Japan is easily the cleanest, most efficient and courteous country we have ever been to. Similar to the west in so many ways, but so so different in others. Here are a few of our lasting impressions from Japan…….
Whether it’s city metro systems, or the high speed bullet trains, there is no question that Japan has the most technically advanced, mass transit system in the world.
The metro systems everywhere are efficient and amazingly clean. While some stations show a few signs of age, they are all spotless. Japan is the only place where I have seen people hoover the escalator steps and the edges of all the walkways, and disinfect the handrails of the escalators as they are moving up and down.
Efficient, numerous and spotlessly clean. We took one train on a local line out of Osaka which had wood panelling and velour seats, it was like riding on a new, but old fashioned train.
Bullet Trains (Shinkansen trains)
I am not a train buff, but I would happily travel on these every day for the rest of my life. Again, very efficient, very regular, very clean (you see teams cleaning them before you get on), and when you are on them the speed is incredible. We bought 7 day Japan Rail Passes before we left the UK (you cannot buy them in Japan), and these allow you to travel on all Japan Rail trains except for the Nozumis, the very fastest bullet trains). We travelled on both of the other types of bullet trains and these still pull speeds of up to 205mph. It is just fascinating to watch the Japanese countryside go by in a blur. We paid £230 for each ticket, but took 4 Shinkansen trains, 7 local trains and a ferry for that, and travelled around 1000 miles in a week, so for an expensive country, that didn’t seem a bad deal.
Everything seems to be musical. When bullet trains come into a station music is played as the train pulls in. In many toilets, muscial accompaniment can be selected to mask any embarassing sounds of your abultions. The language itself also has a very ‘sing-song’ element, and when leaving the hotel restaurants at breakfast, it often sounded as if the chorus of staff were singing a song when they were all simply wishing you a pleasant day.
Girl bands are very popular in Japan. In Osaka, individual shopping centres and bowling alleys even had bespoke videos of girl bands enjoying and extolling their virtues – though they could have been saying anything really as my Japanese is not that good.
There are plenty of public toilets in Japan (something you are more concerned with as you get older). They are clean, they are free (all of them) and they can also be entertaining. Most loos offer the option of a squat or western toilet and, as mentioned above, if you choose the western toilet they can play music or flushing sounds so no one can hear what you are doing in there. They also have heated seats (even ones in toilet blocks in public parks which is a bit weird when it is cold outside) and they have jets (separate ladies and gents angles!) that will wash you too when you have finished doing whatever it is you are doing. Some ,I understand, even dry you off afterwards, but we haven’t seen any of those. Number one (excuse the pun) on our shopping list when we get home is to get a Japanese toilet at home!
In Japan you also wear special shoes in the toilet, toilet slippers. You don’t wear your normal shoes in the toilet, or go barefoot or in socks! But most importantly you NEVER EVER wear your toilet slippers in the house, or heaven forbid, in the street, if you did you would be shunned by polite society and have rotten sushi pelted at you. Fortunately this rule is not applied at public toilets where you are allowed to keep your own shoes on but, just in case you might need to take your shoes off and stand on that filthy floor, many public toilet cubicles have a special fold down platform attached to the wall that you can stand on instead of the floor should you need to get changed (they must get changed a lot in the toiliet in Japan?).
Crossing the road
There are a lot of zebra crossings in Japan (sorry, we didn’t find out what the Japanese called them), and rules are rules. You don’t cross the road unless the little man is green, not even, and I can’t state this enough, not even if the road is just 10 feet across, there is no traffic anywhere to be seen or heard and the traffic lights are not going to change for another few minutes!
The back door opens and closes automatically and a nice man in a uniform and white gloves will drive you in luxury to wherever you want to go. Some taxis, for reasons unknown, also have doilies on the seats (a bit like being round your nan’s…).
A few other things stick out in our minds about Japan:
Salad for breakfast with roasted sesame dreessing (another thing to look for when we get home)
Squeezy butter in sachets (brilliant idea)
Squeezy ice cream
Vending machines for hot drinks, soup and pot noodles
Big fruit (apples and grapes of a size you simply wouldn’t believe)
Cold noodles and cold soup (urgh)
A love of cats, Snoopy , Hello Kitty and the Moomins
Proliferation of people wearing uniforms and hats
Lots of bowing
Everyone follows the rules in Japan, except for old ladies, they do what the hell they like!