For those of you out there who have not yet had the chance to visit one of Japan’s most southernest island, here is a little guide to help with your future trip, in order to avoid embarrassing situations or intense cultural shock. Bear in mind that this guide relates to the Island of Ishigaki, as rumors are that the rest of Japan is quite different and therefore the principles described below may not be applicable.
Avoid waiving enthusiastically at strangers or acquaintances. Chances are they will respond with a head nod and you will look like a doofus with too much energy. Also, when meeting new people, ensure that you truly pay attention to their appearance. Asians have fewer distinguishing features than Caucasians and in case you come across that person again, it may be hard to know remember you actually have talked to them before. Things are usually smaller in size, a bit like in Ahna’s house. However, as long as you are comfortable feeling a bit like a giant, there should be no problem.
A key part of the Japanese experience, the toilets can cause a shock if the non-resident is not previously warned. If one is lucky, he will come across the all-inclusive toilet; featuring butt-washing features as well as a button that looks like the toilet is set to play music. However, outside those high-end comforts, the racing traveler might encounter porta-potties without seats. After staring at the hole for long enough, most westerners figured out how to use these interesting commodities. (we hope they do anyways)
Before venturing into the local grocery store, it is probably best to be accompanied by a local translator who can explain what the hell it is you are buying. If no such person is available, fruits and vegetable usually look similar to what we can find in normal countries. Breakfast foods will be the hardest to locate (our correspondent had an interesting experience with oatmeal), and there will be some risks involved as to whether or not you are buying what you think you are buying. What looks like chocolate milk is most likely gross coffee-flavored cold liquid and the variety available at the fish counter is quite mind-boggling. Goya (also known as the Bubbly Cucumber) is best avoided, unless sought for its vitamin benefits over its bitter taste, but the island-grown pineapples are a must.
TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF
Just do it. House, hotel room, etc. Just take em off.
If you walk into the apartment where you will be staying for a week, and it is rather small, but there is not a bed in sight, do not panic. Beds are most likely stored away in the nearest closet and only come out at night. Here, the term ‘bed’ is used rather loosely, and might be closer to our definition of “camping in the living room” than of typical indoor sleeping arrangements.
When in doubt, you are probably looking for the “burnable” bin. If not, rubbish might go into the recyclable bin, the non-burnable bin, the glass bin, the cans bin, or if all else fails, the compost bag. This is all rather confusing. The complexity of the rubbish situation is probably the main reason why public garbage cans are a rare occurrence and one might be forced to walk for miles to dispose of their candy wrappers. Or find candy wrappers in every single one of their pockets in every single one of their pants/shorts/jackets when doing laundry.
THINGS TO DO
Refer to local tourist guide. The correspondent has not done very much. The triathlon world Cup event is a recommended stop, as it is well organized, with friendly volunteers and is guaranteed to start on time. Riding around the island is also recommended, but plan extra time to stop for coffee and beach pictures, especially when riding with a notoriously easy going Columbian who might miss his flight if he stops again.
That's all for today folks! I'll try harder to take pictures, and I'll go back to being productive and writting my final paper on american ecnomic history.