Cherry blossoms, zen gardens, temples, sushimi. All of these are remarkably Japanese and spectacular. Paul asked me for my first impression of Japan last night and I had to blurt out the first thing which was… The toilets!
Modern Japanese toilets are a cross between a computer game and a juke box. You will become excited about checking in to your accommodation or even public toilets for what was a mundane or even avoidable task, especially when travelling. At first I was totally confused and a bit scared. What are all these buttons for?! While the basic one just spouts out warm water fom a nozzle to clean one’s region, many versions also include deodorization, dryers, warming functions, even music. I was confused to hear noises but see or feel nothing until I was told later that there sounds for the ‘bashful bladder’ situations, from fake flushing, to music.
I can tell you that Japanese people take time management very seriously. The Japan Railway (JR) and other connecting subways and train systems have incredibly punctual schedules. Trains often issue late slips for passengers to take to their employers if their trains get delayed. After all, it leaves a very bad impression if you’re late to work. You would need this level of precision though when there are so many trains on interconnecting lines… My first morning in Japan I met with a Japanese man who text me know he was running two minutes late (20 minutes before our meeting). As a Portuguese person who catches up with friends that can be 2 hours late for coffee, this is a very different experience!
What has struck me most about the people is their kindness. On two different occasions I’ve noticed even in such a busy city like Tokyo, people took their time out to help us. In one occasion I asked directions for a chemist and minutes later that person called in to the chemist to check that i found it and see if i needed any extra help with locating items for my son. Another time, we were carrying backpack, knapsack and our little man in his Kathmandu child carrier and we dropped a water bottle. A lady literally ran, dropping her bag to help Paul and I rather than have one of us reach down to grab this! Where in the world can you find kindness like this in a major city?!
A Place For Everything, and Everything In Its Place
Everything is orderly, spic- and- span. It is rare to see a cigarette butt, or any material on the side of a road. Street sweeping seems to be a sport here. The homes and paths are so clean and perfect it feels like you might be in a movie set and didn’t realise it. There is no jay walking, no crossing lights when you shouldn’t and on the odd occasion that we witnessed something unusual like a lady riding her bike on the wrong side of the road, there was a sudden call over a megaphone from a police car that seemed to appear from nowhere which prompted the lady to jump off her bike and walk quickly to the side of the road.
It is amazing how respectful and organised everyone and everything is. I just love the way a shopkeeper hands me my change, presenting my notes in order and then handing over my coins again from largest to smallest.
Everything Has a Package
Nothing typifies the organisation and presentation like the packaging for anything that you buy. At times, it feels a little like a solo pass the parcel game as you take the item out of a gift bag, unwrap the paper and then the tissue to get to what you just bought. I mainly loved this, but there was a bit of me that worried about the environment with all this presentation… The packaging for things though just makes it all feel that little bit special. I love too that if they pass something across whether for free or an expensive present, there is still an offering made and the presentation adds to you realising that this IS something someone spent time to make for your enjoyment.