Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Unique Japan

I've lived in Japan over ten years now and have gotten used to life here since long ago. So there is rarely times when I see or experience something and think "wow, this is something that I could only experience in Japan". But there are somethings that still make an impression on me without fail, unique Japanese things that I could never experience anywhere except for Japan.

Visually I would say that walking through a busy street looking for a client's office and coming upon a small hidden away serene temple is one of those thing that really strikes me as completely Japanese. Another one is getting up from the subway into the busy nightlife area of Shinjuku at night, seeing all the neon signs and the complete mix of people stumbling around the street. These things are something you could never experience anywhere outside Japan.

Audially I think it's a tie between all the female robot voices talking to you  in Japanese from every machine and the busy noise in a Japanese izakaya of people screaming orders, laughing and the general happy noise. You could would never experience this anywhere outside Japan.

Something like this, if all the men were drunk on cheap liqour
Olfactory (or "smell" for those of you who might not have English as a first language) The most Japanese smell that I know is that of a late night commuting train packed with people. The smell is a mix of old man, stale sweat and cheap liquor all mixed into one very unique odour that could never be experienced anywhere outside Japan. The mix sounds disgusting, and it is, but after being immersed in it for 5 minutes I find it somewhat soothing. This is a very unique Japanese smell and I doubt I could experience it anywhere else. Out of the senses listed, I would probably name this the most "uniquely Japanese" sensory experience.

So if you come to Japan and want to have an unique experience, take a late train on a weekend, heading out from the city towards the suburbs and make sure that you are completely sober for the full experience!

13 comments:

notanothergaijin said...

I haven't been here near as long as u have but also I find the smell you so immaculately describe very typical japanese. Although you forgot one key ingredient I believe. Smoke.

Seeing as as Japan now is one of the few developed countries in the world where smoking in bars/restaurants is still not frowned upon I believe that every salaryman's (or OL for that matter) suit also secretes that lovely smell of ashtray and old nicotine. Something that you just don't experience in Europe or America any more.

I am not at all complaining as I too once in a while make out with old lady nicotine, I am just stating a fact.

Thank you for entertaining reading as always!

notanothergaijinblog said...

PS. Another interesting train- and smell- related related experience is the Fukutoshin-line platform at HIgashi-Shinjuku station which for some mysterious reason always has a fain smell of fish gone bad. DS.

Chris said...

"for those of you who might not have English as a first language"

Who gives a fuck about THAT crowd....didn't we burn them all in ovens anyway?

Momotaro said...

I'm pretty sure more non-native speakers of English know that word anyway Mr. S. It was the first time I have seen it.

I love the smell of teppanyaki and okonomiyaki places that drifts all around Hiroshima, it is quite soothing. I don't like how you leave there stinking like one when you go to eat there though.

Anonymous said...

Visually: Completely agree! There is no place that feels so "Japan" to me as Shinjuku/Shibuya, and then stumbling past a shrine!

Audially: Have to say the pre-recorded voices at train stations, conbinis etc.

Smell (as I'm not in the health care equipment business): The smell when you enter a Japanese supermarket. I think it is a mix of soy sauce and sea weed but can't tell for sure.

canoa resort said...

I love midnight train rides and the over-all view of Japan.

angrygaijin said...

What about Japan outside of Tokyo? :)

I was biking through a ghost town in Fukuoka Pref yesterday. I was thinking to myself that I would never see a town so densely packed of buildings, but so void of people back home.

Michelle said...

May I ask what happened to Cieko and her black illegal boyfriend? I'm just so curious...

wakanai said...

I love the soft music that they play in the hotel hallways in the morning. And the unique smell of the shower soap in Japan. The screaming displays at the shops around Akiba give me a Bladerunner feeling. In fact, Japan's all science fiction to me. I love it.

Jeffrey said...

Great "Kids in the Hall" bit related to you photo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpCIYlRRw_o

Mr. Salaryman said...

NAG - Yeah, you're completely right, the smoke is a strong component of the late evening trains! I stand corrected!

Chris - Hey, HEY! I'm one of those you know and I actually had to look it up to confirm the spelling ;)

Momotaro - Well, you can always cook up the basic same stuff outside of Japan anyway, but it's not the same I guess

Anon - No, no and no, the trains win ;)

Angrygaijin - Well, I did spend a year in the country side as an exchange student, but can't really say that any smells there stuck with me... The army of coackroaches in the kitchen haunt me to this day though

Michelle - Good question and I'm on Mrs. Sunshine to find out what's going on, but no news at this point I'm afraid. Rest assured that I will keep you updated as soon as I know anything!

Wakanai - Well, the smell in the trains is anything but SCI-FI

Jeff - Oh, that's kinda nostalgic, can't say I ever was a fan though

Michelle said...

Thank you. I'm interested as this is happening on my side (of the world), too. A friend (of a friend, you know) married a African and could only get him here via a marriage-visa. Am worried about such things...

Jon Allen said...

nice summary.
There's also the smell in the Kombini of the over cooked food that's been sitting in the hot water all day.. what do they call that stuff?

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