I feel as though I’ve left a country which has perfected humanity; a society of people who are helpful, giving, self-aware, respectful and innovative — qualities which unfortunately are disappearing in Australia.
So here are some things we and indeed the rest of the world can, and should, learn from Japan.
Be Pleasant and Kind
Workers embody these qualities whether they’re behind a counter at a train station, convenience store, hotel or restaurant and are helpful when dealing with others. They bow, smile and seem genuinely happy to direct lost tourists even when the language barrier causes frustration (on the part of the foreigners, some of whom can’t understand WHY the Japanese don’t speak perfect English).
Street sweepers bow as you pass, shop assistants call out an enthusiastic welcome when entering a store, locals offer help when noticing your confused face trying to decipher Tokyo’s rail labyrinth.
A distraught concierge chased us down the street upon realising she’d failed to mention a teppanyaki restaurant we inquired about wouldn’t open for another 30 minutes; the airline check-in employee apologised countless times for the inconvenience of making us wait while she attempted to upgrade us for the flight home (she succeeded).
The Japanese take pride in their work, no matter how menial or boring. On arrival in Sydney, we barely got a smile as we passed through the airport. The employee at the train ticket counter was purely disinterested in helping us.
Trains Are Clean, Quiet, and Run on Time
The bullet trains run at 320km/h, allowing for long-distance travel in record time — infrastructure that’s desperately needed here. Carriages on regular trains are decorated with paper advertisements hanging from the ceiling — they’re not defaced or torn down by bored youths.
There’s no rubbish on the seats, platforms or streets despite a lack of bins (we often carried around empty drink containers because we couldn’t find one). Again, this comes back to pride — the Japanese know they have it good and work to keep it that way.
Passengers are frequently reminded to turn their phones to silent and no-one talks on their mobiles so fellow riders aren’t forced to listen to long and boring conversations about nothing. Because services come every few minutes, there’s no rushing or pushing and passengers line-up to enter carriages. And they let disembarking passengers off BEFORE boarding the train.
I wonder if Australians realise this is how things are done. The amount of times I’ve been pushed back into a carriage or elevator as I’m trying to leave — and then been abused for getting in the way!
People Follow the Rules and They’re Polite
We were there to see our favourite band and noticed vast differences in the way crowds conduct themselves at rock concerts. Yes the Japanese let their hair down, jump about and sing along with passion but they remain ever-so polite and self-aware. Those in the first row aren’t held back by metal barriers separating fans from the band. Rather, everyone stands behind a yellow piece of tape stuck to the floor and they NEVER cross it.
The security guards look bored, perhaps secretly hoping someone will forget themselves and leap onto the stage. We were front row one night and I wasn’t pushed, poked or groped. I was tempted to reach out and grab the singer and guitarist many times … but I would have been the only one. Plus, concerts start at 7pm and finish by 9.30pm — very civilised indeed!
People Are Trustworthy
We travelled from Tokyo, north to Sendai and south to Osaka and everywhere we saw unchained bicycles left outside shops, train stations and restaurants. A majority of them even had shopping bags, helmets and jackets in the baskets. I’m scared to leave my bike on my front porch at home! And most of them were the trendy, vintage-kind so thieves wanting to score a shiny new ride had their pick of options. I must admit I was frequently tempted to “borrow” one after hours upon hours of walking.
Toilets: They Flush
The first loo I tried after landing in Sydney was broken, as were the other three in the block. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to change cubicles in Australia because the previous user was unable to get rid of their business. Or there’s no toilet paper. Or they’re filthy. And I’m talking about those inside big department stores and workplaces.
In Japan toilets are hi-tech contraptions with built-in bidets — even those in parks and train stations and they’re as clean as those in five-star hotels. Perhaps this too comes back to pride.