Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Fourteen reasons why Japan is amazing.

1. Vending Machines. They are everywhere. In convenient locations. Surprising variety. Cheap prices. So good.

2. Customer Service. I went to a nice Department Store in the city of Nagano, and while my wife was looking at stuff for the kids, I start my mission of looking for a watch. Not just any watch (nothing too fancy, I just wanted a particular look and brand). I enquired to one of the store assistants and she immediately retrieved a manager. A gentleman in an impeccably tailored suit approached me, bowed politely, and asked which brand I prefer, and I said "Seiko". He walked with me, out of the store, into their other site, accompanied me up a few levels, introduced me to the lady at the watch counter and explains I'm interested in a Seiko watch. She showed me what is available, and invited me to try anything on. All the while, the manager stood patiently and then at an appropriate juncture, explained to me that the "Grand Seiko" watches are upstairs in another area. 

(Er, they literally cost as much as a car. Um, thanks, but no thanks)

When I finally got around to buying my Seiko that didnt cost as much as a car, the lady fitted it to my small wrist, removed the necessary links in the band, polished it, boxed it, wrapped it, and bagged it. This was all done without a word of English, but with the most ostentatious amount of courtesy imaginable. 

It was like I was buying a Lear Jet or something. Incredible.

3. Customer Service. It's so good, it needed another entry. At closing time for retail stores in each (massive) train station, the staff stand out the front when they close the shop doors and all solemnly bow to the thousands of people walking past as a sign of appreciation. 

Also, when the attendants to the Airport Limousine bus have loaded your luggage on the bus and it's ready to leave, they all bow in unison to the bus and its passengers as departs. 

They take immense pride in what they do. Do some of them dislike their job? 

Probably, but you would never know. 

4. Toilets. The seats are heated. They wash your butt. They have sound built in to muffle other "sounds". What is there not to love?

5. Trains. Outrageously clean, efficient, fast (Bullet Trains) are the preferred mode of travel.  As for the normal metropolitan trains, if you miss one, another comes in exactly three minutes.

This requires its own future post.......

6. Punctuality. See "Trains".

7. Honesty. My sister-in law inadvertently left her entire handbag on a bus. She rang the bus company, and they said the same bus will be passing her way on a loop ( a few hours later). She boarded the bus, and sure enough, the handbag was where she left it...; untouched. Unbelievable but true.

8. Feeling safe and valued as a tourist. We rode on trains as a family at all hours of the night and day. At no time did we even remotely feel threatened. (If you ride a train after about 7pm in Melbourne, its like taking your life in your own hands). It just doesn't seem to cross the minds of Japanese people to be abusive, loud, argumentative or rowdy. They don't even talk on their phones on the train because it would disrupt the comfort of their fellow passengers. (How good would that be in Australia!!) 

9. Cleanliness. Very little graffitti. No litter ANYWHERE. There was even a nice man sweeping up all of the leaves near our hotel and putting them into bags. Spotless.

10. Living with the threat of Earthquakes and Tsunamis. I'm a bit intrigued/ obsessed with how incredible the earthquake and tsunami warning systems that exist in Japan. I'm trying to get my head around the following: 

a. They have sonar buoys in the water all around the coastline (It's a BIG coastline). 
b. When a quake hits in the ocean, it instantly sends earthquake alerts to EVERY mobile phone, computer, television, radio, etc, in the country, with details of magnitude, and estimated time of "impact". 
c. Ten seconds later, a similarly-detailed tsunami alert is sent by the same means, which shuts down heavy industry and tells you to get to high ground, because there's a wave coming for you at 800 km/hr. The tsunami walls and their adjustable sea gates are instantly activated around ports and low lying areas.

This gives everyone a few precious minutes. 

This is why "relatively" few (tragically 20 thousand plus) died in this tsunami compared to hundreds of thousands in the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004. 

Technology is incredible, eh?

11. Making stuff. Seiko. Lexus. The Nissan GT-R. Enough said. 

12. Convenience stores that don't suck (and are really convenient). Fresh, hot packaged meals for about four dollars. Drinks for a dollar. Spare shirts. Business services like printing and photocopying. All with the high levels of customer service I have spoken about in this post.

13. Airports. Ever been to Haneda? Compltely built on reclaimed land in the bay. You will never view airports in the same way again. Super clean, efficient, well laid out. The shopping isn't too shabby, either. 

14. Traditional Japanese Weddings. The bride has up to five costume changes, all of which include looking a lot like Queen Amidala out of Star Wars. We happened across a wedding being photographed in the grounds of our hotel (traditional Japanese Garden) and I nearly walked into the pond, I was that gobsmacked. Google it. : )