August 12, 2008

Things That Living In Japan Makes You Realize About the U.S.

We wanted to devote a post here and there about some of the things that living in Japan has made us realize about the U.S. (and vice versa).

One thing that jumps out about our experience this year is our total reliance on public transportation and our bicycles to get around, instead of cars. Sure, we chose not to get a car because we thought it would be more trouble than it was worth ("wrong" side of road driving, complicated and costly insurance and inspection rules (we heard), road-signs in Japanese, etc.), but by comparison, people in general rely on cars far less than in the U.S. Back home, anytime we left the house, it was to hop in the car to go somewhere - food shopping, to visit friends, or to work (for Ilena). Here our life is all about trains and bikes.

The public transportation thing has been well-covered. And it is all true; the trains in Japan are awesome - on time, easy, and with amazing coverage. The JR line takes Mike to work, carries us to Himeji, Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nara, Lake Biwa, and any number of spots in between. And we have taken the Shinkansen (bullet train), Jacob's favorite, to Tokyo and to Hiroshima.

But the more everyday (and striking) part of this equation is the bicycles (and walking). We use our bicycles (and our feet) now to visit friends and do daily shopping. Back home, bike riding was purely for leisure. But here it is an essential part of practical everyday life.

Living in Japan (aka the land of the $60 cantaloupe) makes you realize how abundant and cheap fruit and produce (and meat too) is in the U.S. It is insane. Comparing the shopping experience at your basic Costco to our shopping here is laughable. Back in the U.S., any time of year, you can score gigundo crates of blueberries and grapes, bags of apples, pears, oranges, peaches, plums (you name it) for what is - by comparison - ridiculously cheap. Here, fruit and produce is seasonal and expensive. The quality and freshness is awesome though. Right now peaches (momo) are in season. They are delicious, but it is also about 600 Yen (~ $6) for two of 'em.

Another notable difference is - partly because of the fact that we don't head to Costco or Whole Foods and just load up the old mini-van - we go shopping pretty much everyday here. Today for example, we bought one apple. That would just never happen back home.

Customer Service/Attitude
One thing that is plain to us from living here is that customer service in the U.S. completely sucks. There is no such thing as tipping here. And the quality of service is off the charts.

Every person that we have encountered here, from street-sweeper on up, is proud of and takes pride in their job. Shopping is an incredible experience - we have been given dry ice at the grocery store to bring home frozen goods; and everything is impeccably wrapped upon request. People just go our of their way. It is a far cry from the clerk at Duane Reed back home who gives you attitude and continues yapping on her cell phone despite the interruption you have presented to her by actually trying to buy something.

And maybe we have just been lucky, but the strangers on the street that we have met have also gone out of there way. Helping us find our way. Giving poems and origami to our kids. When Lauren got hurt last week on our bike ride, some guy on crutches went and bought us bandages. Unfortunately, we do not have confidence that random Americans would treat a very foreign looking bad-English-speaking Japanese family the same way. We hope we are wrong!


Alexis Jacobs said...

Very interesting comparisons. I would have assumed that produce over there would be cheaper for things that are grown over that way. What about other foods in general? Are they much more expensive?

DH travels to Kobe for work often and he can't stop talking about how nice everyone is over there and how on time everything is.

Semsavblanc said...

The taxis are also a unique experience. You feel like you are being chauffeur driven and they are so much cheaper than in Australia.
I so totally agree with you about the customer service. We received the most amazing service, above and beyond the call of duty, when our plane was stranded at Narita overnight. I will never forget the selfless way the girls from Cathay Pacific devoted themselves to making sure we were all comfortable and catered for that night and then turned up, ready for duty before we had even dragged ourselves out of our sleeping bags the next morning. They were just amazing. We were treated like royalty!
Your blog was a reminder for me to go that extra mile whenever you have the opportunity.
The Japanese are truly amazing people in that area!!

Mike said...

Produce and meat are expensive. Fish (as you might expect) is cheap and very very good.

...and yes, Taxis are another big difference!

Brian Matteson said...

Customer service in the Northeast US and the other parts of the country are far different. Though, I don't think I've ever been given dry ice at the Wake Forest, NC Harris Teeter's!