Six months in Okinawa barely prepared me for what I was about to encounter during my weeklong trip to mainland Japan. Yes, it's the same country, but aside from the language, the two are nothing alike. Okinawa is to Tokyo as Punxsutawney is to New York City. Think small town versus big city--- similar customs, but a stark contrast in people, culture and scenery.
Okinawa is about a three-hour flight from Tokyo.
Here's what I noticed the most:
1) Staying in a 4-star hotel doesn't mean drifting off into dreamland comfortably. During our stay at the Universal Port Hotel in Osaka, my bed was harder than a rock and my pillow felt like it was filled with rice. The hotel itself was gorgeous, but the bed was comparable to sleeping on the floor. I've slept in two-star motels that have comfier beds.
Firmest, most uncomfortable beds I've ever encountered.
2) Hardly any Japanese women wear engagement rings. No diamonds anywhere! And only some married women wear wedding bands. Turns out, big shiny rocks are not as common in Japan as they are in the U.S. (Another reason I'm lucky to be an American!)
3) Japanese people seem to be very quiet and mannerly on the train. No yelling, no loud talking, no rude pushing/shoving. In fact, no one even pretends to glance at anyone else. A little different than what I've seen in train/subway systems in other countries.
4) Japanese women prefer fashion over warmth. 95% of all women I saw were wearing black tights with shorts and boots... in 40 degree weather. Of course, they don wool peacoats and scarves, but their legs have to be freezing!
Creepy Japanese fashion photography.
5) Hardly any overweight Asians. The majority of those I saw were very thin. And it's no surprise... while shopping at a Forever21 in Tokyo on Monday, I couldn't find one pair of jeans that were larger than a size 26. Perhaps the females starve themselves to accommodate their shopping needs... Or they've all been blessed with a fortunate set of genes.
6) “Sumimasen” is the magic word. When it comes to interacting with the Japanese (or anyone for that matter), manners are highly appreciated. Sumimasen means “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me”… and it's the best way to approach a stranger when you're about to ask them a question!
7) Mainland Japanese are different looking than native Okinawans. Some seem to be taller, have larger eyes and have lighter skin. This could be due to the fact that native Okinawans are actually Ryukyuan kingdom descendants who were not Japanese. Okinawa did not officially become annexed into Japan until 1879.
8) Unique architecture on the mainland…Very different buildings/structures than I've seen in Okinawa. Thatched, extravagantly sloped roofs with cylindrical tiles vs. simple concrete block construction.
Building in Osaka.
Building in Okinawa.
9) Prevalence of rickshaws. These human-drawn carriages originated in Japan and were once the chief form of public transportation here. I noticed quite a few in Kyoto but none in Tokyo or Osaka.
10) Staring at a monkey will get you attacked. Looking at a Japanese macaque monkey in the eye is considered an act of aggression and doing so could be more dangerous than you may think.
At the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, the monkeys will bite you if you longingly look into their eyes. So please, save your stares for their backsides. At least in the name of safety.