There’s something about Japan. Its culture. Its food. Its people. Excellence seems to be the norm. No settling for anything mediocre. If your seafood is fresh, it means “just-dead-a-few-secs-ago”. If your steak is succulently tender, it means “melt-in-your-mouth”. If your cookies, puddings and cheesecakes are delicious, it means “umami” using only the best ingredients, the ultimate in taste. If you left something valuable in your taxi, theatre, restaurant, train, it will be there waiting to be claimed. Or it will be mailed to you. Only in Japan?
Like the manholes aren’t just those non-descript manholes you find elsewhere. You see pride in the city or town in that single piece you only walk on. Like it’s a piece of art, not to be dismissed. Or how about those Japanese inventions in the toilets? I’d be quite happy with the bidet but look — they even have a button to disguise any noise you want to make in your cubicle! I even found one with an air dryer! Everything well-thought out. Really.
We visited 4 museums in Tokyo. Each had this rack where you can leave your umbrella. All numbered, coded. Same with the lockers in almost every train station. And how so thoughtful to have Tourist Information Offices within or right outside these stations. (Tip: Just be sure you remember your locker number, in which wing or gate of the station) And if you have a long train ride, those bento boxes in train and bus stations retain the same quality standards at unbelievably cheap prices. There would always be a Family Mart, Lawson or 7 Eleven convenience store for takeout foodstuff.
The train schedules work on the dot like clockwork. If there’s a delay, they’d issue stubs for workers to surrender to their employers much like excuse slips for tardiness. Can you believe that? I’ve also seen how the cleaning crew make sure the train floors are kept spotlessly clean. No qualms putting down your tote bags on the floor. And how the Japanese made a concession to women riders who’d likely get squeezed (or groped?) during rush hours. Separate lines, separate cars on the train. How caring and thoughtful. And I made many trips on a Shinkansen ride and always found the toilet clean.
I’ve dined in ryokans, izakayas, airport food courts and find the same system or order. Waste segregation to the max, and they even leave something on the table for you to wipe it clean. It would be shameful to just leave your tray and dirty dishes on the table. In one town one early morning, I met business-attired men sweeping the frontage of their offices. No shame there. While on a hike, there were walking sticks one can use with instructions on where to return them. I also fancied one signage that was such a polite equivalent of “No Trespassing” or “Private Property”. Soooo Japanese to value harmony and positivism.
Meals on the go? Drinks on the go? The street food in Dotonbori are the bomb. So with the food stalls in Miyajima. Tempting to try the stuff from the Takoyaki, Crabs, Gyoza, Oysters and Scallop stands. Breads, pastries and desserts are a-plenty too. And they also have standing wine bars where you order and drink your wine, sake or beer standing behind the bar. If only I can make room for all this yummy goodness I’d try them all!
Whether in rural areas or near the cities, Japan made good use of their limited land resources. Backyard vegetable and rice fields dotted the landscape. And judging by the volume of foodstuffs on sale, there’s a lot of business activity here where small stores and holes-in-the-wall eateries flourish. I saw many tourists snapping up local Japanese snacks to eat or to take home. Ice cream was to be found everywhere — matcha from Uji, chestnut ice cream from Nakatsugawa, yuzu sorbet in Kansai area, pumpkin and melon flavors and Hokkaido milk from where else? Somehow, you feel compelled to try all these delicacies as part of your travel ritual.
Their trams and trolleys work. They made one-man-operated eateries in vogue. We chanced upon a Ramen Alley and had shio and soya Ramen. We watched the old fellow manning the tiny shop cook the noodles, pour the broth, fish out the pork slices, slice the eggs, etc. We slurped through that ramen meal while the old man watched a baseball game on TV. Ramen apart, it was quite an experience to sit around a counter good for only 6 – 8 pax to enjoy this very Japanese noodle dish. And forget soda. Have refills of their house tea for free or pay wads of bills for their sake and craft beer. Same for their pricey melons. Don’t ask me why. But I’ve had my persimmon fix. Yum. And only ¥100 a big piece.