Travel, for us, is all about our interaction with people; not seeing all the tourist attractions that a destination offers. So, the first thing we miss now that we are in Taiwan, are those good friends we made in Japan and with whom we shared a lot of good times.
It took me so long to research Japanese language learning systems to find the one that ’spoke’ to me. I just wanted to communicate on an easy, not even grammatically correct, simple level. But, learning Hiragana, and Katakana was not enough. The language begged me to delve deeper and deeper by introducing culture and tradition. I began learning radicals as a foundation to begin learning the Kanji, which was really exciting, but it diverted me altogether from practicing any conversational language. So my progress was tediously slow.
And now that we’re in Taiwan, I miss being able to ask my friend, Hiroko, all those language questions that she was so skillful at answering during our mutual language exchange.
I really felt welcome each time I entered or left a convenience store, retail shop, restaurant or bar. There was always a greeting chorus by every employee offering “welcome to my store”, “can I help you with something?”or maybe something playful like “welcome strange and funny foreigner to our establishment” or whatever it was they were saying, because I had no idea. I enjoyed hearing their singsong welcome but never knew if it warranted a response from me so I could only pleasantly acknowledge them and smile. I know the greetings were a management directive and not really sincere, but I always imagined them to be.
We dined one evening at a restaurant with our friend Hiromi and she pointed out a button on the wall by our table. She pushed it to summon our server just to ask a question. Then she used it again to ask our server how to get the advertised discount for our meal. She called her again to ask for help loading the app that offers the discount coupon. After getting over our hesitation to use the button, we grew to love it calling for more water or an explanation of what dish was served. The wait staff would come running, actually running to our table at our slightest whim. Tipping is not done in Japan so there was never a promise of extra money for the speedy service delivered always with a smile in Japan. This courteous and attentive service may just be unmatched elsewhere.
I miss the dollar stores where I can buy everything and it all works perfectly as you may expect an item that cost much more to perform. There are Japanese Daiso stores ($1 stores) in Taiwan, but I preferred the Seria 100 yen shops. The Daiso stores carry more utilitarian supplies. The Seria stores had not only the whimsical items with no practical purpose like a toast stamp that makes an imprint of some anime character on a piece of toast, highly specialized gadgets like cute plastic stoppers for laundry poles to prevent hangars from flying off the ends, but also the traditional Japanese items like fans and (empty) bento boxes to pack your kid’s lunch.
The train system in Japan that you can set your watch by does not exist in Taiwan. Japan’s vast and efficient train network connecting every part of the city and its adjacent towns with precision and orderliness is something we may never see anywhere again. Those clean and comfortable trains that posted official signs admonishing riders to behave properly while aboard, were always within short walking distance no matter where we were. They were not inexpensive but the ease of use and convenience made up for the cost.
Sidewalks in Japan are built for pedestrians and bicycles. Some have lane markers so both can share … politely. Drivers in Japan are so careful of others and give people on foot and on bicycles the right of way. Taiwan is not friendly to pedestrians and we decided early on that riding bikes would be impossible. The few sidewalks we have seen have been monopolized by scooters driving or parking on them.
There were so many little hole-in-the-wall bars everywhere in Japan. There was a building with an entire floor sporting almost 50 bars side by side along narrow hallways. Each bar had it’s unique theme and clientele. We have not yet spotted a drinking establishment in Taiwan.
Last but most importantly, I miss the Japanese iconic electronic toilets. I miss the warmed seats, butt and bidet sprays leaving you clean-as-a-whistle, and the pleasant bird songs or classical music masking sounds I may make in the toilet lest I die of shame.
Just when I was feeling my loss most profoundly, we happened upon Dawn Cake, a pastry business with an ice cream parlour and pastry/dessert retail outlet on the main floor and a fabulous restaurant on the second floor. They had Japanese toilets in one of the most posh bathrooms I have visited in a long time, including Japan. We dined at this restaurant, which we highly recommend, and luxuriated in their bathrooms fondly remembering toilets in Japan. Yes, toilets in Japan are what I miss the most and I want one.