From Remote Control Toilets to Konbinis: Japan First Impressions

When I first set off on the road many years ago, I did so to countries whose toilets were mere holes in the ground. I’ve come a long way – this time to Japan, a country whose toilets are virtual thrones of electronic feature-laden splendor, including some which make music, many which feature remote controls, and most whose seats are heated.

But I digress. (Why I am here on the topic of Japan, talking about toilets? After all, toilet talk is rather un-Japanese.)

Travelers and tourists are often taught to look to historical sites for cultural insight, but Japan evinces plenty of culture in the seemingly everyday. It’s clear that the country has a long and deep history — complex, with nooks and crannies, cultural twists and turns, and sweeping evolutions. However, while I’m tempted to share my first impressions of Japan’s Buddhist and Shinto shrines, I’ll instead first share the cultural bits in the current, the white spaces of travel.

Japan, 15 First Impressions

1. The world’s most advanced toilets.

Ah, my first remote controlled toilet. My first heated toilet seat. And specially placed water jets to clean places you never thought to clean with a specially placed water jet. That’s a first, too.

Remote Control Toilet in Japan
Remote control toilet…nice.

Audrey muses that the Japanese invest so much money in their toilets because it’s their only alone time. OK, that and hygiene, and an appreciation for all things French, including the bidet. Or maybe this focus satisfies a Japanese inclination to innovate and perfect — in this case — all imaginable bathroom experiences into one unit.

When you gotta’ go, there’s never a dull moment in a Japanese toilet.

2. Salarymen: work hard, play hard.

In Japan’s cities, at any hour of the day or night, you’ll find men in dark suits and ties making their way. They are the Japanese version of businessmen, they are salarymen.

Heads down, sea of suits, Tokyo subway rush hour #dna2japan #Japan
Tokyo Salarymen, rush hour on the subway.

You’ll see them at pace making their way to work. You’ll see them consuming anime pornography on the train platform. Maybe you’ll even see them stumbling red-faced out of an izakaya (beer restaurant), giggling, on their way to the last train home that evening.

Japan: Work hard, play hard?

3. The konbini, the Japanese convenience store.

The konbini is the Japanese incarnation of the convenience store. From the outside, one might appear ordinary, but in Japan there’s something different.

Convenience Strore Engergy Drinks - Japan
Have you ever seen such a collection of energy drinks?

Portable food, hand-packed and replenished multiple times a day. Onigiri, triangular rice parcels, bento boxes and an entire wall devoted to energy drinks. There’s even a section for plastic-wrapped white button down shirts for the salaryman who didn’t make it home from last night’s business-and-beer bender.

Japanese people spend a lot of time at work and on the go. Konbinis, their stores of convenience, fuel them.

4. Create space where there is none.

One of the prevailing images of Japan: a lot of people, and little space — particularly in the Tokyo subway. But even inside a Japanese train full of humanity, the atmosphere never quite felt claustrophobic. Nothing like in so many other places the world over, where noise pervades and people bounce off each other like pinballs.

In Japan, all those people seem to create space where there should be none. But how?

Quiet, respect and order. Mobile phones are turned to silent; no one talks on the phone in enclosed spaces. People speak in soft tones. There exists a respect for the space of others, and a willingness to do what it takes to maintain that order.

Just witness the disgorging of a packed train at rush hour and the hum of all those shuffling feet.

You just have to be in it to fully appreciate it.

5. Politeness and consideration first.

While bicycling in Takayama, Audrey almost ran into a young schoolgirl crossing the street. In response, the Japanese student bowed and smiled rather than becoming upset.

Even the elevators are trained. In one, after a crowd of people piled on, the LED display read “Sorry! This elevator is crowded!”

There’s a lot of “sorry” in Japanese discourse. No need to get angry where there is no need. No need to blame.

To some, this politeness and courtesy may seem robotic. To us, it was deliberate. In one instance, Audrey and I took the remaining seats on a train, on opposite sides. A Japanese woman next to me looked up from her book, said “change” and pointed to Audrey, indicating that she would move so we could sit together. In a flash, the woman moved and was immediately reabsorbed into her book, while Audrey and I were reunited yet again.

We witnessed this level of courtesy repeatedly. It was the rule, in no way the exception.

Some might find all this respect and consideration boring. We found it refreshing. And after a couple of weeks amidst it all, we felt spoiled. There’s only one catch: in order to feel like you fit, you must show it, too.

Fortunately, that’s not very difficult.

6. Pachinko: gambling with steel pellets.

The Pachinko parlor, where the pinball machine and slot machine collide. You’ll know you’ve found a Pachinko parlor when you open the door to find rows of people seated at vertical pinball machines, boxes of metal balls at their side, loading them amidst a deafening roar.

Pachinko parlor, where Japan goes to gamble...with BBs - Kanazawa, Japan #dna2japan #gadv
Pachinko parlor. Wish you could hear the sound on this.

We went inside a Pachinko parlor to try it out. We were confounded. You purchase silver balls (reminiscent of large BB pellets) and insert them via a tube slot into the top of a machine with arcade controls. It’s supposed to be fun, we hear. And money supposedly flows if you figure out how to work the machines. We never did.

7. Everything is a process.

In a previous life, I taught statistical process control, a practice whose roots can be found in Japanese manufacturing. You’ll see the cultural manifestation of this art-meets-science everywhere in Japan, no less so than on high-speed trains. We sat in the forward car of one to get a clear view of the driver. He checked his plan, he drove his train, he checked the tracks. Then he repeated it all, sweeping his hand across his field of view to somewhere on the side of the tracks, to an end we never quite figured out. In any event, the motions were all deliberate. The checks all deliberate, too.

Japanese Train Driver - Kanazawa, Japan
Japanese train driver, process with white gloves.

Little, if anything, is left to chance.

This isn’t about being robotic, but about doing things deliberately and understanding the process, as well as how that process influences the result.

8. No garbage cans. No trash, either.

How can a country with public spaces so clean feature almost no public garbage cans? This takes some getting used to. It also takes filling your pockets with a bit of rubbish or carrying your own little bags of trash.

In Japan it’s one’s personal responsibility to take care of one’s trash, meaning that you typically carry it with you until you return home or to a hotel. This is why you almost never see trash left behind on subways, trains or in other public spaces.

9. Vending machines galore.

The colors and design of Japan’s vending machines mesmerized us. Almost any drink imaginable is available: energy drinks, collagen drinks (for beauty, of course), beer, even little sake boxes.

Dan Enjoys Beer from Vending Machine - Miyajima, Japan
Dan Enjoys Beer from Vending Machine – Miyajima, Japan

Everything to drink, but nothing to eat. Why?

Drinking on the street is acceptable, while eating on the street is looked down upon.

10. A whole lot of words.

When it comes to their own language, the Japanese are a people of many words, especially it seems for the smallest of transactions or questions. Buy a bottle of water or ask for the location of a bus stop and you may be sitting there for several minutes listening to a sort of conversational routine that includes a summary of what is happening, what question is being asked, what the solution is, an alternative repetition of the solution, a third way, and then an offering of thanks and good day.

It confounded us at first to watch our guide have long conversations in Japanese, only to report back something as simple as, “The bus stop is across the street.

11. Trains really do run on time.

You know the old chestnut about how you can set your watch based on when your Japanese train passes Mt. Fuji? Well, it’s true.

Bullet Train Coming Through Kyoto - Japan
Bullet Train Coming Through Kyoto

In two weeks of frequent train travel, only one of our trains ran late, by two minutes. Our guide, experienced in the ways of Japan, was shocked. We’re certain the employees responsible for the delay got a talking to.

12. Sidewalk braille.

Upon our arrival in Japan, one of the first features we noticed were all sorts of texture-coded yellow strips on sidewalks and inside buildings. We figured these lines were intended to draw walking lanes, to help provide order to the way people moved.

Sidewalk Braille at Hiroshima Train Station - Japan
Sidewalk Braille at Hiroshima Train Station

Our guide later clued us in that these were for blind people so they could walk comfortably through cities; different patterns and textures under your feet to signal stops, crossings, turns, traffic lights and the end of train platforms.

Brilliant. And considerate.

13. Presentation and design are king.

Head to the basement of any large department store to the prepared and specialty food area and you’ll know what we mean. Everything from the smallest piece of fruit to the most elaborate sushi bento box is beautifully displayed. If you’ve ever wondered whether it was form or function that came first, ask the Japanese and they might fairly tell you both.

The importance of presentation manifests itself most perhaps in Kaiseki dinners and Japanese tea ceremonies. In the Kaiseki dinner ritual, value is not only found in the beauty of what is being served, but it in the beauty, size, color and pattern of the plates and bowls in which it’s all displayed.

Kaiseki dinner, opening courses. One of life's most exceptional culinary experiences - Yamanaka Lake, Japan #dna2japan #gadv #foodie
A perfectly displayed Kaiseki dinner. Almost too pretty to eat…almost.

This is also echoed in the Japanese traditional tea ceremony, where the host takes an opportunity to leave the room so guests can discuss the merits of the instruments being used to serve the tea.

Japanese Tea Ceremony - Kyoto, Japan
Japanese Tea Ceremony, Kyoto

14. Onsen

For those of you who’ve been Japan, the word onsen is code for something special. For those of you who’ve never been, this is motivation. Onsen is the word for hot springs, but also describes communal bathing facilities. You can find them not only in nature, but also in many hotels and Japanese Inns. We enjoyed onsen several times along our trip, so much so that we almost took it for granted. When our hotel no longer featured onsen, we missed our twice daily dose of bathing.

With onsen, as with all things Japanese, there’s a process, there’s etiquette. There’s also relaxation and unwinding. And there’s a whole lot of cleaning going on.

15. Shy, but not closed.

Before traveling to Japan, we held an image of Japanese culture as one that is very reserved, almost closed. What we found during our travels, however, was something different.

Language can be a barrier, as many Japanese feel uncomfortable speaking foreign languages, especially English (or perhaps they feel unnecessarily imperfect in their mastery of it). However, if you initiate engagement you will find people who might at first come off shy, but who are eager to interact and do whatever they can to help.

Perhaps there’s no better example of this than the school children we met along our journey through Japan. Some needed a little coaxing, but most would eventually smile and laugh (and sometimes jump up and down and clap) when we would interact, answer questions and join in a photo-taking session.

Japanese School Girls in Takayama, Japan
Japanese School Girls in Takayama

Admittedly, this only barely scratches the surface of Japanese culture, a culture we could easily spend a lifetime trying to comprehend. But hopefully this gives you a taste of what a couple of interlopers — whose ideas of Japan were once confined to ink stamp vending machines and Lost in Translation — believed they learned in a short time.

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Have you been to Japan? What were some of your first — or lasting– impressions?

Disclosure: Our Discover Japan tour was provided by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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The experiences above were from the G Adventures’ Discover Japan Tour. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

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Comments

  1. says

    I loved reading this, especially the little details. We lived in Japan a few years ago and all of this was true then, too, so it was a very nice nostalgia trip for me. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  2. Sutapa says

    Such a lovely description of Japan! And kudos to you to make strangers relaxed enough so that you could take photos and interact with them! Congratulations! If anyone can crack that exterior of reserve, you guys can! I sure hope you can go back there again.

    My son and I actually went to a Tokyo style Izakaya restaurant this weekend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I thought of you guys there and also had a great time!

  3. says

    I think this kind of innovation or discovery is one of the very signs their inventors have nothing else to think of as an original one for their comfort and lifestyle convenience.

  4. Ashley says

    I absolutely love Japan, and it was the serious considerations about design and presentation that made me like it there so much. I mean, Japan is amazing for a plethora of reasons but that’s an aspect of their culture that I wish was more present in the West.

    We struggled with Pachinko too…haha…but ended up playing a lot of coin-based games in the adult sections of the arcades. I got pretty hooked, until I realized that there were no prizes or money to win, do then we opted for the oh so awesome phoo booths!

    I also read a really interesting article earlier this year that connects the lack of trashcans (especially in Tokyo) to the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway in the 1990s….how removing garbage bins was a way to get unattended packages of the street, but also make them more noticeable when they were left somewhere. I guess trash cans were much more common prior to the attacks.

  5. says

    I really liked this blog. A good grasp on just some of the things that make Japan so great.
    I am surprised about comments and lack of trash cans etc. There are loads of trash cans at stations and outside convenience stores. You won’t find many inbetween, but you just carry your rubbish with you. Simple. Plus there are convenience stores everywhere – brilliant!
    The UK got rid of trash cans at train stations in the 80′s due to IRA bomb attacks. The trouble is that Brits don’t take as much pride in their environment these days and chuck the rubbish everywhere. Shame. You wouldnt get that in Japan.
    Anyway, great blog piece.

  6. says

    Great post!

    Here are a few of comments.

    Work Hard, Play Hard
    Going out for drinks after work is often a mandatory part of the job. Many people dread going out with their bosses and co-workers because they are forced to be polite and friendly. It is not like going out with friends in the west. Also, many of these salaryman end up coming home late in the evening so they barely have a chance to see their families.

    Pachinko
    Gambling is actually illegal in Japan, so the Pachinko Parlors have some tricks to get around the laws. You trade the steel balls for a prize, so it is more like an amusement arcade. Then you take that voucher and go around to a small window around the back or side or the building to exchange that for cash.

    Cleanliness
    A big reason that Japan is so clean is because elderly people voluntarily clean up the streets in front of their houses and buildings every morning. Japanese actually throw a lot of trash on the street, but it is cleaned up by ordinary people. Unfortunately, these traditions are disappearing as the population ages, and younger people have much less pride in their communities.

    Bath Houses
    The name for bath houses in Japanese is sento. In many of the older neighborhoods, small apartments were built without bathtubs or showers, so it is still common for people to go to bath houses every night. It is mostly elderly, but many families go as well.

    When you are in a house without central heating, it feels amazing to have a very long and hot bath before bed. It helps you sleep as well. I think this is one of the most under-rated parts of Japanese culture.

    Food
    One part of Japanese culture that still surprises me is that the woman of the house will spend an entire evening preparing food and drinks, hidden away in the back kitchen. Even when my wife and I go to her mother’s house, the two of us generally eat alone in the front room, while my mother-in-law works away in the kitchen, only entering briefly to bring a new dish.

    There is such an appreciation of the subtle flavours of in-season fruits, fresh fish and meats, desserts and virtually everything they eat and drink. That is why you see those $100 melons in the supermarkets. Quality is extremely important and they don’t drown out the flavours with rich sauces. Japan definitely has the best quality food in the world.

  7. says

    Sidewalk braille? That is absolutely genius, and I’m sure it’s indispensable for the vision impaired in Japan. Too bad other countries haven’t caught on as well.

    This was a fascinating read, and I learned so much about Japan from it. Thanks!

  8. Alex says

    I love the part on how polite and considerate people in Japan are. We could definitely use more of this here in New York City. Thanks so much for this post! Makes me want to visit Japan!

  9. nihonjin says

    There are some vending machines selling food but as you say eating on the street or in other public spaces is not really acceptable.

  10. japanese says

    Thank you for analysis of your detailed Japanese and the good impression.
    Japanese morality has the large instruction of Buddhism.
    But Japanese people regard nobody as his being a Buddhist.hahaha~.
    It is influence of Shintoism that treats a thing carefully.
    Shintoism intends to say that a soul dwells in everything.

  11. keiko from Japan says

    We’re so glad that you enjoyed Japanese staying a lot.
    But there is just one thing I have to tell you about Pachinko.
    If you play it, I’m sure that you will absolutely lose all your money.
    And their benefits will be the source of funds for Yakuza (Japanese Mafia)and North Korea which is the most brutal and cruel nation in the world.
    I want you to know that.
    Also I want to tell you the reason why there are no garbage cans or no trash aroud vending machines on streets, stations or anywhere.
    They used to be installed any places before terrorism of the Cult 17years ago in Tokyo.
    Many people were killed by using Sarin in plastic bags.
    The terrorists broke them by the point of umbrellas in crowded subways which is full of many businessmen,women and students in the morning.
    And the rest of victims are still suffering very severely by prognostic symptoms.
    People stopped to install them for preventing terrorism since then.
    Sorry for all bad things I mentioned.
    Those are also parts of Japanese past.
    However,Japan is still more safe than other countries and there are many things fascinate you.

    Please visit Japan over and over.
    Good luck!

    Sorry for my long and wrong English post.

  12. says

    I would get lost in that toilet. Can you image… you finish using it and then try to flush the water, but instead of flushing it starts spraying water all over the place, because you pressed the wrong button.

    I like standard toilets with one button.

  13. says

    Before going to Japan one has to study the country and the culture in order to understand. The Japanese culture is very different from the western culture with lots of does and don’ts that you won’t understand unless prepared.

    It is a wonderful country with polite people, the best food in the world, at least the most restaurants with Michelin stars.

  14. says

    Bah.. you two and Matt are killing me. Going through some major Japan withdrawal. I told Gerard no matter what, if and when we get a house, I’m getting me that toilet! Lol. And a jar of happiness from the konbini! :) Hope you’re enjoying Vancouver.

  15. says

    I love how full of insights this post is! Your reflections on toilets made me laugh because they reminded me of Egyptian bidets, which were far less technological or fancy! I am fascinated by the Wanderers in Residence program and am really looking forward to reading about the rest of your Japan travels.

  16. says

    Wow I just learned a lot about Japan from this list. I’ve been to Asia before but something about Japan seems so appealing. I like how you record your first impressions, too. After you’ve been in a country for awhile, the things that appeared so different at first start to fade into the background.

  17. says

    Fantastic observations of Japan! I’ve never visited before, but I think I could probably spend the majority of my time eating and hanging out on the toilet!

    Interesting to hear that there’s no garbage cans. I guess most countries I’ve been to that don’t have public garbage bins, the garbage all ends up on the ground – so that’s pretty cool that people take their own initiative to pack out their own trash!

  18. Masa says

    You looks like enjoyed your travel in Japan. I am interesting in your report to be able to find a different view point for me. Your “ideas of Japan” and this page is introduced a site of Searchia.ne.jp. I feel Japanese culture is a little strange in the world, but I may be happy to born here.

  19. says

    Thanks for sharing. Everything you said is true. it reminds me exactly my first impression of Japan when I lived there 9 years. Things seem to never change there.

    Japan is full of paradoxes and contrasts. The girls can be dressed in gorgeous kimonos one day and attend a tea ceremony lesson and next day wear very extravagant, Manga-punk style outfit with blue hair in Harajuku station. I have visited more than 40 countries and lived in 10 different cities across the globe but nothing compare with Japan, really love it.

  20. Tom Brennan says

    Amazing insights into Japan Dan. Really like the techno toilets, I definitely would buy one purely for the convenience of not getting that nasty shock when you sit on cold plastic in the early hours of the morning!

    Hope you guys have the best time out there, keep us all posted!

    Tom

  21. says

    The Japanese culture is so interesting! Your first impressions really make me want to visit Japan soon… I love how they are all so polite – even the elevator! (American elevators are so rude that they slam shut on people…haha!)

  22. Chris says

    Nice article. We lived in Japan for almost 5 years, and it is indeed a special place totally unlike other countries.

    The train driver hand gestures are used to help prevent mistakes. There is a protocol the driver must follow, to keep on time, check for people on the tracks, and so on. Worst case, video records from an accident can be used to ensure the driver was doing all he should have done (no texting while driving!). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointing_and_calling

  23. says

    I lived in Japan for three years and also really enjoyed the country, but I did come to hate those super toilets. Heated seats are great in the winter, but because the Japanese as a whole get cold much easier than we do, they have the seat heat turned all the way up even on days I would consider sweltering.

    As a result, you start sweating profusely the second you butt touches the seat and by the time you leave the stall, you look like you’ve just completed a full day’s hard labor.

    I actually ended up choosing the squat toilets over the high tech ones outside of the winter months.

  24. says

    OK so I’m currently wrestling with the idea of going to Japan for my four day summer vacation, and I think this may have swayed me. This, plus the Pokemon Museum. Great write-up, and thanks for sharing and inspiring :)

  25. says

    Wow, your experiences really make me want to go to Japan. It’t interesting how such a polite and apologetic culture so willingingly jams as many people as possible into a crowded train. I suppose when you’ve been living with high population density, you get used to the elimination of your personal space. I also heard that after work, when drinking with coworkers, as soon as the first sip is taken the you are allowed to say anything to your boss. Any truth to this?

  26. says

    @Sheila: Glad you enjoyed it. Am glad that it brought back memories and was fair enough to ring true to your experience. Am grateful to hear that.

    @Sutapa: Thank you for such a nice compliment. Although, I have to say that Japanese people, on balance, are rather easy people to interact with, so there wasn’t a lot of heavy facilitation required on our part.

    Izakaya restaurants are great. I’d be interested to know which Japanese bites you tasted.

    @George: Wow, all the best to you. I’m certain you’ll have a great time living there.

    @Jesse: Funny. I suppose you commenting on the toilets. Someone we met remarked the same. If you are an innovator, you innovate until you can’t innovate any longer. So I suspect there’s more in store for the future of Japanese toilets.

    @Ashley: I imagine Japan pleases and tempts a lot of people in the design world.

    Thank you so much for the insight about the lack of trash cans. The sarin attack might help to explain it. That’s the first I heard of that explanation, but that could make a lot of sense.

    @James Mundy: Thank you! Although there may have been a trash can or two outside of Japanese convenience stores, we don’t remember loads of them. In any event, the lack of trash cans in response to bomb and terror attacks seems to be a common theme. Thanks for your comment.

    @Andi: So this squares with your experience in Japan?

    @John: Thank you for such a thorough response.

    Men barely having a chance to see their families, this really is very sad. As a requirement of the job, that makes sense given the work culture.

    Pachinko: Ha! Did not know that. Circuitous, for sure.

    Cleanliness: That is sad. Seems like a common theme throughout the world, I’m afraid.

    Thanks for the distinction between sento and onset.

    Am looking forward to sharing what we experienced in the way of Japanese food. Is going to take some time to sift through our notes and photos, though.

    @Christy: Sidewalk braille is genius. I’m not sure that’s the word or phrase commonly used to describe it, but that’s what we called it.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    @AvaApollo: Imagine the rest of the world with Japanese style toilets…am trying to get my head around that.

    @Alex: And New York City strikes me as much friendlier than it used to be (that is, back in the early 80s). But yes, I agree that we can never really have enough politeness, respect, and consideration.

    @Michelle: Sure is.

    @nihonjin: Thanks for re-affirming. In what city do you live?

    @japanese: Not surprising at all that you would connect Buddhist instruction with informing Japanese morality. Makes sense to me. Funny that “no one is a Buddhist” — to me, there’s a bit of religious variety in Japan that can cause a little bit of confusion when labeling people’s religion.

    Wow, a soul dwells in everything. Even more of what we witnessed in Japan now makes sense.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful comment.

    @keiko: We didn’t play Pachinko very much, but it looked to us like a game that is designed to make your money disappear. Sad to hear that it’s connected with the Japanese mafia (I did hear that also while in Japan).

    Don’t be sorry for all the “bad things you mentioned. I’m glad that you took the time to comment and educate us about some of the questions we had about Japan after our visit.

    We’ll let you know the next time we visit Japan!

    And no apologies needed for your English…it’s very good. And much better than my Japanese :)

    @Armands: One button toilets certainly are easier. But they’re not much for the ultra-curious among us.

    @David: Another vote for sidewalk braille. Although, like I said above, we’d never heard it called that. Either way, it’s very cool, thoughtful, useful.

    @JT: Was not aware that Japan had the most Michelin starred restaurants. Might have to check that fact out.

    @Jude: Glad we could add some fuel to your Japan fire.

    @Kieu: Good luck with that toilet. When you have a party, your guests just might get stuck in there — either by way of confusion or curiosity.

    Ah, the jar of happiness. Good times.

    @Roy: Easy sell, Japan.

    @Roxanne: Glad we could make you laugh. Toilet talk is good for that, it seems.

    @Dana: So true. However, there’s a balance in timing — not too soon, not too late, for us to communicate what we feel a country is about.

    @Mark: I hope that you are not forced to spend all your time in the toilet in Japan, but perhaps that you choose to. The food is really terrific, though.

    As for the no garbage cans in Japan, the end result is different than in Hanoi, Vietnam for example, where squads of people go around at night sweeping and shoveling the streets. In Japan, the feeling of personal responsibility is strong.

    @Masa: Thank you for your comment. Glad you found us and our Japanese experience.

    @alan: I hear you.

    @Anne: Thank you for your comment. We’re grateful to hear that our impressions, while obviously much more limited than yours, actually squared with your experience.

    I love your description of Japanese contrast and paradox, including the shift from tea ceremony to manga-punk.

    @Tom: The warm seat was the best. There, I’ve said it! Thanks for your comment. More on our Japan experience coming soon after we get beyond the latest round of speaking and conferences.

    @Claire: So true. Even Japanese machines are polite. I wonder if that’s where they got the idea for some of the characters in Wall-E.

    @Chris: Thank you for your comment and for the link on pointing and calling on Japanese trains. Love that term.

    @Daniel: Japanese toilets — and toilet seats in particular — seem to be of great interest. I hear you, though — I couldn’t imagine spending time on one of those heated seats in the middle of August.

    “…a full day’s hard labor…” Love that description!

    @Erik: Glad to hear we could help. When it comes to Japanese culture, there’s little to cause fear, at least based on our experience.

    @Sarah: Photocopier toilets…don’t give them any more ideas!

    @Tom: Glad you enjoyed it. Though Japan is not the cheapest country to travel in, I can’t imagine that Japan would disappoint.

    @Ryan: Very true, it’s all a function of what you’ve become used to, and also one’s values.

    Regarding the first sip rule when drinking with your boss, I don’t know. However, it would strike me as odd — in a culture that is about respect and also values saving face (particularly for one’s boss) that this would be invited. If this were true, I would expect a lot fewer bosses actually willingly taking part in the after-work drinking ritual.

    That’s just my perspective. I’d love to hear from someone else on the thread regarding if and how this actually works in Japan.

  27. says

    I love the sidewalk brail idea, and those toilets sure do look fun, although I can only imagine the queues for the girls loos if they brought them to the UK!

  28. Mariko says

    Hi! I have been enjoying following your blogs on your recent visit to Japan.
    I am from Tokyo and now living in Hong Kong.
    I have a quite simillar model of then toilet in your photo at my home in Tokyo…yes, it’s kinda common to have that high-tech one at not only, common places such as hotels and office buildings also home and I miss it :-).
    Glad to see you are amazingly open to diffrent cultures…which,I am sure, makes your life richer…
    I look forward to your following posts…

  29. says

    @Arianwen: Wow, no kidding. Being a guy, I never did consider the implications of fascinating toilets to queues in the women’s bathroom…those lines are already long enough! Funny.

    @Mariko: It’s interesting to know that the high-tech toilets are common across Japan, in homes and apartments. Being open to new cultures — from our standpoint — is the only way to go. Makes things more interesting and more fun, and a bit easier to make friends along the way. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful comment. Stay tuned for more posts from Japan (we’ll be mixing them up with other destinations, but there will be many more!).

  30. Lidia says

    Japan is such an amazing country, especially because its culture is so different compared to western cultures and it is so very exotic in its differences.

  31. Kaori Myatt says

    Great to see other prospective view…I grew up and all were “Normal” to me. I was so attracted by western culture and unnoticed all beautiful parts of Japan… I recognized anew…of Japan! Thanks!

  32. says

    @Lidia: That it is.

    @Kaori: I love hearing this. Your comment makes me think two things:
    1) Normal is in the eye of the beholder
    2) Visitors always have a way of a showing us a different perspective of home.

    Great to meet you this past weekend!

  33. Srivathsa says

    Just got back from a 7 day vacation in Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima) with my family. You’ve captured the essence of Japan very well. Going from India, we were just blown away by how courteous, polite and civilized the Japanese are. People went out of their way to help us when we asked for directions.

    The public transport was just amazing though pricey by Indian standards. It was easy to use (even the Tokyo subway), clean and punctual. No one frowned when we fumbled with our money or our passes. The driver would patiently wait till we finished. Walking was a real pleasure after the sidewalks of Indian cities.

    On the Braille bit, apart from the sidewalks, there was Braille on the elevator buttons, on the railings of staircases (at the ends) and even on the toilet control buttons. The attention to detail was incredible and everything seemed to be designed with people in mind. What a change from India where it is the survival of the fittest.

  34. says

    @Srivathsa: We love India (and have written a lot about it), but I can understand how different you found Japan. Definitely a different sense of organization between the two cultures. Surprisingly — and I just looked into this — population density in India and Japan are not that far off (954 vs. 836 people per square mile).

    Thanks for such a thoughtful comment and for sharing your experience in Japan.

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