Parking backward (argh)

Cultural comparisons are a frequent topic of discussion in language classes. When asked about customs or aspects of daily life in Japan that I find surprising or strange, I like to bring up car parking behaviour. Almost without exception, Japanese people back into parking spaces, while in the other countries I’ve lived (US, Canada, Australia), it’s more common to pull in forward unless there is a particular reason to back in.

Although I’m now what is called in Japanese a ペーパードライバー (paper driver)—meaning that I have a license but don’t drive—I feel very strongly that backing into a parking spot doesn’t make much sense in most cases.

Driving backward is usually more difficult, so I think that it’s much easier to back out into the wider area of the parking lot, rather that back into a more narrow space. That is, it makes more sense to do the more difficult maneuver when you have more space to work with, not less.

My Japanese teachers have generally expressed skepticism at this reasoning, but I know I’m right. 🙂 I also have anecdotal evidence of my correctness from watching people try repeatedly to back into spaces rather inexpertly, whereas they could have just easily pulled in forward and saved an awful lot of time.

Everybody backed in

Renting media – still a thing

Japan is typically seen as particularly technologically advanced, which is true to some extent. However, there are many areas that are still old-fashioned compared to equivalent countries. One area that often strikes me is the continued popularity of renting and buying physical media (CDs, DVDs, games). For example, this large shop near us is still doing a thriving rental business.

A rental shop, still going strong

This article from 2017 notes that CDs still make up 85% of music sales in Japan, which I found to be pretty shocking. Some possible reasons for this might include a lack of streaming service options, a strong “collector” culture, and marketing gimmicks for physical media. For example, some albums, including from foreign artists, are released with special extra tracks that are exclusive to CDs in the Japanese market.

Another article from a couple of years ago provides more numbers:

“Globally, 39% of all music sales are physical CDs and vinyl, but in Japan, the figure is double that. It helps make Japan the world’s second biggest music market, selling more than ¥254 billion ($2.44 billion) worth of music a year — most of it in the form of CDs.”

The article notes that rentals are definitely declining, but there are still around 2,400 media rental shops in Japan. I’m sure that all-digital is inevitable in the future, but it’s interesting to see how the preference for physical items is hanging on, even among younger people.

How many gun-related deaths are there in Japan? Spoiler: not many

I came across an article that reports Japan’s gun-crime stats for 2017. According to the 警察庁 (National Police Agency), there were 3 people killed and 5 people injured in gun-related crimes in Japan in 2017. Yes, that’s for the entire year. Note that the figures exclude suicides and accidents.

Japan’s population is 127 million people.

The article also compares statistics from the US in the same year: 15,612 gun-related deaths, or 42 people per day. In Japan, meanwhile, 44 people were killed by guns over the past 8 years.

KFC and cake

Christmas in Japan means Santa Claus and Christmas tree-themed everything, Christmas music blasting everywhere from November, and on the day itself, KFC and “Christmas cake.” It’s mostly a romantic holiday for couples, a fun time for kids, and a massive shopping season for everyone, leading up to New Year’s, which is the main holiday of the season (and the year).

As the Gaijinpot blog puts it:

“It’s a question that many Westerners ask every year around this time, when the iconic red, white and green marketing campaigns go up across the nation: How did Christmas in Japan become synonymous with a fast food joint?” Essentially, it’s due to an extremely successful marketing campaign in the 70s. Read the blog post for more details.

KFC is indeed enormously popular for Christmas lunches and dinners, and it’s necessary to order your fried chicken well in advance.

A sampling of KFC ads:

We skip the KFC craziness, but we do tend to partake in “Christmas cake.” According to this NPR article, Christmas cake became a tradition in post-war times, where American-style cake came to be associated with a decadent American Christmas.

Japanese Christmas cake is typically white sponge cake with white icing and decorated with strawberries and the like, plus various Santa and winter-themed decorations. But there are many different variations, including our raspberry mouse shown below. See also last year’s chocolate.

Christmas cakes aren’t just sold in bakeries, but also supermarkets, department stores, and even convenience stores. But in most cases, pre-ordering is absolutely essential!

Most Japanese I’ve spoken with assume that fried chicken and cake is typical Christmas fare in America and other Western countries and are surprised when I tell them, well, it’s not!

Some notes on manners

Gratuitous armor photo

On the Japan Info blog/website, I came across a list of “7 Daily Habits Considered Rude Elsewhere, But are Perfectly OK in Japan.” Yes, I’m susceptible to clickbait, but it’s still an interesting list.

The seven things are:

Not tipping

Nope, not done here; this is good

Being indirect

“hiding” the meaning of what you really mean to say by minimizing complaints or overstating compliments.

Interrupting when someone else is speaking

In other words, Japanese conversations have more feedback—saying things like “I see,” “really,” “uh huh” more frequently than in English, for example.

Not holding doors open for other people

Not sure, see comments below.

Making noise when eating

Must slurp the noodles!

Pushing people when getting in or off the train


Shouting for service in a restaurant

I’m not sure about all restaurants, but definitely in pub-style restaurants, just yell “sumimasen” to get the server’s attention.

As previously discussed, I would also add “smoking permitted indoors especially restaurants”, which is among the very worst and rudest things about Japan in my opinion.

But anyway, on the topic of #4, I haven’t really noticed whether people tend to hold open doors generally or not, but definitely people do hold open elevator doors. This is a very minor thing, but it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine. The gym I go to is on the 6th floor of a building, and you have to use the elevator to get there. Without fail, the person in the elevator closest to the door holds down the “open” button and allows others to exit first. This is great when, for example, the elevator is really crowded or there’s a baby stroller or elderly person with a shopping trolley. But if there are only, say, 3 people in the elevator, it’s really annoying! People tend to make a big show saying どうぞ (douzo) “go ahead”, “no, after you” “please, you first” etc. etc. … and then no one ends up getting out of the elevator before more people start getting in. I’m usually the one who appears very rude by being the first out of the elevator, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice so that we don’t have to be trapped in the elevator forever. (And, I now make a point to hold the door open whenever I’m closest to the button, just so I’m not rude all the time.)


At the gym

I decided to write this post because I’m sad.  haven’t been feeling well and missed going to the gym two days in a row. Woe is me. Well, at least I can blog about it.

I started doing gym fitness classes about 10 years ago, and when living in Australia, I somehow transformed into one of those people who goes to the gym every day at 6:00 in the morning (well, 8:30 am on weekends). I rode there on my bike, too. I didn’t become a real gym rat who spends hours on the weights every day, but I was there every morning, and thanks to Body Attack three times per week along with other classes, I started to feel moderately athletic for the first time in my life. (I’ve always been active, but not particularly athletic.)

There are many things I miss about Australia, but Body Attack and bike paths are among the most mourned!

Fortunately, however, I have a good gym right nearby our apartment, with all sorts of fitness classes that strike my fancy. There are only a few minor drawbacks:

  1. Chiefly: the gym doesn’t open until 10:00am!! The day is half gone by then!! I’m still an early bird but I have to wait for my workout. And the particular classes that I enjoy aren’t on until the afternoon. There’s a weird gap in classes from about 3:00-7:00pm, and I’m not interested in going later than that, so early afternoon is the only option.
  2. On weekdays, my workout comrades are mainly the 60+ crowd, which is totally fine, but it’s a bit different motivation-wise in comparison with being among the oldest patrons at my previous university gym.
  3. There are big gaps in the schedule between classes, usually 20 minutes to an hour, so if I want to do two classes in a row, I’m in for a long time there.
  4. The pool is soooo crowded.
  5. The gym is on the 6th floor and you can only get there by elevator. (I hate taking an elevator when I could walk, and they’re soooo slow.)

But overall, the trainers are good and there’s a nice variety of classes. Even though there’s nothing as challenging as Body Attack, there’s a similar cardio martial arts-inspired one (alas, only once per week!). Y and I have also started going to a boxing class, which is quite fun, but it’s hard to make it there consistently on Sunday afternoons.

ANYWAY, my point in writing this post was to give a little comparison between my current gym and gyms that I have frequented in Canada, the US, and Australia.

Here’s what the signs outside look like (it’s owned by a pro-wrestler, whose image also appears in various locations inside. Cool.):


The shoe situation is, of course, quite strict. You take off your shoes to go in the locker room (which has bamboo or maybe synthetic bamboo floors), and there are public baths and a sauna.

Generally, Japanese people (especially women) tend not to go outside in workout clothes, so most people change when they arrive, and then back again when they leave.

Shoes that you’ve worn outside definitely CANNOT be worn in the gym. Obviously, this makes the whole experience much cleaner—all gyms should have this rule! People also take off their shoes when using the mats for stretching on the gym floor.

A related point is that the studio floors are swept after every class, and sometimes during the classes as well if it’s particularly humid. Every instructor sweeps and tidies up after the classes, and I even see them cleaning the fans sometimes. Gasp! This is a stark contrast to my, shall we say, gritty Australian experience.

The instructors’ behaviour is probably more formal than other places. They announce their classes and give a little summary over the PA 15 minutes beforehand, and begin the classes precisely at the appointed time (never early, never late). They also end right on time and then rush to the door to say goodbye to everyone individually as they leave.

As in other services and businesses, there are more staff than I would expect to see in other countries. There are a lot of staff whose main role seems to be welcoming people and hanging up signs. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I certainly notice it. (Perhaps the subject of another blog post.) I feel very welcome with the multiple greetings at the entrance and on the gym floor!

This being Japan, there are TONS of ‘please do x’ and ‘please do not do x’ signs all around the gym. I’ve treated you to one below that has pictures. Most of the others are just text, with the most crucial bits in red font (and many of them are 50% red font.)


Otherwise, I can’t think of anything remarkably different. The equipment is the pretty much the same, except for a hilarious machine that is like riding a mechanical bull, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. (Too bad that I can’t take a video!) The types of classes are similar and the music is probably roughly the same, too.

So that’s a little summary of my home away from home. I’m developing a good vocabulary in words and phrases like: extend, raise, lower, front, back, repeat, 16 more times!

Temperature complaints

Having lived in a few different climates, I can’t help but roll my eyes, just a tiny bit, whenever I hear weather complaints. Here’s a bit of myth-busting and clarification to consider next time you want to complain about the weather.

Quick myth busting:

To the Canadians: yes, it gets uncomfortably coldish in Australia in winter.

To the Australians: yes, it gets uncomfortably hotish in Canada in summer.

To the Coloradans (of the Front Range): yes, it’s totally true that you have the most freakishly changeable weather, but this also means that you have the best weather. Only occasionally too hot, only occasionally too cold, loads of sun, and rarely humid. So no complaining allowed.

It’s all relative:

It’s so adorable when Perth residents freak out when it’s 0 degrees (32 F). To be fair, when you don’t have proper winter clothes nor central heating (or any heating, in many cases), 0 degrees is pretty darn chilly. I definitely felt very uncomfortable during winter there. BUT after my time in Montreal, I don’t consider it “cold” unless it’s under -15, and even then, I know that’s not cold by northern or prairie standards.

Poor Quebecois start moaning and cranking up the air conditioning when it’s 25 degrees (77 F). True, Montreal summers are pretty humid and hot, but the warmth only lasts for like 2 weeks max. Of the places I’ve lived, Montreal gets the worst marks for blatant air conditioner abuse. You won’t melt, people, I promise. If you want to experience real heat, go almost anywhere else, such as Western Australia when the sun sears down on you mercilessly as the temperature makes it’s way upwards of 40.


My very limited anecdotal observation is that North Americans often tend to think of Japan as a hot place (I guess they think of tropical Okinawa?), and Australians think of it as a cold place (they think of skiing). In fact, Japan goes full out with all four seasons. Of course it also covers several climate zones for such a small country, ranging from the three snowiest cities in the world (i.e., among those with over 100,000 people) to the aforementioned tropics.

I’m crazy, I know, but I’m enjoying my first Japanese summer so far. The temperature itself looks pleasant, for example 30 degrees today (86 F). But the humidity is 90%. So that makes it feel like 41 degrees (105 F). Tomorrow’s forecast is 32 with 80% humidity, so it will feel like 45 (113 F). Nice.

For reference:


Summer in the city


I’ve just returned from visiting my family for a couple of weeks, and I found it rather difficult to answer the oft-asked questions “what’s it like to live in Japan” and “what do you like about living in Japan”? I didn’t have a concise answer prepared, but I will try to write more here to get to the heart of it.

In the last two weeks, the weather has progressed much deeper into summer, and now I finally get to experience the sticky season that everyone has been warning me about. I visited a dry climate, so the contrast is stark returning to 30 degrees (mid-80s F) with 80-90% humidity. I know it’s weird, but I like to feel warm and slightly sweaty; that probably has to do with my bad circulation which makes my hands, feet, and nose turn strange colours when I’m cold.

Being away from a place for a little while is great for enhancing your perceptions when you return, and I’ve been enjoying the discovery or rediscovery of various sights and sounds, such as the iconic cicadas in one of the parks where I often walk:

(Depending on the quality of your speakers and/or hearing abilities, this may just sound like static, or nothing, but trust me, I captured the relentless chirpy hum of cicadas!)

The sense of place that I notice the most is smells, but alas (or perhaps fortunately) I haven’t invented scent-blogging yet, so I’ll have to resort to words. I visited a land of mostly clear air with lightly scented pines, but in contrast, in the parks in Yokohama, there are so many smells of wet earth and every shade of green and flowers and ocean. The different scents stand out in turn as the slight breeze shifts or the rain starts to fall, but they all speak of warmth and life.

Long story short, I love summer: in dry climates and so far, in humid ones, too.