I love Japan. Like, really love it.
And obviously, I love all the big stuff that makes up Japan; the people, the manners, the food, the beautiful landscape, the two distinct cultures (ancient and contemporary), but I find it’s all the little tiny things filling the cracks between the big ideas, the things you don’t read about in travel books, that make Japan as special as it is.
So here’s a list of just a few of the little things that I really love about this country.
1. The damp towels.
When you go to restaurants and bars you get a small damp towel to wipe your hands with. In summer they are nice and cold, and in winter they are steamy hot. Even the cheaper food and drink places will offer you little wrapped disposable wipes.
2. The onigiri.
These little rice balls are the single greatest fast food I’ve ever encountered. I like the ones with the seaweed or the salmon inside, though when I first arrived and couldn’t read any Japanese it was a fun surprise every time…
3. The easy-to-open-packaging.
Every single packet in Japan is easy to open. It’s magic. There will always be a tiny split in one corner from which you can tear open any packaging. If it’s not easy to get into, you can safely assume that it wasn’t made in Japan. Or you’re an idiot.
4. Watching people bow into the phone.
This is by far the best part of working in a Japanese office. I now consider bowing in all situations very normal, but watching people bow deeply while they talk on the phone still cracks me up.
5. Yuzu flavoured everything.
Yuzu is a kind of citrus fruit that is amazing in every form I have encountered; yuzu tea, yuzu marmalade, yuzu soda, yuzu alcohol, yuzu sweets, yuzu salad dressing…
6. Decorated trains.
Why should trains be boring? Why wouldn’t you whack a cartoon mural on your train?
7. The school garden
My base school (and probably most of my other schools) has a garden on the roof of the main building, where they grow vegetables in spring, summer and autumn. Every so often these vegetables are harvested and a little tiny vegetable market is set up in the staffroom where we can buy fresh vegetables or plant cuttings.
Just now, a teacher on her way down from the garden handed me two cucumbers for my dinner.