Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Behind the times

Most people probably have an image of Japan as a place for all things high tech. But after living here for a while--particularly in rural areas (inaka)--you realize that Japan can be surprisingly behind the times in some ways.

For the most part I try not to complain too much about things that aren't the same in Japan as they are in Canada. And I do love my life in Towada/Japan, but I do find these three things rather irritating sometimes:

1) Non-subtitled DVDs: 

This is probably my #1 pet peeve. I mean, it's a matter of equity, right? Why is it that people with hearing impairments have less selection when it comes to DVDs that they are able to watch and fully understand?

I can't imagine a DVD (unless it was a freebie or cheap $1 one episode thing) being released without subtitles in Canada. Heck, if a DVD was released with only English or only French subtitles there would definitely be complaints.

And the thing that really gets me is that DVDs of TV series (anime, dramas, etc.) in particular seem to lack subtitles even though when they were aired (on TV) they had closed captioning! I mean, clearly subtitles were produced at some point, so it's not like including them on the DVD would be a lot of extra work.

Apart from the equity issue, I find it personally annoying because even with just Japanese subtitles I can probably understand anywhere from 10-50% more with than without. (On the other hand, some DVDs do come with English subtitles--and I love the companies that produce them!)

2) Cash-Based Society

I find it incredibly frustrating to constantly have to go to the bank to withdraw money for grocery shopping, eating at restaurants, etc. It's especially inconvenient since you get hit with service fees for using an ATM before 8am, after 6pm (I'm often at my base school until 6pm!), or on weekends/holidays (when people are most likely to use more money).

In Canada people can get away with carrying very little cash (like $20) since they can use debit/credit cards almost everywhere (Chinese shops/restaurants are probably the main exception =P). In Japan, however, it's common for people to walk around with over 10,000yen ($100) in cash. I suppose I could apply for a Japanese credit card, but I've been "scarred" by my Tsutaya W-card rejections (twice!) and it's better for my budget to avoid buying things on credit anyway.

The lack of internet banking is probably a corollary of the whole "cash-based society" thing. Apparently Aomori Bank has started a bit of an internet banking service, but it seems rather limited in scope--you can't send money overseas through online banking, for example. I guess I should research a bit more and see if I can at least view transactions on my account online. It's a pain for me to constantly have to go to the bank to update my passbook to see if my automated withdrawals went through on schedule. (Since I keep track of my spending, etc. using Quicken such information is important to me.)

Ironically, though, when I go back to Canada I often forget to use my debit card instead of cash. Just goes to show that you can get used to something even if you don't particularly like it, I guess. =P

3) Local Information Offline

This is more a problem with Towada in particular (i.e. a life-in-the-inaka rather than a Japan-wide issue), but I find it extremely frustrating to not be able to find information on various local community events, etc. online. I mean, they all make big posters and such for the events to post in community centres, etc. so why can't they just put in a little more effort to convert them into PDF files and to post them online?
The Yurirara Towada website is great, but it usually doesn't have anything more than basic information about events until a week or two before the actual date. And since it's aimed at tourists, it often doesn't have information about smaller, more local events (like the Kirida Aki Matsuri, for example).

Even for events big enough to have their own websites, said sites usually don't go up until the two or three weeks right before the event. Since I'm the type who likes to plan things well in advance, I find this extremely frustrating. The lack of advance information is also frustrating for me as a blogger trying to make more information about Towada available in English in a timely manner.