Before I left the UK, I thought it …
──Vol. 11 : JAPAN
Before I left the UK, I thought it was just a big, grey, cold, damp car park with an evil history, covered in dog turds, almost entirely inhabited by violent mutants and large lairy women, ruled by an elderly lady with no formal qualifications who lives in a palace wearing a crown while the rest of the population slave like dogs all week only to piss their hard-earned cash up the wall on the weekend. Some of that may be true, but it wasn’t until I had a chance to take a step back and compare what we have there with the rest of the world that I realised there are so many things I love about my home country. A few that spring to mind are pubs, tea and biscuit culture, roast dinners, real beer, music, freedom of speech, freedom to travel, sense of humour, multiculturalism and beautiful women that come in all kinds of different flavours…
The more I travel, the more I realise that people everywhere feel the same as I did about their own countries and fail too see what’s exceptional. So here are a few things I missed about Japan while I was away.
Ask for a spoon in a Russian café and the waitress will probably scream in your face. Try and pay for a beer with a note worth 10USD in China and you’ll be asked to take your business elsewhere because they don’t have change. Wait an hour minutes to order a sandwich in Spain. How about paying 10 times the local price in Azerbaijan? Or go to a Japanese convenience store where you’ll be greeted at the entrance with welcome messages before heading straight to the toilet to leave a smelly present and have a 20-minute powernap. Maybe you could have a flick through one of the erotic comics on the way out before being thanked for coming to the shop without spending a single yen. Great!
2. No crime
I’ve seen people completely unaware that they were having their watch stolen off their wrist as they walked down the street in Barcelona. In parts of the world, beating people up is the national sport. Japan is the only country where you hear about somebody leaving their laptop on the train several times a year, only to find it at lost and found the next day. It’s also the only place where a businessman can get paralytically drunk on a Friday night and decide to pass out at the side of the road for a few hours without having to worry about someone stealing his shoes, urinating on him or harvesting his internal organs to sell on the black market.
24-hour beers, taxi doors that open by themselves, everything from hot drinks to books to used knickers available in vending machines, special easy-open wrappers for rice snacks that keep the seaweed separate from the rice to stop it from going soft, touch screen menus and ‘pimpom’ buttons that summon the staff in restaurants, love hotels, robot toilets (see number 4), trains and busses that actually work and run on time, square watermelons... What more do you want?
Living in a country where there are standards of cleanliness and the food doesn’t poison you has become important to me… Japan is one of the cleanest places I’ve ever been, and the epitome of Japanese cleanliness is the robot toilet. Nowhere else can you disinfect the self-warming seat that automatically goes up and down with alcohol spray, cover any noise with a fake flushing sound, disguise smells with air freshening spray, clean your bumhole with a surprisingly accurate water jet of varying degrees of power before finally finishing off with a blow dry and automatic flush. The inventor deserves a medal. The worst toilet I ever saw was by the side of the road in Vietnam. I say toilet, but in reality it was just a tiled floor that you had to shit on before using a hose to blast your mess away to a hole in the corner of the room.
There are obviously things that sometimes baffle or terrify me about living in Japan. But it’s definitely not a bad place to live and there are so many things I love about being here, way more than I could fit into one article… The most important one being the people that I’ve met here that have been welcoming and patient with me, even as I’ve made constant cultural blunders. Aside from all the stupid details listed above, Japan has really opened up my mind and changed the way I think about a lot of things, so thanks for teaching!