I started my first visit to Tokyo with a toilet disaster—you know, the automatic bidet that almost gave me a facial wash. Should I say more? And the rest is, and should be, history.
Little did I know that that was just one of the automatics in almost everywhere I went. Here are some of the “amazing” high-tech things, and other observations that my keen eyes collected:
- Tollgates are uneventful. They just swiftly scan the bus, and that’s it. No drama, no person giving out a ticket, no traffic around it, nothing.
- Some train lines are run without a human driver.
- Every toilet, even public ones, are complete with facilities.
- There’s a vending machine of drinks at every corner.
- Weather forecast is accurate. If they say the sun will shine tomorrow, even if it’s raining today, it will.
- Right-hand driving. And the taxi’s rear door opens automatically at the taxi driver’s disposal.
- I don’t think I’ve ever touched a door knob, since all doors are automatic, except for my hotel room’s.
- My wake-up call was recorded! I couldn’t take it! I wanted to hear a human voice first thing in the morning but I didn’t!
- Once you got the bill after dining at a restaurant, you stand up and settle it at the cashier, not from your table.
- Riding the bus was boring—no bumps on the road, no traffic, no TV. Sucks, right?
- Black is the general color, as if everyone is going to the same office everyday, wearing the same uniform.
- Everywhere is generally quiet. If anything, it’s only the kids playing and crying who cause noise.
- People are skewed to the left of the road or the escalator. If you’re not rushing and you don’t want to be trampled upon, keep to the left.
- Did I mention that the train leaves on time? Given that, you can predict almost exactly what time you can make it to a certain destination. The maps posted in train stations even supply you with the time difference between stations (e.g. 2-minute train ride between Shinagawa Station and Shimbashi Station).
Anyway, I ended up being in Tokyo to join a delegation to the Software Development Expo (SODEC) held annually in Tokyo Big Sight, Japan. I followed a tight business schedule, but highlighted by the fun on the side:
Monday to Friday: Official Business, until evening came and I would end up either at an izakaya or a ramen house with two groups of Japanese friends whom I met at training programs I attended back home. I met a Japanese friend who’s now based in the US but was in Tokyo for a week–-the same week I was there! Another friend, who’s from Osaka, was also in Tokyo that same time. I was so lucky!
Sunday was a day of unplanned pleasantries. I was invited to a Japanese home by a Japanese classmate I also met in a training. I was welcomed like a supreme guest. We went biking and saw a festival at the nearby park. Who’d have thought there was a scheduled festival that time of the year!
Some useful phrases to get by:
- Eigo deki masuka? = Do you speak English? (Now, when the Japanese I’m talking to answers with a “No”, I automatically call out a colleague who speaks Nihongo.)
- Wakarimasen = I don’t know / I don’t understand
- Arigato gozaimasu = Thank you
- Sumimasen = Sorry / Excuse me
Of all these phrases, what I love most is Sumimasen. At an izakaya, my Japanese friends would always ask me to call out the waiter, and then perfunctorily and happily, I would shout “Sumimasen!” trying hard to sound natural as if Japanese is my native tongue.
A Society of Trust
More than my amazement of the technology around, which was already an expectation, what surprised me was how respectful people are.
- People talk softly especially on the telephone so as not to disturb anyone around them, an instruction that is repeated through the recorded voice-over in buses and trains.
- They say sorry even if you’re the one who bumped into them when you’re crossing an intersection.
- They bow countless times before and after a meeting, almost to the ground.
- Drivers don’t honk horns and patiently wait for slow-moving cars in front of them.
- It’s a society of trust. No visible guardmen around, and if there were, they don’t carry guns. No security procedures entering train stations or malls and hotels. No more checking of hotel rooms when guests leave because they trust that nothing is brought out.
For me, it was a taste of a utopian society.
I never dreamt of visiting but domo arigato gozaimasu I did. I would certainly go back to this country where, according to a Japanese friend, a broken ATM machine makes the headlines.