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Posted by on May 16, 2013

Random Thoughts by Dave – Cultural Differences Begin to Stick Out


It’s inevitable when you are in a foreign country that you will make comparisons to your home country. Why can’t we do things this way, why don’t we have that? The other day Jill was touting Japanese drink vending machines, saying how much more fun they were than American ones because of all the options they have (they also have beer vending machines here so the competition is over). She also claims that heated toilet seats are “the best invention ever.” That statement covers a lot of ground, but you need to try one before dismissing it outright.

Yes, there are Kit Kats along with drinks in this vending machine!

Yes, there are Kit Kats along with drinks in this vending machine!

This past week we were in Japan’s Alps and were once again reminded of home. The view looked eerily similar to one we’ve woken up to before when staying at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe.

The Japanese Alps

The Japanese Alps

But we’re finding there are more important cultural differences between countries, some good and some bad. I’ll list a few of those here.

We’ve taken a lot of public transportation in Japan and from what I can tell you can pretty much get anywhere in the country on a train or bus. Even better, there are high-speed trains that are easier, faster, more comfortable and more reliable than flying (I’m assuming cheaper as well). It’s a shame that the U.S. is lagging in this area with the resources we’ve had at our disposal, particularly considering our role as the greatest consumer of energy in the world (and one of its biggest polluters).

Seats on a Kyoto city train.

Seats on a Kyoto city train.

The other night Jill and I were walking back to where we were staying and weren’t exactly sure how to get there. But Jill remarked to me that even if we somehow were lost and ended up in not-so-desirable part of town she wouldn’t be too concerned about our safety. Violent crime is not an issue in Japan. Indeed, with laws that do not allow citizens to possess handguns and automatic assault weapons, Japan’s gun murder rate is miniscule. In 2008, there were 11 gun-related deaths in the country, or 16 less than the 27 people killed in the Sandy Hook tragedy. And yet, the U.S. can’t even pass a law concerning hand-gun registration. I’ve vowed not to waste my breath on this topic since it’s fairly obvious our country will never have gun control in any serious fashion, but if I were to ever live in another country I would definitely consider how safe it was before moving.

There also are many things I miss about the U.S., first and foremost seeing family and friends. Skype is great, but I’m better appreciated in person. Communication has been an issue throughout Asia, but most notably in Japan, where we’ve been surprised that not a lot of people speak English, particularly in stores and restaurants. Schoolkids have been the most persistent in trying to speak English with us.

These little kids followed us along their school yard as we walked to the train, talking to us in English.

These little kids followed us along their school yard as we walked to the train, talking to us in English.

Drinking on a budget continues to be a challenge, with craft beers going for as much as $10 in beer bars in Japan, while the wine selection throughout Asia continues to disappoint. Beer vending machines can only make up so much ground.

Beer vending machine!

Beer vending machine! A large can of beer for $3.

The most startling difference came this week when we were trying to buy tickets for a Japanese professional baseball game. We had no luck purchasing tickets for the Hanshin Tigers game online since the team’s website was only in Japanese. We also struck out trying to buy them from a ticket machine at the local Circle K because the machine’s options were only in Japanese. Fortunately, we were directed to a bookstore that also sold tickets for concerts, baseball games and other events. Once again, it was a little difficult communicating what game we wanted to go to and where we wanted to sit, but once that was resolved we asked what the ticket surcharge would be. Since we’re on a budget we’re trying to keep our costs down and I have plenty of experience with TicketMaster in the U.S. in my life to be wary of ticket surcharges. Our tickets were $19 apiece and the service charge came out to $1.05 per ticket. So once again I have to say, “Screw you TicketMaster!” and your $10-plus ticket surcharge and fees. How this company has been able to slip through regulators is beyond me. Wait, it isn’t beyond me, TicketMaster has been investigated by Congress and has been able to screw over consumers with no consequences. I hate you TicketMaster.

Oh, for some reason Oreos taste better over here. Maybe because we miss the comforts of home, but our theory is that the Oreos here are more fresh than back home because the cookies come wrapped in a sleeve rather than in a tray. Yum.







  1. Great post Dave. Love the humor. You know how us PJ fans feel about Tickemaster…

  2. I sure enjoy your posts and have to agree with Jill that the Japanese toilets are incredible. So hygienic and so warm! One Japanese hair styling salon in Cambodia has one of those toilets! I should have told you before you left.

    The Shinkansen trains are wonderful and we sure lag behind.
    You can order a Bento box lunch to be delivered to you at the next station. If you go through Hammatsu order unagi (broiled eel)
    Keep on posting. It is fun to read of your experiences. Be sure to take a mud bath in Rotarura, NZ.

    • I’m so sad to leave the Japanese toilets behind! 🙂