to do. As expected.

Posted in Japan