Upon landing in Japan I was expecting to be guided by multi-lingual robot assistants to a mag-lev bullet train which would take me directly to my destination. This did not happen. I obviously had some misconceptions about how advanced this country was. But after more than a week I’ve come to appreciate the subtle but brilliant design prevalent here.
- Taxis: Drivers can push a button to automatically close the rear doors.
- Fridges: The door can open to the left and to the right.
- QR codes: Lots of products feature 2D bar codes (called QR). If you photograph the barcode with your camera-phone, it will automatically retrieve extra information from the internet, such as nutritional information of McDonalds burgers from the wrappers.
- Toilets: I’ve already mentioned the automatic lid opening and wiping, but even more brilliant is the tank refilling system: A tap pours water into a basin where you can wash your hands, before draining down into the tank to be used for the next flush. So you’ve washed your hands without using any extra water and without touching any door handles or faucets.
The people here are so very polite. It’s very nice of course, but when an everyday encounter with say, a cashier, involves an endless stream of polite formalities it must begin to lose some meaning. There’s even a really funny statement I’ve heard a few times to say ‘Thanks’, which is “sumimasen arigato gozaimas” or literally “sorry thank you” plus a polite suffix word at the end, for extra politeness!
More on the (polite) culture of Japan:
- While watching The Dark Knight in theatre (it just came out in Asia last week), the movie ended and the credits started rolling. I got up and went to leave but when I reached the doors I noticed the lights still hadn’t come on. And nobody else had gotten up! Fascinated, I stayed to see how long they would wait. The entire audience sat through the whole credits.
- With no cars coming from either direction, people will stand at an intersection endlessly awaiting the ‘Walk’ sign. I don’t hesitate to j-walk here, which was the norm in China. In fact more than a few times in China I triggered mass mob j-walks where dozens of people stepped off the curb with me to cross a busy street, stopping all traffic despite our clear absence of right of way.
- Public sleeping is totally acceptable, and you see people napping all over the place. Sometimes I wake up (hey, when in Rome..) on the inter-city train to find no less than half the passengers dozing. And as Afton pointed out after living here, people have an amazing ability to wake up just in time for their stop.
I’ve put up some more photographs accompanied by explanations on my flickr set (click the thumbnail!)