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Strange and Little Known Facts about Tokyo

Lost and Found

With the ingrained philosophy of honesty and integrity, the Japanese have a strange but true system for a city wide lost and found. In each prefecture of Tokyo exists many separate police boxes, which are manned with between two and four policemen. The majority of these law enforcers do not speak English. In addition, each subway station, and in addition, each line within the subway station (could be up to seven different lines) maintains a lost and found.

In Tokyo, if an item is left on a subway train, or found in the street, or left in a restaurant, most if not all items are handed over first locally to either the police box or to the subway lost and found office. These items are then held with the name and phone number of the person who turned in the lost item for an unspecified number of days to await their claiming. They wait in a warehouse that houses on a daily basis 800,000 items, each item computer cataloged with time and date of the discovery and location, no matter how trivial. Eyeglasses, mobile phones, dentures, umbrellas, train passes, laptops, shopping bags and of course wallets and purses and jewelry.

The Japanese are exemplary in their honesty, with over 5,000 new items delivered to the warehouse on a daily basis. The most common item? Umbrellas. There are 3,200 umbrellas per average rainy day housed in the Tokyo lost and found.

Every year over 1.5 million items work there way through this complex system, and over $21 million cash dollars (yen), making it the largest lost and found in the world.

STREET NAMES

In a city of over 12 million people, maze-like streets and very few English maps it is a wonder anyone can find anything here. Only about 20% of all streets in Japan even have a name. As far as I can tell, the second most important thing the police at the police boxes do (besides collect lost items) is give directions to Japanese speaking people on where other Japanese speaking people live. Each building has number, but follows no known consecutive numbering system, and a venture to a new location in a different prefecture MUST include a map (which is still pretty darn hard to understand), or a visit to the police box for directions. Even our cab had to stop at the police box - twice - in order to find our apartment house.

In Los Angeles, a city of comparable size, every street has a name. However, I am sure most Los Angelans dont know where every street it. The benefit of street names? You can LOOK THEM UP ON A MAP! No wonder Japanese people dont read maps well, they dont need to. Not that it would matter much to me, an non Japanese speaking person, if the streets were named, as I cant properly pronounce the names of the streets which actually DO have names. . .

Still, its impressive that anyone can find anything, especially the postman.

Vending Machines

I would imagine there is not a spot in Tokyo were you could possibly be more than 100 yards from a vending machine of some sort. Vending is big business. I have seen cigarette vending machines RIGHT IN THE DOORWAY of cigarette store. What is the purpose of this?

And, although the main products being vended here are soft drinks, coffees, and cigarettes, it is possible in some areas to find items such as toothbrushes, condoms, noodle bowls (hot), over the counter drugs, and batteries. Up until a few short years ago, you could even buy beer (what a rush for underage drinkers!).

This is a town that practically invented the mini-market/convenience store. If youve ever been to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii and noticed (as if you couldnt) the plethora of ABC stores, you may have a slight idea of what I speak of. You cant walk one block in Tokyo without finding at least one 7-11, Family Mart, Circle K, Sunkus, or AM/PM.

So why all the vending machines? I seriously have no idea.

TAXI CABS

Perhaps due to the major expense and downright inconvenience of owning a car in Tokyo, as in any large city, the majority of cars on the road seem to be taxi cabs. Entering a taxi in Tokyo in unlike entering a taxi in any major metropolitan US city I have ever been in. For beginners, the driver has an auto release for the rear door, so you dont have to trouble yourself with touching a door handle. Secondly, he will be wearing white gloves, guaranteed. Third, you may be under the misconception you are the first and only fare this taxi has ever had, due to the cleanliness of the interior and still evident new car smell that must be available at a special taxi cab driver store as a deodorizer. And finally, he will NOT speak a word of English. Well, actually that third point may be a lot like the US.

With the vast labyrinth of the Tokyo subway and train system and the less used but still efficient bus system, I cant understand why anyone would ever take a taxi in Tokyo during the day, unless it was from the airport and you would be reimbursed your $250 fare. The taxis are very expensive and must negotiate the ever present traffic. The trains are cheap, dependable and today, very sarin gas free.

The taxis and the subway must coexist together only because the subway stops at 12:30 AM, an absolute atrocity in a city whose nightlife doesnt really get started until 11 PM, when all the salary men have finally quit working and adjourned to their local pub for large quantities of alcohol, cigarettes and hostesses. Thus, making the taxi the only possible way to return home late at night/early in the morning. If you are contemplating taking a cab versus walking (anything over a 30 minute walk, in my opinion), be prepared to shell out somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-40.

But after 10 pints of beer and a couple shots, who wants to take a chance of wandering around not finding your home until the train starts back up at 5:30 AM, what other choice do you have?

CIGARETTE SMOKING

I smoke. I wish I didnt, but obviously not enough yet to quit. However, it is estimated that 80% of al Japanese men and 60% of all Japanese women smoke. Not socially smoke, but consume at least 30 cigarettes a day.

Now, in the US, cigarettes cause cancer and are a huge drain on private health care systems and Medicare and probably attribute to over 60% of all deaths. The number one killer. Therefore, the federal and state government continually taxes our cigarettes more and more to offset these costs. And runs numerous, and in my opinion ineffective, anti-smoking campaigns. We all know tobacco is big business in the US, but the fact remains that less than 25% of all Americans smoke.

In Japan, the government keeps cigarette prices low (under $3 pack), and OWNS 50% of the tobacco industry itself, making cigarette sales one of the most lucrative incomes for the government. So, no incentive to get people to quit, but plenty to see more and more people partaking of this most addictive drug. More people smoking equals more money in government coiffures.

Also, in Japan, if your doctor discovers you DO have cancer, the vast majority of doctors will give you a placebo, tell you about your symptoms and SEND YOU HOME without ever saying you HAVE cancer. So much for treatment options at that point. Could it be the government doesnt want to spend its tobacco income dollars of tobacco related treatments? Nah.

EARTHQUAKES OR TREMORS

It is very strange for someone who has never experienced tremors to be sitting in their apartment on the seventh floor of a sixteen floor building and watch their drink slosh around in the glass and the furniture sway. Feeling the earth move under ones feet is quite an unsettling feeling. Since weve been here its happened about six times that were extremely noticeable and the whole deer in the headlights feeling is unavoidable. Not knowing what to do and just freezing in your tracks. They say the best thing is to get in a doorway, but by the time I get to a doorway, its passed. Usually just sit frozen and pray its not the big one. Havent yet been on the actual ground and felt this, or even worse in the subway. Always seem to be in the house. Dont know which would be worse. Maybe in time I will be outside when this happens and can tell.

It is strange, though.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
July 9, 2004

Well, we are out of Japan tomorrow morning, and headed for Michigan for five days.  Our Thailand trip was cancelled, as now we have to be in La Paz, Bolivia on the 15th of July for 3 months.  So, things change suddenly, but we are happy as we will be reunited with some of our favorite Splice Co. crew members. 
 
It's hot as blazes in the big ole city today, but did bug out for a couple hours and take some last minute photos.  Will try and explain them, but was trying to capture some things that are just soooo Japanese.
 
The next time I post, we will probably be in Bolivia, so stay tuned!

This is a new Pachinko parlor in our neighborhood.  At 8 AM people are lined up outside, waiting to play.  They are usually open until about 2 or 3 AM and full of people the entire time.  It's like slots, only you play with little silver balls.  Very loud and bright, just like Vegas!

As you may remember, umbrellas are the #1 thing turned into the lost and found here.  However, these umbrella "lock-ups" are very common.  You just keep your umbrella outside under lock and key, so when you leave the house and it's raining, you get your umbrella out of storage!  Hilarious.

Every restaurant displays their entrees with plastic food and drink in the window.  It must come from the days when there were many non-Japanese people here who couldn't speak the language and vice-versa.  You just point at what looks good!  There's a little area of Tokyo where all this plastic food is made, and it is quite expensive!  Nowadays, a lot of restaurants are going with pictures of the food posted outside.  Cheaper and easier to change.  But a huge display case of plastic food still cracks me up!

June 27, 2004

The excitement of my brother being here has given way to the excitement of the end of the project.  Mike and I quietly celebrated our 4 year wedding anniversary over a very busy weekend of work for Mike.  They finally cut over to the new telephone system on Friday evening, and then Mike worked for 12 hours on Saturday and even went back into work on Sunday.  Friday, while Mike was working, I went to a traditional Japanese restaurant to say good-bye to a couple of friends I made here.  It was nice, but so sad that unless you can speak and or read Japanese, this is not something that could be experienced by your average tourist, as the menu is all in Kanji and no one in the restaurant spoke English.  There are many places like this all over the city, and it is frustrating to not be able to try them.

Also, while Denny was here, we visited Mount Fuji (a re-visit for me).  Mount Fuji from a distance is always more impressive than when you are at Fifth Station, which is only about 1,000 meters from the top, but alas, it is very difficult to get a picture from the bus of this amazing sight.  The last time I was there was October of 2002, so needless to say it was much warmer this time around, and I enjoyed the trip much more.  It was a very cloudy day, though, so some of the overlooks offered very little view, except of clouds!

On Wednesday of last week, our friend Ron was back in town for a visit, and we took him out to dinner.  He was very impressed with the liter beer available at one of our favorite restuarants!  And, if you know Ron, he HAD to order it, as it was a WAY better deal than the pint!  :-)  He loved it! 
 
This particular restuarant, in addition to being able to brag about big beers and excellent food, may house some of the smallest bathrooms in Japan.  For someone of my size, you must be a contortionist in order to "get the job done" in here!  Always a laugh.

As far as an update on upcoming travels, I will be leaving Tokyo on July 1 for Thailand, as my visa will expire on the 4th.  As of today, I am planning on returning to Tokyo on the 3rd or 4th, and then flying back to Thailand for a beach/golf vacation in Pattaya for the month of July.  We were taken off the schedule for Cyprus, so it doesn't look like we will be back to work until the end of August/first part of September.  We hope to make our way back home. . . slowly.  Our plans right now are to fly from Bangkok to Vancouver sometime around the first of August, spend a couple weeks there, and then continue on to Michigan.
 

June 17, 2004

My brother Denny has been here since Saturday evening, so we've been keeping pretty busy showing him the sights and staying out late.  He made it home from the subway station all by himself for the first time today, so we must be doing something right!

Have been on break from cooking for a couple days while Denny's been here, enjoying some of the wonderful tastes of Tokyo (fish, fish, and raw fish).
 
We took a boat cruise to Asakusa (old area of Tokyo), went to the cemetary, done a LOT of shopping (mostly looking).
 
Still planning a short vacation in Thailand, but it looks like we are not going to Cyprus now. . . they took us off the schedule completely for the time being, so as usual, our lives are hanging out there in the air. . .
Hopefully we will get some news in the next week or so. 

June 11, 2004

Ah, so it goes.  Mike now has to work until the 10th of July.  But, we both have to leave on the 2nd because of our visa status, so we are off to Thailand again.  I, however, will stay there by myself until Mike joins me on the 10th.  Seems silly to pay airfare out of Japan twice for me.  Plus, will give me some time to have some clothes made, do some shopping and start my tan, as I'm sure after Mike arrives we will spend the majority of daylight hours GOLFING!!  I am bummed we won't make it to Australia, but it's just too much cost and flying for only 10 days there.  Maybe later this year we can try again. 
 
Still not 100% sure we will be going to Cyprus, but haven't heard anything different yet, so we are still planning on it. 
 
Thanks for all the emails!  So good to hear from everyone.  After six months here we are a bit homesick.  Will try to do a "toilet expose" this weekend, as they make the Starship Enterprise look ancient!

June 9, 2004

As of course, nothing is ever written in stone in our lives, this is just preliminary data of what we think is going to happen in the near future.  It looks like we will be returning to Cyprus for the 3 month project there, starting July 25th and running until the end of October.  It is dependent on a few things right now, but we are not too disappointed!  It may work out that we have a little time off in between, and if so, we are planning on taking a trip to Port Douglas, Australia (near Cairns) for a little beach, golf, and cheap fun (for a refreshing change of pace).  It will be a heck of a trip getting from there to Cyprus, but we should have a little time to relax and get ready for it.
 
But, of course, this is all subject to change, so I'll keep you informed!

June 7, 2004

On Sunday, Mike and I had some gals over for Chicken Fajitas.  This is Mika, Yuko, Kaori and, of course, me and Mike after a couple bottles of wine and lots of food.