The characters can be written right to left and up to down. Therefore when you read a magazine it is not uncommon that you would read it in the reverse fashion as we would in the United States, beginning from the "back cover" and making your way to what we know to be the "front cover". You also often find that Japanese is written in the direction in which we are used to seeing it (left to right and top to bottom).
You can hear people saying "sumimasen" (which means "excuse me" or "sorry" generally) all over the place, and particularly in the grocery stores and areas where you receive service. It is quite comical to hear these people yelling out their oral routines in the stores when someone walks into the store; they don't have to actually be close to anyone to say "excuse me" or "sorry" so it's quite weird for me to watch.
Another interesting insight into Japanese culture is the word "samishi". This directly translates into English as "lonely". So, the act of telling someone you miss them would be expressed as "samishi". Here, we see that the human connection is removed, because nobody is saying "I" or "you" or even the word "miss", rather just the word "lonely" is spoken and from one person saying "samishi" the other person is supposed to understand that this COULD be because of them. The lack of expressing oneself in Japanese culture, perhaps due to embarrassment or shyness is quite interesting in how it manifests itself in the Japanese society and in how it shapes daily life interactions.
There is a phrase in Japanese, "ki tsukai" which means "to not hurt others' feelings". This is a big part of Japanese culture, and the reason why people find the Japanese to be so kind. Although you might find yourself wondering who is actually genuinely kind and who is putting on an act, I can tell you that it is certainly a pleasant place to be. There are not really many arguments and fighting almost never occurs. Even in a simple situation like using a restroom, you would never have to worry about someone banging on the stall door asking if you are almost done yet or telling you to hurry up. The Japanese wait patiently outside the door until you are finished.
One other escapade is trying to get a phone in Japan. Unless you have a visa, a Japanese address or some kind of connection, don't count on getting a Japanese phone. I figured I could get one used or a SIM card for my crappy phone, but this proved to be a lot more complicated than I had anticipated. It turns out that I probably should have rented one at the airport if I wanted one...however the prices just to have the phone were about $2-3 USD a day, plus no text messaging, and each call was about $1 a minute, LOCAL! That is a bit too takai (expensive) if you ask me! To confuse the process of securing a phone even more, the Japanese thought it'd be comical to have one of their three main phone companies, (Docomo, au, and Softbank) Softbank, (pronounced "Softa-bank" haha) have the word BANK in it!!!
As for my happenings recently, I have been back and forth between Osaka and a smaller city called Kobe. Kobe is known for its beef, which is way too expensive to even consider trying. I visited the port and it was quite lovely! I also checked out an observatory with a friend where I got a great view of the city at night!! Kobe is quite an international city, and you can find lots of varieties there! I FINALLY went to a restaurant with the sushi plates that come around on a belt (similar to when you are waiting for your luggage to come off of the plane in the aiprort)! Naturally I was so enthralled to finally experience this that I took several videos! There are four colors of plates, each one bringing along its own price. The selections ranged from about $1.50 a plate to $4 or $5 and to my surprise they had several vegetarian options! There was one with rice and sweet egg bound together with seaweed, another is wrapped in seaweed and has vegetables and mayonnaise inside...by the way the Japanese mayonnaise is AMAZING!!! It just seem to have the right ingredients in it to make it an amazing addition to and even substitution for (Kidding, well... hahaha) a meal!! Finally, there is a type of vegetarian sushi which I have encountered that has Nato (the semi-sour flavored beans) mixed with rice, wrapped all together with seaweed. So the word "sashimi" refers to the raw fish that is often thought of when the word "sushi" is uttered, and many types of raw fish are present in a multitude of sushi dishes. "Sushi" generally refers to raw foods, and is usually wrapped in seaweed.
I also went on a day trip with some friends to Okayama, and elsewhere in Hyogo Prefecture (not Kobe) to see my friend's family and baby, so cute!!
Have you tried finding wifi in Osaka? I have, and I have news, it is NOT an easy task! When you finally find it in select McDonalds for example, you are generally required to have an account with some company and a password to use it...so that's no good, what do you do? Go to Osaka Station and find the Hotel Granvia Osaka. Their network is free to use and once you log on you will be asked for a password on the access page, which is conveniently written on an easily visible card at the reception desk, so surf away!!!
Also noteworthy is that I attended a festival in Osaka recently and it was quite cool!! I had never seen so many Yukatas (light or "summer" versions of the traditional Kimono). There was a big mix of modern, traditional and a whole bunch of fireworks! When I asked about the meaning behind the festival however, that was unknown.
Little things about this culture intrigue me, and about how things just work. It is hard to recall all of the stimuli that my brain processes on a daily basis, but things like how doors slide into place, the way things are made, etc. just seem quite high-tech at times and function superbly (and I have not been to Tokyo yet, where technology is notoriously working at its finest). The Japanese make me wonder, "why don't we do it like this at home? This makes sense..."
One other thing, they drive on the left side of the street here and the steering wheel is on the right..