As the end of February approaches, I realize that I have been in Japan for nearly two months, and in that time span, I have adjusted to living in this formerly unknown world. That being said, it would be pretty awkward if I did not learn anything about how life works here. And so, here is a little peek of what living in Tokyo entails.
Japan has a national health insurance for all residents and depending on how much your annual income was the year before, everyone is charged a different price. Because I had no existing income in Japan, I only have to pay the minimum amount which totals around $17 per month. Furthermore, thanks to this, should I have any accident and require an ambulance, I should have no reservations about calling for a ride because it is free! I repeat, it is free! I am sure most Americans are familiar with the high expense associated with ambulance rides. It is certainly a perk to living in Japan, but hopefully not one that I will utilize. I was recently billed, and in the envelope, it came with two slips that must be stamped to indicate payment.
How to do this? Well, I have extolled the numerous virtues of the convenience stores regarding its food variety before, but that is not the extent of it. You can also pay your insurance bill there, too! And because they are within a ten minute walking distance no matter where you are, it is mindbogglingly easy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 7-11, Lawson’s, or Family Mart; they have you covered! On top of that, you can purchase tickets to various events or entertainment like to the Ghibli Museum, scan and print, and are equipped with ATM’s to withdraw cash.
While on the topic of cash, it is important to remember that Japan is a cash-based country so although large stores and chains will have credit card options, it’s best to have physical currency on you. The interesting thing about Japanese currency is that they have many coins that are used. More than just a wallet, one should get in the habit of having a coin purse! I think the coin that has the most usage is the 100¥ coin because it’s what is usually needed for vending machine, laundry machine, purikura, the 100¥ store, etc. You get the point. As a matter of fact, when I go shopping, I’ve noticed that coin purses and card holders are pretty prevalent, but actual wallets like the ones back in the states are less common.
I mentioned vending machines earlier, and that’s another thing. Vending machines are everywhere. I mean, everywhere. It is inevitable that you will use it at some point, and the prices are reasonable unlike in the U.S. where a drink will cost you a $1.50. Many of the vending machines advertise being only 100¥ but with the current exchange rate, that is less than a dollar. For the most part, they are not much more expensive than that but if they are, they’re one of the fancier drinks. That’s the other thing. They have both hot and cold drinks and have an array of options from corn drinks to coffee to peach juice. You’re pretty much guaranteed something to suit your tastes. There are other vending machines too that are less prevalent. For example, they even offer “sin” goods like alcohol or cigarettes. One of my professors said that before they began to require an ID scan on the vending machines for those items, it used to be one of the errands that the children had to do for their parents, and she recalled being sent out to complete these chores.
Children in Public
Children here are surprisingly mature in handling themselves. I see elementary school kids riding the train by themselves sometimes, and on the streets, I’ll see kids no more than seven or eight walking by themselves. At 4:30PM every weekday, I’ll hear an announcement in town that is apparently a reminder for all children to go home for the day. According to the same professor, this time changes to about 6PM during the summer to account for the extended daylight. It’s kind of amazing to see this because I know back in the U.S., few parents in the city would feel comfortable having their child roaming the streets unaccompanied and actually expect the child to come back home on time.