December 28, 2005 Vol. 1, No. 10

First East Asia Summit Promises To Play Positive Role for an East Asian Community

Foreign Minister Aso Delivers Policy Speech on Japan's Asian Diplomacy

Sample food showcased outside a Japanese restaurant

Affordable Japan <1>: Introduction

-By Shiori Okazaki
(Embassy of Japan)

Japan seems like an expensive country for a tourist to visit. But in comparison to other tourist cities such as London, Paris, or New York, the same amount of money stretches much further in Tokyo. Can a tourist stay in a decent hotel in London for less than $100? Can someone have a full-course lunch in Paris for less than $10? Or travel two hours on a clean and comfortable train--like the Amtrak--for less than $30? In Tokyo, all this is possible.

Tokyo has been chosen the most expensive city in the world many times by Mercer Human Resource Consulting's renowned Cost of Living worldwide survey. According to this survey that covers 144 cities by measuring the comparative cost of over 200 items in each location, in 2005, Osaka was the second most costly city in the world, preceding London (number 3), Paris (number 12), and New York (number 13). But these statistics include rent, groceries, clothing, toiletries and cleaning products, and telephone and energy utilities--items that apply to long-term residents. For a tourist who will be there for only a few days, Japan offers some very good deals, as shown by a brief study of costs of transportation, lodging and food.

First arriving in Narita Airport, one has the option of a number of transportations to reach Tokyo. Both the Narita Express, a comfortable and fast direct train (less than an hour), and the Tokyo City Air Terminal (TCAT) Airport Limousine bus service will arrive in convenient Tokyo train stations for 3000 yen (=$26)*. The train and metro system within Tokyo has prices that are comparable to cities in the U.S. or in Europe. The Japan Rail Pass is a bargain, because it is applicable not only to inter-city bullet trains that travel from Tokyo to Osaka or Kyoto, for example, but also to trains within Tokyo that are run by Japan Railway (JR). A 7-day ticket is priced at 28,300 yen (=$244) for an adult. The Tokyo subway system also offers discount one-day passes for a mere 710 yen (=$6), providing unlimited use to all their lines.

There are many affordable hotels for tourists visiting major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe. So-called "business hotels" are geared towards men on business trips, and are around 5,000 yen (=$43) per night. Japan, unlike the U.S., charges a fee per person rather than per room, so it would not be a financial loss to travel alone. For the more adventurous lone travelers, the famous capsule hotels, where one lies down in a locker-like space, provides a unique option for lodging for less than 4,000 yen (=$34). Ryokan, or traditional Japanese-style inns primarily built for the countryside, also exist in cities and are often affordable.

In Japan, it is not difficult to find a good place to eat with minimal prices. Many restaurants and eateries focus exclusively on businessmen on the go, who want to grab something very cheap very quickly. An epitome of this culture is tachigui soba, the eatery where one eats a bowl of buckwheat noodles while standing. Such a design saves space in the restaurant (they tend to be packed around noontime on weekdays) as well as time for everybody. The price of a noodle bowl here is around an astounding 250 yen (=$2). There are many yatai, or tiny eateries on wheels (only up to three customers can eat at any given time--they look like hot dog stations except that 1) there are seats 2) the seller actually cooks the food, and 3) the cook and the guests are divided with a noren, a short cloth curtain, so that they can avoid looking at each other), usually specializing in noodles or oden, a hotpot dish that includes daikon radish, eggs, fishcakes and seaweed. These are inexpensive and are popular late at night during the winter. For those who prefer reliable taste, fast food chains thrive in Japan, too--some are indigenous to the country and serve uniquely Japanese dishes, such as burgers sandwiched in packed rice instead of bread buns (about 300 yen, or $2.50), or gyudon beef bowls (about 400 yen, or $3.50).

For those who would like to have a slow, sit-down proper meal, there are many cafe-like restaurants that serve full meals. Many come in a set--Japanese meals tend to come with miso soup and pickles to begin with, but western dishes are also often combined with a cup of coffee, dessert and perhaps a side of salad for a total of about 850 yen (=$7). The category of eateries called "family restaurants" in Japan offer menus exclusively for not only children but for women as well--the "ladies' menu" tends to be smaller in quantity and perhaps a bit more health conscious. An added bonus for tourists who may not be familiar with the Japanese language or some of the traditional dishes: many restaurants and cafes have menus accompanied with photos, or display exact wax replicas of their dishes and combination meals in glass cases outside the entrance.

Japan is not that expensive compared to other countries that tourists might visit. With the current strength of the U.S. dollar compared to the yen, a tourist armed with enough planning and insider information on which spots to visit will be able to enjoy a very affordable trip.

*According to the yen-to-dollar exchange rate of December 16, 2005: 116.01 yen/USD.

The 2005 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, by Mercer Human Resource Consulting:

Sato (second from right) with friends

An Attempt to Look into America: A Foreign Student's View of the United States

-By Kousaku Sato
(Embassy of Japan)

I have been living in America since I was sixteen years old. I decided to study in the U.S. because I had a yearning for American culture. Not only does American culture have an influence on Japan, but the economic and governmental systems of the U.S. are also considered a role model in many countries. As America continues to play a role in the development of post-industrial countries, many foreigners have become interested in their food, music, movies, fashion and culture, which represents the living standard of white middle class. While foreigners are attracted by American culture and want to adopt it, they feel inferior towards Americans due to the gap between their willingness to adopt American culture and the limited condition and opportunities that are provided by the society. The inferiority which I mention in this article is the result of the gap created by the correlation of each country, and overcoming this inferiority leads to an accomplishment of individual goals and helps create a society that provides equality among all races: hence, we first need to overcome inferiority in order to produce harmony within our society.

There is a certain nature shared among most foreigners who live in the States: a tendency to unknowingly behave more politely towards Americans than they do to other foreigners. This tendency, which applies especially to foreigners who have recently moved to the States, does not necessarily require a particular environment or people to take place. Therefore, its cause can be explained by an internal factor rather than an environmental one: an inferiority complex caused by comparing oneself with Americans on the basis of appearance, economical status, and English language skills. As a result, he or she acts politely towards Americans in order to impress them. For instance, at a buffet I frequently go to, an Asian waitress acts fairly bluntly to me and other international students; on the other hand, she completely changes her attitude toward American customers by acting friendly to them. My friends and I encountered similar incidents at different restaurants; when we were at an Asian restaurant, I felt disgusted by the manner of the Asian server; he tossed the knife and fork to our table and completely changed his manner with an American customer by placing them with a good manner.

Most foreigners encounter a language barrier as well as feel the difference of their appearance while they live in America. For instance, when my Japanese friend participated at a company's cocktail party as an employee, he came back to me with a frown and told me that he felt like he was out of place at the party. He was the only foreigner there, and he could not encourage himself to interact with the others because he believed that he could not speak English well enough and that he didn't have anything to relate to with them due to the difference in their background. These incidents prompted me to consider what causes foreigners to feel inferior towards Americans, and I realized that similar incidents are carried out by different people in different places.

It is not strange that foreigners feel some inferiority when they compare his or her country with a strong military and economic power like the US. Foreigners from Asian countries are usually comfortable and act naturally with each other as if they have known each other quite long: this implies that the similarities in their culture and appearance seem to stimulate affinity to others who have similar backgrounds. However, in the presence of an American, they tend to neglect a culture of another country and put more importance on impressing the American. When I first came to the States at the age of sixteen, I attempted to become friendlier with Americans than with the other foreigners because I wanted to be treated as an American in order to avoid the discomforts that often result from being stereotyped. I had heard some Americans saying "Asians always stick together" and I did not want to be like those whom they talk about. But as I grew older, I started to realize that I should not be judging a person from a single perspective, and I learned how significant it is to learn the other perspectives to fully interact with people.

Inferiority within the foreigners originally derives from the comparison of the authority of their countries with America on the basis of economic, politics, and culture. As I mentioned above, America is one of the leading western countries and attracts many foreigners to adopt their culture. However, when foreigners encounter a barrier of language and difference of appearance, the existing inferiority within them starts to affect their behaviors towards Americans. Therefore, America is a country that provides foreigners with a variety of hardships to overcome in order to become successful, but at the same time, living through hardships in America would also help them gain a different perspective to re-evaluate the culture of their home countries. As an increasing number of individuals and organizations interact with each other beyond national boundaries, it is important to understand the others' culture and respect each other regardless of race and nationality.

Kousaku Sato is a junior at George Mason University. He interned at the Japan Information & Culture Center from July to December 2005.