Friday, April 3, 2009

Figuring out the system... more examples

Continuing with the theme from my last post, my confusion in the local bookshop isn't the only example where I've found it challenging to figure out what on earth is going on. Here are a few more examples of me blundering my way through the Japanese systems.

Paying for the bus

I was very confused when I discovered I'd been queuing in the wrong place. In many cases in Japan, especially in the suburbs, you get on the bus from the rear. As you walk on, you take a small ticket with a number on it. I stared at this ticket, wondering why I'd been given a ticket when I hadn't paid for anything. I then sat down and noticed at the front of the bus, next to the driver's rear view mirror the following:

It took me way too long to work out what all these numbers were about. As the bus continued its journey, the numbers kept changing as well, which confused me even more. It's actually pretty simple and makes a lot of sense. If you pick up ticket number 8, then getting off at the next stop will cost you 180 yen. If you keep going, that price will increase and prices will appear under numbers 9, 10, 11 etc. You then pay when you get off. Genius. Why aren't all buses like that?

Finding places using an address

This still challenges me to this day. In Japan, streets don't have names and houses aren't numbered according to their position on the street. Instead, an area of land will be divided into sections and those sections will be divided into subsections and then those subsections will have buildings numbered within them. So my address is 2-1-41, which means that I'm at house number 41 within subsection 1, which is within section 2. This makes it a nightmare to find anything. Being in subsection 1 means that subsection 2 is probably nearby but you have no idea which direction to go.

Swimming pools

You'd think that going swimming at your local pool would be a simple exercise but there are things that tripped me up here as well. For instance, there are often pretty strict rules like: no watches or jewellery, and no swimming without a swimming cap. I was once asked to take my (waterproof) watch back to the changing room.

I think these are pretty good rules and I have no objections. What bewildered me was this: half an hour after I had started swimming, the lifeguards all stood up in their chairs and blew their whistles. Everyone then got out of the pool, including a rather confused foreigner. What had happened? Nothing serious, I hoped.

The pool was completely empty and the lifeguards went through a well rehearsed ritual of rotating their positions. Everyone else was sat dripping on benches near the pool or within the heated resting rooms. This procedure occurs regularly, perhaps once an hour, and is an obligatory resting period that lasts 10 minutes. Everyone has to get out of the pool and rest. Incredible.


  1. I had the same issues with the swimming pool. I still can't figure out what the point of the break is for, at least at out local pool it's only 5 mins.

    The other most crazy part is that your are not allowed to use soap or shampoo in the showers. I did it the first time and got a gruff response in japanese from someone, but it was not at all clear what he was complaining about.
    The second time, someone very clearly explained the problem : no shampoo in the shower. How wierd is that ?
    Is it the same in your pool ?
    I need to ask more people on this one as well as it has been starting to bug me.

  2. Hi Jon, thanks for the comment.

    I'd forgotten about the no shampoo rule. I was fortunate enough to notice the signs so I managed to avoid gruff responses. It wasn't obvious though.

    You're right, this rule is probably the most mysterious. I have no idea why it's implemented, so will have to ask. The result is that I have a second shower when I get home. Seems mad.

    Not sure how common this rule is - Sports clubs allow you to use shampoo but they're more expensive.

  3. Maybe the water is recycled back into the pool??