I am not necessarily a fan of everything Japanese, although I did enjoy their concept of punctuality as a mark of respect. I was told that the Japanese consider the other person’s time as valuable as their own, so it is only natural that they would not want to waste it by turning up late. Considering the dearth of rubbish bins it was also impressive how much cleaner their cities were compared with Melbourne.
In some areas, however, they do tend to lag behind. The concept of eating is one such example. Why persist in using two thin pieces of wood to handle your food when much of the rest of the world has moved on to metal cutlery? Admittedly chopsticks are quite useful for picking up sashimi or sushi but try eating meat or the okonomiyaki omelettes with them. As I have a tendency to inhale my food they did have the beneficial effect of slowing my food consumption down to the speed of the other diners, which probably helped my digestion. Being wood, chopsticks are not reused resulting in 24 billion pairs being discarded by the Japanese each year. A lot of trees could be saved by using washable metal implements. Depending on your source, Japan is either the most heavily forested country in the world or it falls second behind Finland, with over 60% of its land still covered in trees. They are good at preserving these forests too, importing most of their chopsticks from China. I do suspect, however, that chopsticks may cause some Japanese as much frustration as us, as I saw a shop selling magic chopsticks. To my untrained eye these looked amazingly like forks.
Much has been written about Japanese toilets, and deservedly so. They are true masterpieces of engineering. Beside the actual toilet are a bewildering array of buttons that, when pressed, will deliver a jet or spray of water with uncanny accuracy at your bottom. It took a while to find the off button, as there are also dials to adjust the intensity and temperature of the water as well as one to heat the seat. Even more impressive, however, were some of the urinals, which had video screens above them and contained a small target to aim at. If your aim was successful the video screen came to life and an animated gentleman raced across the screen carrying a can. The more you peed the more the can filled up. I managed to fill two and a half cans. Not bad for a first attempt. While this may sound absurd the floor was not awash with the litres of stale urine I usually stand in at public urinals. Anything that improves men’s aims must be applauded.
The Japanese are, on the whole, extremely well dressed, sporting a wide assortment of new, clean, designer clothes. Unfortunately they don’t appear to get it quite right. Parisians are the other group of people I’ve seen who take great pride in their appearance. However, while the Parisians are also co-ordinated in what they wear, the Japanese appear to have thrown a completely random assortment of clothes together, some of which are downright weird. I saw quite a few girls wearing stockings with some sort of writing on them, either in French or English, running up and down their legs. And those legendary shirts sporting complete nonsense in English are not hard to spot either. It makes me wonder if the people who have Japanese or Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies really know what they mean. In an episode of the Big Bang Theory Sheldon asks Penny why she has the Chinese symbol for soup tattooed on her buttock. Outraged, she tells him it is the symbol for courage. Presumably the shirt people believe they are sporting similarly edgy, insightful or humorous (certainly humorous) messages.
It would also seem prudent to employ a native English speaker to check their sign translations. That way the sign at our sake tasting would not tell us to “Please take grass home.” I did also wonder why a blue platypus was chosen my Japan Rail to tell people not to smoke.
Dr. F. Bunny