The short time we have spent in Japan has opened our eyes to the fact that pretty much everything in Japan is well thought through. For instance, we went to Ikea the other day to order some more furniture. We took a free bus service from the city centre to the Swedish furniture giant’s Osaka outlet. It wasn’t too busy on the way there, but we took the last but one bus ride from the store back to the city centre on a Sunday evening. You can imagine it was packed. All the seats got taken and eventually people started to walk up the aisle. We first thought that in Japan people can stand up on coaches. But they did not stand up. Each of them folded down a little seat which was in an upright position against the left hand side proper seat next to the aisle (see photo). They all sat down, buckled up and off we went. Genius. I bet they haven’t thought of that in England. In Finland there is no need for aisle seats. The population of 5 million means that pretty much the only time 60 Finnish people go in the same direction at the same time is a pre-Christmas coach trip to Estonia to get everyone essential moonshine to carry them through the holidays.
Parking is very organized as well. In a car park everyone is assumed to park their car so that they reverse it into the slot. A European friend was driving me around and she parked her car perhaps the typical female way (sorry to all you feminists out there) in a supermarket car park, i.e., she drove straight in to the space. Her car was the only car positioned in that way probably in the whole of Osaka. We got some funny looks. Similar looks to when Smart cars started to become popular in densely populated areas like England, and you’d see one parked on the street side in a 90 degree angle to the curb. It looks weird. So, if visiting Japan, remember to reverse into the parking space. If you are a female (with less than perfect spatial awareness), don’t panic and cancel your driving holiday in Japan. They have thought of that already and have made it easy for you. All the ground level parking spaces have concrete stoppers at the far end of the parking space (see photo). This gives us women a clear cue as to when to ease on the gas so that we do not crash into something behind us.
I haven’t seen any street side parking, probably because the roads are narrow so you would block the road if you did that – not that blocking the road stops anyone in England parking road side even on double yellow (or red). You might find this shocking but there are many English people who think that them popping in a newsagent to get a packet of fags is more important than other people’s time. Japanese people, on the other hand, seem to try to inconvenience other people as little as possible. Finnish people are like the Japanese in that they would not block roads with their cars either, but this is not because they don’t want to inconvenience others. You see, the Finns often see things in black-and-white – in particular when it comes to rules or the law. The general attitude is that if you have a right of way at crossroads, you do not, under any circumstances, give way to other people. Us Finns have learned the traffic rules in driving school and we obey those rules. If you don’t, you are signaling to other Finns that (a) you did not pay attention when you went to driving school (this is frowned upon in Finland as you were wasting everyone’s time), (b) you paid attention in driving school but you didn’t learn anything (this is frowned upon in Finland as it indicates that you are stupid), or (c) you are drunk (this is a mundane affair in Finland, frowned upon regardless). In any case, if you park your car illegally – be sure that someone will report you to the police. And the police will arrive. They really will. I am not joking. A couple of years ago my Finnish relatives and I were having lunch in a restaurant in the centre of Kotka. My husband came to join us a little late. Kotka is a small place, and many people know each other, so, three minutes later a friend happened to walk into the same restaurant for lunch. She was outraged that someone had parked their car outside so that it was on the wrong side of the road, i.e. parked on the oncoming traffic’s side of the road. This is acceptable in England but you aren’t allowed to do this in Finland. The car of course was our car that my (British) husband had parked illegally outside. He was encouraged to go and move the car. He resisted and said that parking your car that way was hardly a big thing. He was strongly encouraged to go back out and move the car. And he did.
One more note on parking. Because Osaka is heavily populated, parking spaces for blocks of flats need to be extremely efficient. They don’t usually have a ground level or underground car park like in England or Finland. Over here they have an automated parking system where you drive your car into a lift (see photo), get out of the lift, lock the parking space door, and a robot takes over. It will place your car in the nearest slot in a vertical stack of cars (see photo). When you need your car next, you just go back to the lift platform, press a couple of buttons and the car appears where you left it in a matter of 30 seconds. I’m impressed. I want one of these parking robots on my road in Brighton. That would get rid of pretty much the constant battle of finding a parking space where we live. It would also get rid of the buses and our neighbour’s 40 year-old daughter in her cheap convertible crashing into our car on a regular basis.
Like with parking, the lack of space in Osaka (and in many places in Japan) puts pressure to create effective ways to organize many aspects of life. Even ironing boards are space saving (see photo).
Due to lack of space, accommodation here is also generally smaller than in England or Finland. Our apartment here is half the size of our house in Brighton, while our Brighton house is considerably smaller than many houses in Finland. Even though all the rooms in our apartment in Osaka are smaller than the rooms in our home in Brighton (see photos), we do not feel like there is not enough space. We are renting here and even in our (ok, admittedly relatively high end) rented apartment everything is well thought out. In our bedrooms we have much more wardrobe space here than in England. It’s all fitted, so we didn’t have to go and buy any of it. The same goes for the kitchen, bathroom and the toilet. Furthermore, the toilet is equipped with all sorts of interesting functions from just washing one’s rear end to more elaborate programs. There are air-conditioning/heating units in every room, so that when the average temperature in Osaka hits 35 degrees in July, squeezing into my tights (for work) won’t be too difficult. In case some of you male readers are confused, I might be useful to add that tights and sweaty legs don’t mix very well.
Because of the lack of space, renting/buying property is relatively expensive in Osaka. Consequently, many people live with their extended families, i.e. children, parents and grandparents together in a small apartment. Our apartment for instance has a sliding door in the middle of the living room, so that you can divide the space into a living room and a bedroom for the night and in the morning put your mattresses in the wardrobe and use the space as a large living room. Because of the severe limitations of personal space and consequently also privacy in many Japanese people’s homes, so called ‘love hotels’ flourish here. These are nice hotels which charge by the hour. So, in addition to lovers, one-night stands and prostitutes and their clients, Japanese married couples use these establishments on a regular basis.
Another good example of how well everything is planned in Japan is our trip to Universal Studios in Osaka. We went there a couple of weeks ago and realized that it was very busy. My two-year old daughter’s and my attempt to get on their Snoopy ride nearly didn’t happen because at the entrance to the queue it read that the waiting time was 100 minutes. Seriously?! For a little kids’ ride. I don’t know what Japanese children are like but it would be easier to make a British-Finnish child give a presentation on Einstein’s theory of relativity than get her to queue for an hour and 40 minutes. Also, the fact that my daughter has type 1-diabetes poses an additional problem. 1h 40min is a long time to wait in a line, without a chance to go and test her blood sugars, or give her food if she absolutely needed it so that she would not pass out. So I asked the staff at the entrance whether it would be possible to leave the queue if we needed to and then return to our original place once I had treated my daughter’s blood sugar issue. They said that one cannot leave the queue and return in their original place. So I did what I had to do. I flashed my daughter’s waist, around which hangs her bunny patterned insulin pump belt out of which comes a 40cm long plastic tube that leads into a cannula on her leg. We didn’t have to queue. They gave us a disability pass for the day. But the pass did not work the same way as it would in England. In England, having a disability usually means that you jump the queue. But that’s not really fair, is it? I mean having a disability shouldn’t entail that you get to go on a 20 rides in a day when the next person only gets to go on 5 because they have spent 1 ½ – 3h queuing to go on each of those rides. They’ve taken this into consideration in Japan. They marked on our pass that we would have our slot 100 minutes from when we were at the gates. That way, when we returned 100 minutes later to the gate, we were not pushing into anyone’s place but were only returning to our original place in the queue, which the staff had reserved for us. Having lived in England for 14 years meant that of course I saw a potential loophole in the system and decided to get as many rides as possible listed on our pass during that initial 100 minutes, thinking that all we would have to do was to show up at each ride without waiting. The Japanese had thought of this as well. When I went to the merry-go-round and tried to get my daughter and I on it between then and the Snoopy ride, the member of staff there spent 10 minutes in trying to explain to me (in Japanese) that one can only have one ride listed on the pass at any one time. That is, one cannot go onto other rides (or at least not use the pass to get on them) because technically, you are in the 100min queue to the Snoopy ride. But the good thing of course was that while the non-diabetic folk had to stand in the queue to get on the ride, we went and had some lunch.
Talking about Universal Studios. That’s one of those places, I feel, that most people have visited, apart from my husband and I (and our kids) – until a couple of weeks ago. So my husband and I didn’t really know what to expect and how realistic the rides would be. I now regret not researching this issue a little better. You see (I am ashamed to admit this but) we took our 6 year-old son and our 2 year-old daughter on the Jaws ride. It looked like a boat ride and I kind of expected that we might see a fake shark somewhere from a distance, not that the bloody six metre shark would charge at the boat and practically give us a lap dance. In our defence, I have to say that the only guidance for ride suitability in Osaka Universal Studios was the person’s height and there was no height restriction for the Jaws ride. That is, even our 2 year-old daughter was allowed on the ride. And there were several other children there. Because of our disability pass, I think they gave us the best seats in the house, so we were mid-boat, our son on the far left of the boat, me next to him and then my husband holding our daughter on his lap for a better view. But as you who have visited Universal Studios can guess, this was a bad move. Not just my husband holding our daughter on his lap, but us going on that bloody (literally) ride. Even early on in the ride, when we hadn’t really had a good view of the shark my son started to cry. The icing on the cake was at the end when the ride included the power-cable scene. The shark was literally 2 metres from my son with his jaws wide open. My son was screaming. I am not sure whether it was because I had him tucked under my arm in a WWF type position and had my hand firmly pressed against his eyes or because the shark’s movement in the water made a gallon of water land on my son (that’s when we found out why some of the people on the ride wore full blown rain-gear). I can now only but hope that we did not bring upon him the same shark fear (or phobia) that most people born in the 70s have due to having watched the film in childhood or adolescence. On a positive note, our daughter was not fazed by the psycho marine animal. She was laughing her way through the ride. Perhaps she noticed that it violates the laws of physics to have the shark (or the shadow of it) on both sides of the boat at the same time, and saw through the film makers’ best attempts to scare the more gullible type.
By the way, if you have read some of my previous posts, you may have noticed that I frequently write about my daughter’s diabetes. I apologize for this, but our lives largely revolve around our daughter’s blood sugar levels. We are constantly worried. When she is asleep we worry that she is actually unconscious (or has dropped dead). When she is awake and falls over or bumps into things our first thought is that perhaps her blood sugars are low and hence her coordination is off a little. Leaving the house (where we have food, insulin and all her equipment) involves more planning than a small expedition, even if we were just going to a friend’s house for a play date. So, I hope you understand that many of my posts will have reference to type-1 diabetes. If you like my posts, bar the frequent reference to diabetes, and if you have several million pounds/euros to spare, please make a generous donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation so that they can come up with a cure for the illness and I can stop writing about it.