[Necro-post] 30 June 2010 | 2118 hours (+9GMT)
Just now when I was walking down the quiet and dark streets of Hirosaki, many thoughts occurred to me – of how Japan is different from Singapore.
Sunrise & Sunset | Japan experiences a longer day than night. A day usually lasts for 14 hours plus with light and the remaining in the dark. Hence, it is no surprise that Japan’s sunrise is at around 4am. Sun sets in Japan at around 6-7pm, depending on the parts of Japan, the higher you go north of Japan, the earlier the sunrise. At first I was astonished about how early it came to light. As usually I would wake up at around 630am or 7am, and the streets will be totally bright and sunny, like 8+am in Singapore.
Working Hours | Due to the early sunrise, Japan functions on a different system of working hours as compared to Singapore. Stores usually open at 7 to 8am, and 730 to 930 am would be their morning rush hour. Hence the streets start to be filled up with cars and people rushing off to work as early as 6 or 630am. Tourist-related offices and attractions however, usually start work at 9am. By 5pm, all the stores and attractions will close for the day, except for a few restaurants that will open up till 7 or 9 pm in the night. Hence it is difficult for tourists like me to roam the night, especially when there are no shops or restaurants open that late. Also the streets will be very quiet as everyone would have gone home.
Mode of Transport | Though Japan has a huge system of railroad and buses, the most common mode of transport used by Japanese remains that of bicycle. It is common to find bicycle parks everywhere you go in Japan, and it is easy to spot Japanese cycling to work or school on the road. Even hotels provide bicycle for rental goes to show how essential it is to cycle in Japan.
Huge Train Network | Before coming to Japan, I always hear about how complicated Japan’s network of trains can be and how difficult it is to navigate through Japan on the huge network of trains and railroad lines. However, from personal experience, it is not true at all. Yes, Japan’s network of trains is huge. A single station can go up to having 22 lines, or even more for the Tokyo area stations. Also, almost every station is an interchange station, meaning it is uncommon to find stations that only serve 1 line. However, as long as you know: (i) where you are heading to, in English and in Kanji (no need to know how to pronounce, just need to have the name on paper); (ii) have a train timetable prepared to know what time the train will arrive, there will be no problem at all.
Trains are basically divided into a few types:
1. Shinkansen – bullet trains that traverse across Japan at top speed, reaching faraway places in a couple of hours.
2. Limited Express – trains that traverse across nearby cities, often skipping certain less-used stations so as to reach more popular destinations faster.
3. Express – trains that are like limited express trains, traversing across nearby cities, but do not skip any stations. These trains are hence slower than limited express trains.
4. Local Rapid Line – trains that traverse across suburbs of a city, either skipping less popular stations, or offering a short service route, so that commuters can reach destinations in a shorter time.
5. Local Line – trains that traverse across suburbs of a city, stopping at all available stations. These trains are hence slower than the Local Rapids.
Apart from knowing the types of trains, it is also important to know the type of cars on each train. There are three types: (i) Reserved Green, (ii) Reserved Ordinary and (iii) Non-Reserved. Reserved cars require a prior reservation of seat, Green being paying an additional fee, like being in “first class” seats, Ordinary being normal seats, only requiring reservation fees. Non-Reserved cars are for people who board with no reservation. Seats are hence dependent on how many people there are, and on first-come-first-serve basis.
Japan’s network of trains is not just this. Everything in the station is organized. In what way you may ask? The place to board each car is labelled on the ground. As different types of trains have different number of cars, e.g., Local Lines usually 2 cars, Limited Express I think is 6 cars and Shinkansen is 16 cars, so the place the train will stop is different. All these are labelled on the ground. Furthermore, due to the difference in train length, the type of car (reserved green, ordinary or non-reserved) is also different from train to train. All these are also labelled on the floor and on cards suspended above. For Shinkansen, two lines are available for queueing – 1 for the incoming train, 1 for the next train.
As mentioned in a previous post, trains reach exactly on time, and leave exactly on time. It is uncommon for a train to be delayed by 2 minutes or more. The train will pull into the platform, and doors open. Japanese have no rush to enter the train unlike Singaporeans. Everyone will wait until everyone alighted and then proceed to board one by one, making haste but not rushing. Once everyone has boarded, the platform captain will blow the whistle to signal the train captain to start the train.
It is also important to note the rules on board any kind of trains in Japan. Firstly, unlike Singapore, they place great emphasis on the use of mobile phones on trains. No one is allowed to use their mobile phone when in the passenger car of the train. To use a mobile phone (or keitai denwa, in Japanese), you need to go the the ends of the car, separated by a sliding automatic door. Also, Japanese place great emphasis on the giving up of priority seats. Anyone who is found not deserving of the priority seat may be scolded by others in public for not giving up their seats. Hence, no matter how crowded trains are, these seats are usually left empty. Furthermore, putting bags on seats are prohibited if the trains are full. Bags have to be placed on racks above the seats. Toilets are available on all trains, except local lines, on particular cars only. These information will be disseminated via PA system at the start of each ride. Cars are also labelled smoking and non-smoking. Japan’s public transport is increasingly becoming non-smoking. Standing is only allowed at the ends of the train. Oh! and the lady with the push-cart will walk along the aisle, just let her know if you wish to buy anything, from food to drinks to souvenirs.
Hailing a Taxi | Hailing a taxi is completely the opposite from Singapore. Available taxis (pronounced as takk-shi) are indicated with a red light, while occupied taxis are having a green light. Also, taxis usually are available at train or bus stations (or ekimae, which literally means in front of station), tourist attractions, otherwise, you would be required to call one. There are 3 main types of taxis – small-sized, large-sized and limousines.
Crossing the Road | From personal experiences this week, jaywalking is not tolerated in Japan. Everyone waits for the green man before crossing, regardless of whether the road has cars or not. Even when both sides of the road are empty, Japanese still stand and wait for the green man. Also, every place that allows pedestrain to cross, will be marked on the road with white stripes. Hence it is really easy to see where you can cross and where you cant. One thing different from Singapore is that in some places of Japan, such as Hirosaki, cross-road junction traffic lights are 3-way, meaning pedestrians can cross length-wise, breadth-wise and diagonal-wise (where all cars will be stopped by red light). Interesting eh?
Buildings Planned | Buildings are planned and built in an orderly manner. There will always be a large pavement for pedestrians to walk on either or both sides of the road. Hence walking along the street is always easy. Also, buildings often have carparks every now and then, hence one needs to be really alert when walking down the street, as you will need to look out for cars turning in and out of carparks. Carparks are traditionally an open-spaced single-floored carpark, but in some places multi-storey carparks do exist. Also some parts of Japan offer carpark service where commuters park their car in a lift, and the car will travel up the elevator to be stored in a certain part of the building – sounds like capsule hotel isnt it?
What’s on TV? | Surprisingly, Japanese talk shows and variety shows can be a match for Taiwanese variety shows. Japanese shows can be really funny at times, and often put forward original ideas. It is always an exciting part of the day to look forward to watching these shows at night in the hotel. What a waste that we cannot watch them back in Singapore!
Hairstyles & Faces | Somehow, the hairstyles of Japanese men and women are all the same. Hence it is really easy to spot who is a Japanese and who isnt. However, this does not apply to the youths. Students of Japanese High Schools or Universities tend to be a little more fashionable with clothing, bags and hairstyles. It is so unfair that these students usually look better than average, while in Singapore, few are! *Jealous!*