Over the course of the past few months I have had more than my share of my shenanigans. Many of which have taught me that no matter how much I think I know Japan, it is, in fact, a very unique country that is very different from my own and therefore no matter how long I live here, it is never safe to make assumptions. Anything goes, as they say. Anything.
So here are three lessons I have learned recently that I will share in order to save you some heartbreak, frustration, and just straight-up confusion in case you ever find yourself as an innocent, wide-eyed gaijin fresh off the plane and in the wilds of ridiculousness that is Japan.
Assuming That Parking Lots Stay Open
A few months back when two of my American friends were visiting, I took them to Amanohashidate, which was touched upon in this blog post.
I’m going to digress from the topic for a moment to say that I finally got to go to one of the Amanohashidate viewing points and man, is it gorgeous!
It’s easy to see why it’s considered to be one of the three most beautiful spots in Japan! And I’m certainly glad it is, because my friends and I endured quite a trek just to get there. In order to get to the viewing point we first had to walk the length of the sandbar (and then some!). It wasn’t a rough trek by any means – just a long one. Being a sandbar, it was mostly flat. The sandbar itself is 3.3 km in length (just barely over 2 miles) and since we stopped for pictures a lot along the way, it ended up taking us almost an hour.
We were lucky, too, because apparently they close the viewing points at dusk (Hint #1) and it was already starting to get dark! We ended up making it just in time for the last cable car ride up the mountain. The picture below was taken from said cable car.
Once we descended, though, and the high of being surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery waned, we realized that we didn’t actually have too many options for getting back to my car! Usually during the day you can take a ferry or bus back to the other side of the water, but since it was now dark, they weren’t running (Hint #2)! So we had two options: walk back or take a taxi. We chose the latter because we were both feeling lazy and in a hurry to get somewhere else (but mostly we were just feeling lazy…).
So a good fifteen minutes after getting in the taxi, we arrived at the parking lot where my car was parked – the very same parking lot, I might add, in which I enjoyed a wonderful and relaxing lunch just a month prior at the kimono festival. Now keep in mind: yes, it was now dark but seeing as this was Japan coming up on the winter season it was only a little bit past 5pm.
When we arrived, the taxi driver gave us a look and asked if we were going to be okay (Hint #3). “Are we going to be okay?” I said with a laugh. “Of course! You brought us exactly where we needed to go!” and with that I paid him and he was on his way. It wasn’t until he was out of sight that we realized that the parking lot was barricaded and my car was now the only car parked there. The good man that I had paid to park there just a few hours prior was nowhere to be found either…
Now the “barricades” were nothing to worry about – rest assured that any would-be parking space thieves would not be stopped in their tracks in the least. I think the barricades were there as more of a subtle reminder that “Hey, look. You can’t park here right now. It’s closed, suckaaaaz!.” So needless to say, getting to my car was not the problem; it was getting my car out of the parking lot that was. Once inside, I managed to drive it out of the lot but was stopped in my tracks when met by some more barriers blocking the entirety of the road to freedom. This is where things got sketchy (and awesome!). One of my friends volunteered to move the barriers and she did just that as I waited from the safety and warmth of my car. Here’s a picture I took to commemorate the momentous occasion.
Beautiful, ain’t it? I’d say it captures the true spirit of our parking lot fun times!
After those barriers were taken care of, I drove the car forward a bit more until we encountered THE FINAL BOSS OF BARRIERS! (In actuality these ones were not only much smaller than the previous ones but I could also easily drive around them…) It was the last obstacle on our road to freedom – literally just past this final set was the main road. So before proceeding we figured it was best to figure out just where we were going to go now – we had been so preoccupied with getting out of the parking lot that we realized we didn’t even know how to get to our next destination (which, just happened to be a department store called “Mipple.”). So we all just chilled in my car for a few, trying to figure out how to get there. And I’d just like to say, as a side note, never put the word “mipple” into Google. Just don’t do it. Your innocence will thank you.
(…You’re so looking it up now, aren’t you?)
After we had discovered the way to Mipple, the promised land, an ominous figure seemingly manifested out of thin air and right next to my car. Upon closer inspection, this figure turned out to be the guy I had paid for parking earlier in the day! I rolled my window down and he muttered some things in Japanese that I couldn’t quite make out and then proceeded to completely remove the barriers from my path. My friends and I tried to explain that we didn’t need him to do that as we could easily drive around, but he was having none of it. As we left, with a shake of his head and a look of genuine concern, all he could manage to say was “Ki wo tsukete.” Literally translated, it means “Be careful.” But as someone who has quite a bit of experience in Japanese social situations, I was able to understand the true meaning of his words. You see, Japanese can often carry double, even triple, meanings depending on the context. So what he was really saying was “Holy shit, these girls are idiots. How in the hell they managed to live this long already is beyond me,” and “I pity the next poor fool who has to deal with them. By releasing them from this prison I have unleashed a plague upon the world in which there is no undoing!”
Moral of this story? Never assume that a parking lot will stay open – even if there is no sign indicating such and even if the keeper of said parking lot doesn’t actually mention it to you upon paying. Also, avoid “mipple” at all costs – unless it’s the department store in Japan, of course, because it’s awesome!
Assuming That Japanese Gyms (and Japanese Gym Parking Lots) Function Like American Ones
Partially due to the fact that Japanese gyms are generally inadequate if one wants to experience both diverse and torture-free workouts (more on this in another post…) and partially due to the fact that I’m crazy about my workouts, last month I joined a second gym. Don’t get me wrong – my first gym is fantastic (for a Japanese gym)! It’s both cheap (for a Japanese gym) and well-equipped with (almost) everything one could want for a good power-lifting-centric workout. There are a couple downsides that got to be too much for me, though. One, it is not heated (or air-conditioned in the summer) and two, it has a serious lack of cardio equipment. These weren’t problems for me when the weather was mild, but now that it’s been continuously freezing, rainy, and snowy I’ve been craving a gym that was a little more comfortable temperature-wise and one in which I could do a little cardio for a more-balanced routine.
But anyway, I digress! This new gym, is much fancier for the most part. It not only has heat and cardio machines, but also offers classes, a pool, rock-climbing walls, and hot tubs! However, as I quickly learned, a fancier place means fancier rules. And by “fancier” rules, I mean non-sensical ones. There are a lot of them too. But today I will just be touching on the two that I apparently missed…
Many Japanese Gyms are NOT Open Everyday
It was a Thursday. To me, Thursday has been a day of freedom and relaxation as it is the only day upon which I typically end up free from post-work commitments. This particular Thursday, my first gym was closed (it’s closed on a random day each week) so I was very much looking forward to a nice workout at the new gym with a refreshing soak in the hot tub afterward.
I packed all the things I would need for my workout (“indoor” shoes and sweat rags are required at my new gym) and then a nice shower afterward. I got in the car, drove the fifteen minutes to the gym, got my parking ticket (more on this shortly…) and entered the parking lot. Being absorbed in my own little world of belting out upbeat tunes that played on my car’s stereo, it wasn’t until I parked my car that I realized I was alone in the parking lot. Not a single other car. Then I looked to the building and realized all the lights were off. Not another soul in sight: they were undeniably closed. For a moment, I just sat there in shock. Closed! …On a Thursday!? But then I remembered that I had read something about that before. In my introductory packet, I seemed to recall reading about them being closed on Thursdays. At that time, I decided that I had clearly made a mistake in my reading of the materials (they were all in Japanese) because how could a huge, fancy gym with tons of employees possibly be closed every Thursday!?
Having worked at LA Fitness, the idea is completely baffling to me. We were open every day of the year – even holidays, with the sole exception of Christmas – from 5am until 11pm! But this gym, with all its employees, in a country that values work ethic and long hours at work above all else was freaking closed… every Thursday!?
Now you may be thinking why this took me by surprise, seeing as my other gym was also closed, but gym number one has a legit excuse if you ask me! It’s owned by one guy and he’s the only employee. But even so, he’s always there 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and even on most holidays! So, what the hell, fancy gym? What the hell? T.T
Parking Lots at Japanese Gyms Have Weird Rules…
Though I had been eyeing my new gym for awhile before joining, I had been intimidated to actually go in and inquire about it because of the closed parking lot that appeared to require money. Eventually, when I did get the courage to brave it, I learned that I was indeed very correct in being wary of it!
Apparently, the first half hour in the parking lot is free but every half hour after that costs 100 yen (about a dollar). The day I joined, I ended up spending 400 or 500 yen because the Japanese love paperwork and red tape so much that the simple process of joining a gym ended up being about as complicated and time-consuming as getting a marriage certificate.
Immediately, I was extremely turned off by the idea of having to pay for parking each time I wanted to work out – talk about a good excuse for laziness… However, as I quickly learned, once you’re a member you simply have to give the person at the front desk your parking ticket and they will do something magical to it so that you won’t have to pay upon exiting! Just don’t forget to give them your parking ticket… that’s what happened to me.
Once. Just once I forgot to get the magical treatment for my parking ticket. That’s all it took for me to learn my lesson! The sad thing is that I just happened to forget on the day that I stayed until closing time. I had just gotten to my car when the realization hit me. So I sprinted back in hopes that someone closing up would see me. …They didn’t. The one time the resident white girl actually wants to be noticed, she’s not. Life is ironic like that. RIP, that 600 yen. RIP.
Assuming That Drive-Thrus at Japanese McDonald’s Are Arranged Like Their American Counterparts
Okay, so this one’s my bad. I’ve been driving on the “wrong” side of the road for 6 months now. I should have known. We’ll just view this as a little experiment exploring the phrase “humans are creatures of habit.” As driving in Japan has taught me, if you’re in an unfamiliar environment and you lose focus – even for a short moment – habit’s got your back! And I’d just like to say, though I really appreciate the thought, habit, sometimes you just make the problem worse. 🙂
Finally feeling quite comfortable both with driving in Japan (almost daily near-death experiences and all) and my Japanese language abilities, I decided to do something totally brave and adventurous: I decided to get McDonalds – via *gasp* …a drive thru. Shenanigans ensued.
So I pulled into McDonalds and got into the drive thru lane on, you know, the right side of the building. Immediately, though, I found it to be just a tad bit strange. Is this what Japanese drive thrus are like?, I thought. There were no speakers or anything – only a single window – and no one was waiting to take my order. I had to get someone’s attention and wave them over. Eventually this guy opened the window and said some stuff in Japanese that I couldn’t quite make out as his voice was kind of muffled. I asked if I was at the drive thru and he said that it was actually ahead but that I needed to be careful of [insert something in Japanese I couldn’t make out]. I smiled and thanked him and then pulled forward to a more familiar setting.
Now there were two lanes, each equipped with a screen and a speaker. I relaxed a bit at the similarities to the American drive thru, but then I rolled down my left window – the one closest to the speaker. I realized that it was, in fact, still a bit awkward as I was sitting on the right side of the car. I placed my order, straining for my voice to be heard from the opposite side of the car. Then the worker manning the drive thru said something but I couldn’t make out any of it from my position on the opposite end of the car. I could definitely tell that they were not simply confirming my order and telling me to pull forward, however.
Next thing I knew, muffled-voice guy came out of a door on the side of the building and hurried over to me. At the same, I finally had the delayed revelation that brought me from the depths of my “blonde moment” and to clarity: since I’m in Japan and they drive on the opposite side of the road, maybe their drive thrus are also on the opposite side!
Muffled voice guy was still convinced that I was a total idiot, however, so even though I assured him – in Japanese, I might add – that I now realized the err in my ways, he was very thorough in explaining what I needed to do next. His explanation was complete with big, exaggerated gestures that convinced me his true calling in life was clearly to be a costumed character at Disney as opposed to a McDonald’s grunt!
After I had pulled my car into the parallel lane, this time facing the correct direction, he returned to the depths of the building – only once he was sure I wouldn’t be killing anyone that day. I placed my order (for real) and pulled forward to the window I had initially driven up to. Muffled voice guy was there to greet me again (at this point I was convinced that this guy had been cloned and everyone working at this McDonald’s was, in fact, the same person). He handed me my order and said it would be 200 or 300 yen. I wasn’t sure which because muffled voice guy was muffled voice guy. When I asked for clarification, he took it to mean that I couldn’t even understand enough Japanese to decipher simple numbers and took it upon himself to try and speak some English. He said my order would be 2 million yen. I had to control the laughter but my look of confusion was undeniable. I asked again – in Japanese – 2 hundred yen? And he said yes. So I paid him and left with a smile on my face, imagining how the story of the crazy gaijin girl at the McDonalds drive thru would be one that not only he and his co-workers would get a laugh about that day, but would be passed down through the generations until it became legend.
Needless to say, if I ever decide to brave a Japanese drive thru again, I think I’ll be sticking to the left side! The whole experience was a lot more effort than I’m willing to put in for a measly McDonald’s cheeseburger!