Spotted in Tokyo
Or rather, not spotted. This city is litter-free with well-maintained streets and yet where are all the bins? I saw six pieces of trash on the ground in our nine days. Three of those in the same neighbourhood in one day so possibly due to an accidental spillage.
It helps that it's smoke-free with impossibly glamorous smoking rooms and smoking areas inside cafes. We had to forgo our choice of restaurant one night as the entire place was smoking only!
The kids seem to be in uniform even on weekends but they are always out and about; when are they in school?!
Subway jingles that sound like different ice-cream vans. They played to let us know when the train is about to depart. In the June heat, each one took me back to school summer holidays and Fab 208, choc ices and 99s with the full works.
A bit of an Australian influence; we had a terrific, although pricey breakfast in Bills café, but there were no flat whites in any coffee shop. Bills had ‘the Full Australian’ on the menu but we opted for fabulous coconut toast and amazing sweetcorn fritters – served, of course, with a bow.
Quiet and calm. A city of 13 million is a lot quieter than a western city of 1 million. I really notice the noise since my return; the people, the traffic, the restaurants, the music but mostly the people.
Queues for everything. I found it extraordinary people line-up waiting for shopping centres to open on a regular day, not even sale time!
It is so far to walk in subways. My feet ached from day one and in one day we’d walked 23km. I feel I spent a big chunk of my time in these – the only downside to Tokyo, especially in the heat - but I don’t know a way around it. Buses seem to be rare, and wheelchair users and lifts in subways more so.
No-one eats in the street or on public transport. I saw the odd coffee being carried but even in the heat, no one carried water other than hidden away in their perfectly pretty and functional bags.
Shop carrier bags are stuck together with (branded) sticky tape at the top to prevent opening. We’d ordinarily use our own but could not resist watching how much care they took with just a Muji carrier bag when we purchased our morning pastries.
Muji kitchens: it’s a thing and I’m obsessed. Having a small addiction - I find myself often uttering ‘let's just pop into Muji’ - I always knew I would love Japan because it fits with my everything-put-away-in-its-rightful-place storage geek mentality. We initially found ourselves in the flagship branch and I wish we had full-on Muji stores complete with cafes in the UK. I could eat there every day.
There were lots of innovative domestic gadgets that we don't see here in the UK. Upright steam chambers to replace irons, mammoth fridge freezers with effortless compartmentalised freezer drawers and of course, we should all have washing machines we can hang shirts inside. I'll have to wait until the West catches up.
Promo girls dressed pretty much as children in tourist areas. Let’s call it a quirk. On the other hand, there are women only train carriages to be used during the peak commuter times. This in the politest city I have ever been to.
Zebra crossings everywhere, no pedestrian lights.
We had to be surprisingly reliant on cash. Having got hold of the top-up travel card on day one, we realise it’s not widely used for payment in other stores (like in Hong Kong) and most strange, it can only be loaded with cash.
Of course, I was looking forward to the high-tech toilets and I was surprised at the variety in public bathrooms. At some, there's a menu and map as you enter to point out traditional, western and urinals for little boys. And every cubicle had a little baby and plenty of hooks or shelves to hang bags.
Indeed, most restaurants and cafes placed a basket next to your chair to put your bags in. I avoid putting my bag on a dirty floor in any case but I was spoilt in Tokyo.
There is no crime. Or at least we saw virtually no police and people were fine with leaving their bag openly on view and phones on tables. We certainly didn’t hear ‘thieves operate in this area’ anywhere.
There are large drinks machines on seemingly every street corner charging ¥100 (pennies) for water, coffee or anything else. There are recycling points next to each one for cans and bottles.
Most stations had screens so there was no falling on the tracks. Of course, everyone formed neat lines where indicated to get on the train leaving room for everyone to alight first.
Everyone bowed, just everyone (see Tokyo’s people). And everyone has so much respect for each other. Even the airline staff, who I guess I observed more closely than anyone else as we were in close proximity, smiled broadly when their colleague asked them for another pot of coffee. They then came back and gleefully bowed as they handed it over. Does any nation have this much respect for each other? Yes, Japan has, and we have returned to the UK changed as a result.