05:55

Things I love about Japan


Railways: The Shinkensen, or Bullet Train is one of the wonders of the world. It's average lateness over forty years in service has been 18 seconds and its death toll is...zero. I love the guards that stand by each door in immaculate uniforms with their red flags and the almost sinister sleekness of the locomotives. The stations are immaculate: we watched a cleaner being given a half-hour lesson on how to use a mop properly: no cello lesson could have been more exacting. The shops would be at home on Bond Street. On second thoughts, Bond Street has a way to go.



Toilets: As you open the loo door the lid lifts. You sit down and the seat is warm. Music plays to either encourage the action or hide its sound. You do your stuff, press the rounded W and a strong jet of warm water shoots up your bum. You giggle - it's difficult not to. Do not activate this for curiosity when standing up or you will wash either your glasses or the ceiling. Do not (if you are a bloke) activate the little-girl-shooting-into-the-air button or your testicles will be massaged - but clean. Press the blow-your-bottom-dry-with-warm-air button and try not to smile. It's impossible. Stand up and it flushes automatically. Walk away and the lid closes. Prediction: we will all have these in 20 years' time. 



No litter: None. Never. Anywhere. I picked up a fragment of a plastic container on a beach and within a minute two people had come up to me offering to take it from me. Why are the British such pigs?

Electronic pingers in restaurants. Why does every French waiter mutter over his shoulder as he heads away from you 'j'arrive'? These are the answer to those Mrs Robinson moments.



Drink dispensers: Not just Coca Cola in all its dreary manifestations but everything from beer to hot coffee. Under age? ID? I don't think it would occur to a Japanese underage drinker to try to get beer this way. 



No tips: Tipping is surely one of the most demeaning, and annoying, of American barbarisms. But at least you know where you stand Stateside. Europe suffers from the worst of both worlds - uncertainty.

Policemen: We saw two in as many weeks. The Japanese believe that your spirit resides in your possessions. If you left a laptop on a cafe table it would probably be there an hour later.

The Little Bo Peep look: It's almost anti-cool. 


Tokyo: I had visited Tokyo only twice before, once on business and another just passing through. It's ultra modern neon streets are legendary. What is less appreciated is that often just behind the  skyscraper canyons are small, quiet streets of trees and little houses, tucked away shrines, quirky corner shops, cafes and restaurants. It is, also, compared to London, a cheap city to live in on almost every level. Our son Joe's rent for a (very) small flat with a balcony in a sleepy street 20 minutes from Tokyo station is £400 a month. The rail fare to the airport is £3 and lunch for four with beer in a delicious gyoza restaurant is £20; it's a long way from Tokyo's notorious reputation in the bubble past. 

And what a city!





And the Japanese are unfailingly polite, helpful and smiling. If Japan is a failure, bring it on.
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