EXSQO Anna and Joao USA

Our notes

        • ▫️ Peace and order: These seem to be the words that make this country. There is a sense of peace on the streets that is impossible to find anywhere else that we visited. There is a specific way of doing everything, and everyone does it in that way. As marketers, we know that big fast-food chains try to maximize the standardization of their products to always sell the same product, whether the customer is in China, Qatar or Argentina. In Japan, we feel that the sudden changes of tone, pace, and quality are also rare, whether you are in a hotel, restaurant or a shop because maintaining order seems a priority to everyone. This might go even further, as there seems to exist a standardization of certain emotions in the society as a whole, but that might be extrapolating too much…;

      ▫️ Service: In our US post we talk about how the customer is a true king. In Japan, we feel the same but in a somewhat different way. You might also be able to get refunds, discounts and return products easily, but where it seems that the backstage work has much more relevance. When we enter stores, supermarkets or restaurants, everything is sparkling clean, everything is ready to receive the customer and everyone focuses on doing their job diligently;

▫️ Convenience Stores: We have mentioned convenience stores in our previous posts, but for Japan, it deserves a few words. These are the best convenience stores. First, you find them everywhere, which makes it very convenient (no pun intended). Secondly, they serve a wide range of “fresh” products, meaning, made in the same day. Third, the prices are good - street food in other SE Asian countries are cheaper the convenience stores, so it does not really pay off, but here, a quick meal is very affordable and quick to have;
▫️ Clothing: Japanese people dress well. Both men and women take care of their appearance, not only with clothes that look modern but also very well cleaned and ironed;
▫️ Alcohol: Is alcoholism a real problem in Japan? We cannot state with certainty that there is a high number of people addicted to alcohol in Japan, but this is definitely the feeling we got. Streets at night get filled with people that gather to drink and socialize. During our first stay in Japan, some teachers told us that after work, it is common for co-workers to gather in a bar and have a few drinks. What we haven't realized before was that for some people, this happens every day;

EXSQO Anna and Joao USA

Interesting products

▫️ Taito Game Stations: Video-games are consumed in a different way in Japan. Going to video game “stores” where you can play a wide variety of games (like Tekken, dancing stations and musical instruments simulations, etc) is very common. Although you might think that this is for groups of young people to spend some time together, it is actually more common to see individuals playing alone, whether they are 20 or 70 years old.
▫️ Honsen/Sento: The typical Japanese bath house. We would never say that Japanese people (that, in general, are very shy) feel so comfortable being naked with other people in the room, but the truth is that this is a very normal thing. It also makes us feel like Greeks in the 6th century B.C. in their big public baths. The truth is that bathing yourself with hot straight-from-the-spring water is the perfect way to relax after a day of work.
▫️ High-tech toilet : The future of toilets, where you believe it or not. In countries where money is still short for the average family, this will take many years, but in the rest, it will happen in the near future. This kind of Japanese toilets are the obvious next step for personal hygiene. Not only you become much cleaner, but also the toilet itself gets automatically cleaned. In terms of comfort, the warm seat and warm water, have obvious benefits, even more if we think about elderly people. Let us know what do you think about such solution!
▫️ Coin Sneaker Laundry : Well, this was new to us. A special machine for shoes that washes and dries them in special holders that will make sure the shoe is entirely clean and dry.

▫️ Stainless Steel Soap: We are not sure if it really works, but supposedly it takes the smell from your hands, by binding the sulfur molecules with the steel. Perfect when cooking!
▫️ Order Machines: This is a total game changer in terms of efficiency! In many restaurants you have to order your food on a vending machine. It then prints a small coupon that you should hand to the waiter and your food will be served. This avoids wasting time with change and credit cards. If the restaurant or shop does not have one of these machines, it will most likely have another one that makes the change automatically, so the staff only has to insert the money you gave them in the machine and it will dispense the change.
▫️ Net/Manga Cafes
: This is more a service than a product, but it fits the category. You have places throughout Japan where people go and pay an hourly price to stay and read manga (Japanese comic books) or have access to the internet.
▫️ And many, many, many others interesting Japanese products...

Gastronomy

▫️ Onigiri - THE PERFECT SNACK! It is amazing how versatile this food is. We had it for breakfast (many times), for lunch, as a snack, for dinner and as supper in the nights we work until late. We love these rice triangles (as they are commonly called by foreigners 😂 ). The number of fillings is vast, but Tuna/Shrimp Mayo, takes the number one position!;
▫️ Katsu Curry - Japanese curry is something special. This specific one is served with a fried pork cutlet and the taste we cannot describe. Please try it!;
▫️ Katsudon - Another dish with a fried pork cutlet, but instead of curry is served with egg and onion on top;
▫️ Sushi - There is not much to say about this. If there is one simple food that is close to reach perfection is a small piece of fish on top of some rice, a little wasabi and dipped in soy sauce. In Japan, even the cheap restaurants take pride in having the freshest fish, so you will always have a great meal. Belt sushi places are very common and in some of them you can even win small rewards (Kura Sushi)!;

▫️ Kiritanpo - Grilled rice sticks, typical from Akita. It is commonly served in a hotpot with vegetables, meat and mushrooms;
▫️ Dango and Mochi - Two sweet cakes made from mochiko (rice flour). Both have a chewy texture, being that the second also has flour outside; 
▫️ Castella - It haunted us for 2 weeks. Ever since we learned that the Portuguese were the ones to bring this cake to Japan on the 16th century and João had never heard about it, left us worried and embarrassed. After some research, we found that this is very similar to Pão-de-Ló but the reason why the first Portuguese to visit Japan gave it a Spanish name, we are not sure… Some say it was called in Portugal “Pão de Castela”, others say it is because the egg has to be beaten until getting firm, which in Portuguese means “bater claras em castelo”;
▫️ First let’s start with a small lesson: Sake means alcohol in Japanese. What foreigners typically refer to as sake is actually Nihonshu, which is made from the fermentation of rice, similar to what is done with grapes to make wine. On the other hand, rica can also be used to make Shochu, which has to be distilled, like brandy or vodka. So, last time we were in Japan, we did not became Nihonshu fans, but this time, we tried a “milky” one that had a very nice and smooth taste.

Places

▫️Osaka - It might be the second biggest Japanese city, but you will not realise it when you are there. The traffic problem seems to have been solved through public transports (mainly subway) but also bicycles. We were staying in Tamatsukuri, 3 km from Namba, and the peace we encountered felt like a very developed village in the middle of the mountain 😂 ;
▫️Takayama - Beautiful city in a mountain valley. Old style houses make the city center very appealing to anime fans, giving a sense of a samurai neighbourhood;
▫️Niigata - A city bathed by the Japan Sea where we spent two nights on our way to Akita. It has a beautiful park (Hakusan Koen) where the castle is located, and you can enjoy a free view of the city in the tallest building of the city (Toki Messe);
▫️Akita - The city that gave the name to a dog. The dog is indeed what gives the city some notoriety around the world, but it has much more to offer;
▫️Sendai - We were not expecting this to be such a huge city. It was a joy to explore it by bike and try the local specialty: grilled cow tongue. We also visited Yamadera, which is a one hour train ride from the main station in Sendai. A series of buddhist temples on a hill, accessible with a staircase with 1000 steps. Amazing views and beautiful temples;
▫️Tokyo - As we post this article, this is where we are. This city has so much of everything that it might be worth a post just for it! Stay tuned for more content...;
▫️Special mention to Hiroshima, where we studied 4 years ago. We did not visit it this time, but it will always be in our hearts!

Traveller advice

▫️ Seishun 18 Kippo: If you visit Japan during their school holiday seasons try to plan your trip with this train ticket sold by JR. With it you will be able to have unlimited rides on local and Rapid trains during 5 days (consecutive or not) for more or less 100$. We went through places that go beyond our wildest dreams - the local train ride between Akita and Sendai, with snow, mountains and villages (— Seizun Line?) was incredible, as well as between Osaka and Takayama;
▫️ Public transports in Japan might seem expensive but they are worth every cent - always on time, amazingly clean, quiet and modern;
▫️ The option that might be the best if you have time constraints is airplane - can be cheaper than Shinkansen and it will be faster.

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