The culture here REALLY stands out from other places I have been. Perhaps this sense of preserved and/or closed off culture is due to the fact that for nearly 200 years, Japan traded with no other countries in its somewhat recent history.
The anime (Japanese-style animated cartoons) can be found everywhere, and especially in a location called Den Den Town! Here you can find everything from pictures, videos, action figures, costumes and much more! These stores, often several stories high, also cater to the adults with dirty versions of anime (VERY dirty) and even sections with actual pornography (which Japan is notorious for). I even stumbled past very young girls posing in bikinis which was quite bothersome, so I took the name of the company down to investigate it a bit more when I have some time. On a place called Otaku street, you can even find women dressed up as maids, inviting you in for coffee. If you choose to partake in this, you would pay an exhorbitantly large fee to have coffee with one of them while they spit out puns and strange sayings (I am told). You can find people dressed in all sorts of costumes here. The word "Otaku" refers to someone who is obsessed with anime and pretty much does nothing but immerse them self in that world...perhaps fantasizes about these characters without having meaningful relationships in real life. The Japanese all claim NOT to be Otakus, although certainly some must be if the term exists in Japanese, no? There are debates on whether women can be considered Otakus or not.. Otakus create some wildly interesting things and post much of it on youtube. There is a female anime character that a friend told me about called Hatsune Miku but the crazy thing is that it is actually a computer program. With this program you can use this "ghost-like" girl to sing songs and she will say whatever you program her to say. She has pigtails and died blue har and has even been featured in some famous television commercials here in Japan!!
The anime magazines are so popular, that even outside of locations geared towards those otakus and other semi-normal humanoids who enjoy reading the books, you can find these magazines, such as in local 7-11s. You can even find Japanese businessmen before and during work checking them out! Hey man, shouldn't you be working??
The language: it's a lot like Spanish in terms of pronunciation, so I do alright with that...and although I am struggling to communicate, I am making progress! The Japanese are so kind and will always try to help you if you ask. They are just shy, and for that reason do not speak much English with you. Some because they cannot, but others I have found just because they are shy and if you speak slowly you can have a coherent conversation...it's just breaking through that shyness barrier, which is a HUGE part of Japanese culture that you can feel in almost all aspects of daily life. They are very respectful and helpful people, but some argue that it is a front because they will never truly tell you how they feel...I am in the process of determining my own opinion on this matter. I can say that Japanese people do not talk about their feelings often. I wonder if they have deep talks about life, because what I can say is that the most meaningful conversations I have had in my life are philosophical, questioning things about life and talking about feelings, so if they do not do this I wonder what kind of conversations they get enjoyment out of...is this society just a huge matrix??
The Japanese are STYLISH! The men often have a style of wearing their hair long but layered diagonally across their face, (not all) and with the women you can find anything, everything and more! The one common denominator is usually the makeup. Japanese girls love it, pure and simple. Most wear a lot, a rare few might only wear a little bit but some even look like they've used an entire store's supply in one morning's daily dose of the materials.. Noticeable features: heavy around the eyes with LONG, black eyelash extensions, heavy on the blush - their cheeks are usually QUITE pink or red...and some crazy hair styles and extensions. Clothes in some areas can get exotic, chaotic and flat out strange! ...especially in the most fashionable of areas such as America Mura (American Village) and Dotonburi bridge you might only find the occasional person such as me NOT dressed up!
The main areas have people yelling out about bargains and along the Dotonburi bridge particularly, where there are many posters, interesting signage and lively folks handing out flyers and trying to get you into their shops (definitely NOT shy...Japenese COUNTERculture :) ) ...you can even get a few free items there! I got a free takoyaki (which is octopus ball, made of course of octopus mixed with some milky sauce until it is cooked)! Also on the topic of food, I have had otonomiyaki which is a mix of veggies and some powder to hold the mix together plus WHATEVER else you want in it, topped off with a delicious sauce reminding my taste buds most of soy sauce. For breakfasts most mornings with Yoshihiro I have eaten rice with sticky soy sauce and beans along with miso soup. I have also tried rice with raw egg and soy sauce, along with some udon noodles (with and without soup) MMM! We in the USA seem to think raw foods cause problems and poisoning, perhaps due to the bacteria, however the Japanese eat many raw things - eggs, fish, etc. and they seem to be doing fine...different styles, but perhaps the bacteria is different in the two places. One nice thing is that the tap water here is drinkable...finally! This is the first time I have been able to drink tap water in ONE WHOLE YEAR!!! I have also tried such foods as sobu noodles and inanizushi (a three-dimensional pyramid-shaped food with a tofu-like outside with sticky rice inside). When eating some of these dishes in certain locations you enter, pop in the amount necessary for your purchase (usually with coins) and then once you put enough into the machine, the different foods light up although mostly written in Japanese so you may have to reference the sign, ask some people and/or do a lot of pointing to get your point across (assuming that the product is in stock or can be made with the current materials). You get a little ticket and your change back and then give it to the man behind the usually-curvy or u-shaped bar where you sit. Some restaurants you can sit on the floor and I have heard others have food (mainly sushi) on conveyor belts from which you would select like taking your airplane baggage...apparently they are color-coded by price...a lot of Japan is organized in these strange ways..
Japanese houses are quite interesting..they are generally quite small and many people sleep on the floor. Many places (public and private) have toilets that have all sorts of gadgets from "underside washing functions", to fake flushing sounds and some even have a sink attached to the top of the toilet that begins running once you flush it and then that water is drained down into the toilet for the next use...smart AND efficient!. You can even find a drying mode for clothes that happens via a fan in some bathrooms and "click" lights, where the button looks like the large, rectangular ones you may be used to seeing where you push in one direction to turn them on and one to turn them off, but these stay mounted in the one direction in which they are locked onto the wall and only once you push hard enough does the reaction occur; the button goes back to the same side where you found it, never switching over to the other side..
The Japanese will often cross their arms or wrists and this means "no". I had heard of some cases where this behavior was taken as racism because this signal was given right when the person walked in the door. I am not sure if that is the case, or if it is due to the fact that they cannot or are too embarrassed to speak English..
Also noteworthy is the bowing. It is done by service people such as those at convenience stores or waiters and waitresses and is a sign of respect. If you do it back to them it is very kind and respectful as it is not expected of you :) You are supposed to bow to elders whom you do not know well, and actually the "desuka" is a polite form to use in these sort of situations as well. As the Japanese are quite respectful, you will often hear these words being used! :) The Japanese also makes noises (and this is how I can identify them when outside of Japan) like "ehhhhhhh" and "ohhhhhhhhh" and hold them out for extended periods of time. This is to show that they are listening to you and interested in what you are saying.