My viral video: gift wrapping in Japan

Last year around Christmas time, something very exciting happened: one of the videos on The Japans went viral. The video I am talking about is ‘gift wrapping in Japan’.

It was a big surprise when the video went viral. The article on my blog ‘Japanese gift wrapping‘ had already been published since October 2013 so I was by no means expecting anything to happen with it anymore. If anything, the video I might expect to go viral was ‘moving fish head on a sashimi plate’. But the internet is an unpredictable thing and while ‘moving fish head’ currently has a mere 6000 views, ‘gift wrapping in Japan’ went viral.

It all started when ‘gift wrapping in Japan’ was picked up by Digg around the holidays. They posted the video on their homepage and the link generated lots of traffic to my YouTube channel. In two days’ time, the video got over a million views. Currently the views have stabilized at about 3 million views.

viral video gift wrapping in japan

A link on Digg. Hurray!

viral video gift wrapping in japan

3 million views, I can hardly believe it!

It was a super exciting time. I never expected something like this to happen when I started this blog. It was really validating to reach such a wide audience and to see my content alive on the internet on such a large scale.

But we all know that the viral phenomenon is short-lived and both the excitement and the large visitor numbers have died down since late January. Today, however, I felt a new rush of excitement when I saw ‘gift wrapping in Japan’ on 9GAG. Although there is no mention of The Japans and therefore no traffic to my blog, it is still really exciting to see my content pop up unexpectedly on the internet.

I reminds me of how much I love blogging and how great it is to connect with people from all over the world through the internet. I think this is the perfect time to send out a big thank you to all my readers. No blog without an audience. Thank you!

video gift wrapping in japan on 9gag

Here it is, in the 9GAG feed

Docile Japanese cats

Are Japanese cats more docile than other cats? Before having lived in Japan, I would have thought this to be a ridiculous question. Surely cats are the same everywhere? Cats are not subject to cultural differences, are they? But living in Japan, surprises are never far off. I have seen Japanese cats tolerate things from their owners that most Belgian cats would never stand for. There was that one time when I saw someone walking a cat on a leash in Okinawa. And then there was the time when I was walking through crowded Asuke village in Toyota City at the start of autumn leaves season and saw a guy having a walk while holding his cat. Can you imagine visiting a festival and bringing your cat along? I am not sure how the cat felt about it, but in any case it wasn’t trying to escape, which is saying something.

docile Japanese cats

Never mind me, just having a walk with my cat during a crowded festival

docile Japanese cats

The cat looks slightly dubious but remains calm nonetheless

docile Japanese cats

If you ask nicely, most people in Japan are more than willing to pose for a picture. Too bad my Japanese wasn’t good enough to ask him why he was carrying this cat around.

I am not sure why these Japanese cats are so docile. Are these just exceptions and are most Japanese cats in fact as ferocious as Belgian ones? Or were these particular cats treated like that from when they were kittens and have grown used to it? Or, the far more interesting possibility, are these cats somehow influenced by the calm personal energy that, in my opinion and compared to Belgium, is typical for Japanese culture? I would love to hear other people’s thoughts in the comments section!

A map that doesn’t point north

Found in Toyota City near the train station: a map where the north is at the bottom of the map. I think it was my first time ever to see a map where north wasn’t at the top of the map. It was very confusing trying to orient myself with this map, since I was used to seeing maps of Toyota City oriented the usual way (i.e. north facing up).

Is this random map orientation a common Japanese thing, or was this map just a one time thing? I wonder who made it and why they decided on this orientation. Any thoughts, anyone?

a map that doesn't point north

A map of Toyota City that doesn’t point north, at the train station

I’ve just had an epiphany, shortly after writing this post: what if the map orientation is chosen to correspond with the direction you are facing when you are standing in front of this map? This would also explain why maps outside stations seem to be oriented in different directions in a seemingly random fashion, as someone mentioned in the comments section.

Maybe some person in charge of maps thought it would be more convenient if the person using the map wouldn’t have to perform a mental rotation of the map in order to see where they needed to go. It is certainly possible. The Japanese are all about convenience.

So here’s another question: is this actually more convenient or less convenient than having maps always oriented with the north above?

On terraces in Japan, or the lack thereof

The weather in Belgium is beautiful at the moment. The sun is shining and the temperature is finally going over 20°C. Having long, dark winters, Belgians tend to go a little crazy when the weather becomes nice like this. One of the symptoms is the mass migration to pub terraces everywhere, to sit in the sun and enjoy a beer with friends. We even have an expression for it: ‘een terrasje doen’, which literally means ‘to do a little terrace’.

terrace_belgium

Belgian summer habits: sitting outside in the sun, enjoying a beer with friends. A side-effect of this is lots of people with bright red sunburn after exposing their delicate winter skin to the direct sunlight for several hours.

Despite my love for Japan and my efforts to adjust to Japanese culture as much as possible during my stay, my Belgian background stirred itself from time to time. So come March or April of my year in Japan, when the weather in Nagoya started getting really nice after a relatively cold winter, I started to get serious ‘terrace withdrawal’. It was so hard to find a pub terrace in Japan! The Japanese seem to have no inclination whatsoever to sit in the sun with friends to enjoy a drink. In fact, rather the opposite is the case: they try to avoid the sun as much as possible, to protect their skin from UV damage. Another contributing factor may be the hot humid summers in Japan. From the middle of June to roughly the middle of september, outside temperatures can be unbearable and air-conditioned spaces are preferred. But still, spring and autumn are very nice in Japan and would lend themselves perfectly to sitting outside. Might the lack of terraces also be related to the Japanese notion that it isn’t polite to eat or drink when you are walking around? And therefore also not polite when sitting outside? Or is this notion dated and doesn’t apply to Japanese culture anymore? I’m sorry to say I am not very well informed about this point.

I found the lack of outside sitting space in Japan so noticeable, that I took pictures whenever I did find a terrace. You will notice below that I have exactly two pictures. Apart from one terrace in front of a big building in Nagoya, where nobody was sitting, Starbucks seemed to be the only place that offered outside seating. But it looked far from inviting. The cozy Belgian terraces were one of the few things that I really missed from Belgium.

Japanese terrace in Nagoya

A Japanese terrace in Nagoya, that actually looks quite inviting, apart from the fact that nobody is sitting there! Might it be connected to the Tully’s Coffee in the background? I’m sorry to say I did not investigate further due to time constraints at the time.

starbucks terrace in Toyota City, Japan

The Starbucks in Toyota City, located on the walkway between the two train stations in the city. It was one of the few times that I saw the possibility for outside seating in Japan.

starbucks terrace in Toyota City, Japan

Another view of the Starbucks terrace in Toyota City. It doesn’t look very inviting, does it?

I wonder, do other countries also have this terrace culture, or is it specific to Belgium? How did you experience these things in Japan? Please share your stories in the comments!

 

The abundance of automated defibrillators in Japan

The first time I saw an Automated External Defibrillator, AED for short, was in Japan. An AED is a machine designed to help people who are suffering from a heart attack. While waiting for an ambulance, bystanders can fetch the machine, connect the electrodes to the patient and the machine will automatically determine if it is necessary to administer an electric shock. It is important to note though, that CPR (resuscitation) remains vital. AEDs are designed to be used together with CPR.

philips heartstart AED

The Philips Heartstart AED

philips heartstart AED placement of electrodes

Electrodes are placed on the patient and the machine determines if an electric shock should be administered

While we have AEDs in Belgium as well, they seem to be few and well hidden. In Japan on the other hand, AEDs are everywhere. And there are clear signs indicating where the AEDs are. Have a look at this map, giving an overview of all AEDs in Atsuta Jingu park in Nagoya:

a map of all available AEDs in Atsuta jingu in Nagoya, Japan

A map of all available AEDs in Atsuta shrine in Nagoya, Japan. The hearts indicate the location of the AEDs. I count four AEDs in this park alone. Amazing!

AED in Japan

A clearly visible AED near the entrance of the toilets in a shopping centre in Japan. There is a flashlight on top of it. I wonder how it is activated. Are there buttons throughout the shopping centre that activate the flashlight and thus guide you to the AED?

One might argue that this abundance of AEDs is due to Japan’s ageing population. Belgium however also has an ageing population, yet AEDs are not omnipresent. Personally, I attribute the availability of AEDs in Japan to Japan’s concern with safety (安全 anzen). The lengths that Japanese people and authorities go through to ensure safety in all possible situation is impressive. Japan is covered with signs warning you about all possible dangers. ‘Anzen’ (safety) is a word that I quickly learned while living in Japan!

What do you think about AEDs in Japan? Do you also find there are so many of them? Why do you think that is?

The next best thing to IKEA

IKEA, the famous furniture retailer, is not quite as ubiquitous in Japan as it is in Western Europe. Being an avid IKEA fan, I went through some withdrawal when I was living in Japan. Living in the Nagoya area, the nearest IKEAs were in Tokyo and Osaka. That is very far away to just buy a set of bookshelves.

My IKEA withdrawal became very apparent when, early on in my stay, I found an IKEA catalogue on sale in a local convenience store. I was completely over the moon.

japanese ikea catalogue

Japanese IKEA catalogue in a convenience store

But of course finding the catalogue that didn’t solve the problem of having no IKEA near where I lived. I was therefore forced to look for alternatives. Fortunately I found two very good alternatives in my area. The first one is NITORI. Their furniture is clearly inspired by IKEA, but they also offer a lot of typically Japanese items like futon and Japanese cooking utensils. Although the quality of NITORI isn’t always that great, the prices are low so their price-quality ratio is actually pretty good.

nitori in toyota city

NITORI in Toyota City with a beautiful moon in the sky above

nitori showroom duvet

Duvets in a NITORI showroom

nitori showroom cabinet

Cabinet in a NITORI showroom

The other alternative to IKEA that I found in Japan is MUJI. MUJI is a great shop with furniture, things for the home and even clothing, stationary and food. I have come to love MUJI almost as much as IKEA. Who would have thought?! MUJI has a very natural style which appeals to me a lot. In fact, the word ‘muji’ means ‘plain, without pattern’ in Japanese. I find their simple style to be very ‘wabi’ (wabi means ‘the beauty to be found in simplicity, quiet refinement’) and therefore very Japanese. The quality of items at MUJI is a lot better than NITORI, and even better than IKEA, but prices are according.

muji logo

The MUJI logo, with both romaji and Japanese writing. Both writings are used in both Japanese stores and abroad.

Muji Japan furniture

MUJI furniture. All very clean and organic looking. I love it!

muji japan purse inserts

Cute and convenient purse inserts at MUJI

Muji Japan stationary and storage

MUJI stationary and storage

Now that I am back in Belgium, where the IKEAs are plentiful, I am going through MUJI withdrawal. How ironic! There used to be a MUJI in Belgium at one point, but for reasons unknown to me, it is no longer here. There are MUJIs in the UK, France and Germany, but again, that is a long way to go just to visit a shop. I do hope MUJI opens a store in Belgium again in the near future!

Japanese toilet roadmap

Japan is all about convenience and customer service. These principles are even applied in the most lowly aspects of life, like for example using the toilet. Of course everyone knows the high-tech Japanese toilets with all the buttons, but what I saw in a roadside rest stop between Toyota City and Ise Jingu took things to a whole other level. This place had a ‘toilet roadmap’, which gave an overview of all the available toilets. It also included information about the facilities available in each particular stall, like the presence of a baby seat or if the toilet was high-tech or a traditional toilet where you have to squat. Amazing! And so convenient! I miss things like that from Japan.

japanese toilet directions

The information screen was conveniently located at the entrance of the restroom

japanese toilet directions

The board provides detailed information about all the facilities. The occupied stalls turn red.