Today, we bring you a Japanese perspective on visiting the United States of America. While many Japanese people enjoy visiting the United States, there are some things that can end up being a bit… disappointing.
For most Japanese people, “America” means steak, pizza, cheeseburgers and other delicious foods. And considering how big of a deal food is in Japanese culture, this isn’t a bad thing at all. On the other hand, there are a few things that the average Japanese traveler abroad might wish were different. One of our Japanese friends recently took a trip to the U.S., and, though he generally had a great time, there were a few things that could have been better.
1. Unclean airplane seats
Our friend took Delta to the United States, and it doesn’t seem like it was a very good experience. But, while there were delays and the company didn’t have the best reviews, at least ticket prices were lower than most other airlines.
He decided to give business class a try but was shocked to see how bad it was. There was dirt and trash on the seats — they clearly had not been cleaned. In terms of customer service, it was downright atrocious. This was his first time flying with Delta, and he said he probably wouldn’t choose them ever again.
On the other hand, it seems like the food in business class was pretty good. So, that’s something, right?
2. Poor plumbing
According to our traveler friend, plumbing in the United States left a lot to be desired.
In his hotel, water pressure was inconsistent — sometimes blasting out of the spout too hard and other times weakly sputtering out. And, just to be clear, this wasn’t at a dumpy dive motel — this was at a five-star hotel.
Even worse was the water temperature. On the morning he was checking out, when our friend went to take a shower, there was no hot water. Calling down to the front desk, he was told, “Well, we tried some stuff, but we’re really not sure what’s wrong.” For someone used to prompt customer service, that’s a pretty unsatisfying reply. In the end, the hot water came back on — 15 minutes before he had to leave!
Now, this obviously is not an issue that only affects the United States. Water heaters seem to be temperamental beasts the world over, but this kind of occurrence would be extremely rare in Japan, and guests at hotels would be considered well within their rights to kick up an enormous fuss.
3. Leaving tips...even for ramen
Obviously, when traveling, you want to try the local cuisine, but sometimes you also just have a hankering for familiar food. For our friend, that was ramen. Obviously, tipping is mandatory in American restaurants — after all that’s how the wait staff make a living. In Japan, though, the opposite is true. No one leaves tips because waiting staff are paid directly by their employer, with a wage that’s enough to get by without the need for tips.
So, as a Japanese person eating Japanese food at a Japanese restaurant, he found it extremely weird to be leaving a tip…but there was nothing else he could really do. The strangeness of it was compounded by how Japanese people think about ramen: it’s basically fast food. If his attitude seems strange, just imagine tipping at McDonald’s and you’ll probably understand how he felt.
4. Customers chatting with check-out clerks, despite long lines
This is probably something that most people in the U.S. will be immediately familiar with: long lines at the register. While Japanese cashiers aren’t always the speediest, they also don’t spend a lot of time chatting with customers either — the most you’ll usually get is a hello, a request for your membership card, and then the cost of each item as they’re rung up.
In the United States, on the other hand, cashiers can be downright verbose, laughing and conversing with customers. Some people probably enjoy this, but when the lines start getting longer and longer, it’s not very much fun for the other customers.
Another thing that our friend found strange was how many registers were perpetually closed. He said that no matter how long the lines grew or how many staff members were on the floor, people were forced to wait on the one or two registers open.
5. The crappy cotton swabs
This one might be a little strange, but bear in mind that cleaning out earwax is a bigger deal in Japan than in the U.S. As such, the low quality of cotton swabs is pretty frustrating for Japanese people. Especially when the cotton peels off and gets stuck in your ears. Perhaps most people in the United States don’t notice (or don’t care about) the quality of their cotton swabs, but it’s definitely something our Japanese friend found disappointing.
Another difference is the color: black cotton swabs can be easily found in Japan. Why would you want them in black though? Apparently it helps you more easily see the earwax. As to why you would want to see it, well, that’s something we haven’t quite figured out yet.
6. New York taxi drivers
With so many customers, there’s really nothing you can do about it, but our Japanese friend still found New York taxi drivers to be quite selfish. Upon telling them his destination, he’d often hear the drivers respond with something like, “Aw, I don’t wanna go out there at this time of day!” or “Oh, that’s too close!” While we can certainly appreciate how hard it is to make a living in New York, it’s still pretty awkward — especially for someone from Japan where taxi drivers now are incredibly polite and helpful. Though our friend did mention that Japanese taxi drivers during the economic bubble of the '80s were equally selfish.
7. Cigarettes are expensive
Obviously, it depends on the state, but smokes are more expensive in the U.S. — especially in New York – than in Japan. While a pack of cigarettes usually goes for around 400 to 500 yen ($4 to $5) in Japan, they’re nearly double that in New York. Our friends said that for Japanese people the best thing to do is just bring some in their luggage. Quitting might not be a bad idea either.
8. Lost luggage
Now, lost luggage isn’t something that only happens in the United States. This is an issue that airlines around the world still struggle to solve. But our friend had a pretty crappy experience and it was in the U.S., so it counts.
After a 45-minute flight from San Diego to Los Angeles, he discovered that his bags were missing. When he talked to the support staff to find out what had happened, he was told that his belongings were on another flight — to Ecuador.
We understand that mistakes happen, but wow! What a monumental mess up that is.
In the end, he got is bags back — four days later.
9. No toothbrushes in the hotel
Honestly, one of the most surprising things about staying in a Japanese hotel for us was discovering the toothbrushes waiting by the sink. So, you can imagine our friend’s disappointment at never finding a single toothbrush in an American hotel.
While toothbrushes, face cream, and make-up supplies are increasingly common in Japanese hotels, the most you can usually expect in an American hotel is a chocolate on your pillow and some crumbly soap in the shower. While people in the U.S. would never think twice about this, it is certainly disappointing for Japanese people who expect (and might be counting on) these basic supplies.
10. Dark rooms
Our friend found rooms — from hotels to bars to apartments — to simply be too dark. While some izakaya in Japan may be dark, there are also many which are brightly lit. Part of this seems to stem from Japan’s abundance of ceiling lights, whereas many places in the United States use indirect lighting like wall-mounted lights or lamps. This also led him to wonder if maybe Western people are more sensitive to the light than Japanese people, especially since so few Japanese people wear sunglasses.
11. So few toilets in New York
This is much more of an issue in New York than in other places, but our friend had a hard time finding toilets in New York.
In Japan, pretty much every convenience store, cafe, and train station has a toilet freely available for people to use. Train stations are almost always equipped with at least one toilet for either sex, usually more. However, in New York, our friend could never find a toilet — especially in the stations.
He ended up carrying around wet wipes to keep his hands clean since he was never sure he’d find a free restroom while he was in the Big Apple. Even in places that had toilets available, there was often only one that was shared between men and women. Or you would have to ask the staff to use the key, which is a bit of a bother — especially for a Japanese person who might be too embarrassed to speak up.
12. Few vending machines in hotels
Obviously, many hotels in the U.S. do have vending machines, but our friend found that many did not. And even when the hotel did have vending machines available, they often were at a premium price, with drinks or snacks more expensive than usual.
Japanese hotels, on the other hand, almost always have vending machines — including machines that dispense cigarettes and alcohol, reducing the need to run across the street to a convenience store at night.
While everyone’s experience is certainly different, it never hurts to see yourself from another perspective. It’s especially interesting when you realize how much it’s the little things that stand out the most.
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