The Japanese are a technological and inventive people – we all know that. They have that creativity a bit abstruse that always brings them a step ahead of others. They have that flash of genius that makes you gape and say “no, but how did it come to mind?!?” and a moment later “how could I live without!”.
Well: this is our very personal top ten of things typically and absurdly Japanese to which we have become addicted in a flash and of which we desperately miss it now that we are in the West. Enjoy!
1 – Konbini
Ah, how we miss konbini! To put it simply, konbini is a supermarket, a “convenience store”. But of course not, it is not so easy. Because they are japanese and at konbini you can do everything: the classic shopping, lunch, take coffee, buy underwear or some technological gadget, send letters, withdraw at the ATM, collect your luggage, make photocopies, and whoever has more put it on! Konbini mon amour.
2 – Super-technological WCs
Admit it: have you ever looked at those super-equipped WC with curiosity and suspicion? We, as good Italians , always told ourselves that as long as we have the bidet we do not need all those buttons and fountains. Well, at the first – ehm – body function in Japan, you will have to change your mind. First of all, there is the pleasant function of “seat heating”, useful in winter (or when you are feverish and rather than resting your butt on the iced cup you would do it in the ‘parrot’ for ever). And then the “cover-noise” function, which creates a sort of background noise or a music that will immediately make you feel like you were not in a public bathroom (yes, even and especially in the public bathrooms there are futuristic WCs!) . And finally: the bidet function, women’s, men’s and back versions, with hot / cold mixing water to suit your taste. No, sitting on the cup of the home will not be the same anymore.
3 – Vending machines everywhere and unlikely and addictive drinks
Guys here the subtitle is simple: POCARI SWEAT! We came across this apparently anonymous blue and white label in 2013, when Futami Hayase, the girl who was our guide in Tokyo, advised us to buy one. Love at first sip. Addiction +++. As we write we have the Homer Simpson style bib. Since then, Pocari has accompanied every excursion, every walk, every trip in shinkansen, in short: every moment.
And distributors: everywhere, on street corners, in stations, under flyovers, in tourist and non-tourist areas. A warranty. Crowded with colored drinks (mostly incomprehensible), always clean, bright, they wink at you under the Japanese heat.
4 – Yukata
To be honest, yukata is a traditional but informal cotton garment that is worn especially in summer (it is what probably is identified in western imagery as a kimono, which is instead a formal garment, for the “great occasions”). But the yukata is also – and above all – a kind of robe that you will find in the ryokan, to be worn after a bath in the onsen. If at first you will feel embarrassed to get dressed up in in your yukata for the kaiseki dinner served at your traditional ryokan, soon this fresh and simple garment will become your best friend.
5 – Demential TV programs
Imagine lying on your tatami, just come out dall’onsen, wearing the yukata, pick up the remote more as a habitual gesture that to really see something – TV will speak Japanese, right? And then you press on and you get thrown into a parallel universe of such unimaginable absurdities that you can no longer press off. Among our favorites: the interviews / teasing to those who have just landed at the airport; races between incredibly stupid and unruly dog puppies; the interview with the two Italian nerds who arrived in Tokyo for a robot modeling contest (and they also won!); the real time transmission that follows policemen who arrest drunks. Drop down in yukata and socks at the ryokan dispenser, get yourself a cup of instant noodles and it’s done: you’re Japanese too!
6 – Bare feet, tatami and futon
Probably not all are lovers of being on the ground as me, strolling at home barefoot and lying down on the bare floor next to the stove. Without a doubt the Japanese are. To take off your shoes before boarding the tatami and entering a house (or some restaurants) is a ritual, not just a gesture of education: by leaving your shoes on the threshold, you “undress” the outside to enter a more intimate atmosphere. Walking on the tatami that does not make noise, rubbing a bit the feet, as we have seen in the manga, with small steps. Unroll your futon on the ground every evening – it would seem uncomfortable and instead is incredibly functional: in the micro-apartments in Japan you save a lot of space by placing the mattress in the appropriate closet. Not to mention the incredible comfort of resting on the ground on the double layer of tatami and futon. Yes, it’s another of those things that, back home, you will desperately try to reply.
7 – The box-cars
Small short cars, a little higher than the western ones, super comfortable, super spacious, super functional. Our favorite without a doubt the Lapin. Beautiful to drive and beautiful to see around the city.
8 – The single-dish kiosks
Disseminated everywhere in the city and in the countryside, these banquets or micro-venues basically offer a single dish or, at best, some variation of a single dish. From the cart that sells frozen pineapple at the roadside to the soba-shop of the Granny of Magome, from the place where yakitori and origami arrive together to the shop that sells solid or liquid orange juice (for gaseous they are gearing up): these points of first necessities will be precious to you.
9 – Umbrellas, with rain and sun
As soon as you arrive in Japan, you may wonder why, without a cloud in the sky, everyone has just put an umbrella on his arm. And even anonymous, not a trendy stuff: medium size, transparent white. Everyone with the same umbrella. Within a day at most it clarifies why: the showers in Japan (at least in the summer when we went there) are very frequent. Wise, these Japanese: when you leave your umbrella outside a shop or office, then when you get out no matter chich one you take, ’cause they are all the same! How to eliminate thefts 2.0. Finally, there are other umbrellas, the fashion ones, the glamor ones. They do not use them for rain, those, but to keep away from the sun. Colored, embroidered, laced, women and men are used to it. Très chic.
10 – Plastic reproductions of dishes, outside restaurants
Well, we do not miss these. Kitsch beyond belief, will soon prove invaluable when you have to order a meal by interfacing with people who do not even understand when you say “two-ya-ki-to-ri” indicating 2 with your fingers (ndr yakitori is a Japanese word, they are skewers ). And note: it is said by one who abhors menus with photos (“better to fast than to eat in one od those pplaces”), so you can believe me: after a while you will be tired of gesticulating and stuttering Anglo-Japanese syllables and you will thank you to order pointing.
Now you just have to leave and check with your own eyes!