Letter from a strange Japan – #2

There are many incredible things seen in Japan by your correspondent who is enjoying one week’s business travel in Osaka and Kyoto.

Osaka has become security conscious with the G20 meeting at the end of June. All rubbish bins have been removed and public notices everywhere warm us to be on our guard against nasties. That is the reason for the poster seen in the metro system.

The strangest and most noticeable thing here is the strength of consumption. The trains, the shops and restaurants, the tourist attractions are full of teeming crowds of school children, office workers, pensioners and tourists from all corners of the world. Your correspondent is a seasoned traveler in this part of the world and never has he seen such crowds and such long queues. The queues outside popular restaurants are long – something hardly seen before and almost never in Europe… and there are no lack of restaurants and bars here. The two cities are packed with them like the shopping malls and department stores…

… and what you see goes against what economists are telling us from their statistical towers… somebody is making a great deal of money and hiding it under the mattress, thus avoiding the official figures! Most of the restaurants only accept cash still…

“Women Only” train carriages are still in fashion between early morning to 09.00am, so are office girls dressed in black suits and white blouses, with the compulsory high heels.So much for female emancipation… but these rules apply in a lot of big cities outside Japan too.

Metro stations are smell-free… with millions passing through each day, it is amazing that you cannot smell anything but clean air underground, on the platform and in the trains.

The entrances to building sites are also kept spotless and safe. Economists are always complaining about there being too many low productive, low paid men standing outside building sites with helmets making sure that pedestrians are not crushed by delivery trucks and lorries. Even though unemployment is still below 3%, many economists think that there are  just too many unproductive low-paid workers. 

Finland and Sweden, like many European countries have lots of part-time workers on zero-hour contracts. Most of the work is also said to be unproductive low paid, but our economists and politicians seem to think this is fine! Japan should not be followed as a fine example. Young people should be encouraged to get a good education because low paid part-time work means a hard future, especially when over 60 years and the pension barely covers the basics. 

You will also still find girls with nice hats manning the lifts at big department stores… also criticised by economists as being unproductive… 

Even though the next big elections are coming in July, PM Abe’s face is everywhere on building walls.

There are still lots of men living under cardboard boxes blue plastic sheets around stations – just like 15 – 20 years ago when the economy turned bad. Last night your correspondent was warned by a Japanese worker when inadvertently walking through such an area, “Watch out – it is dangerous here – (“Abunai” in Japanese).

The metro rush hour is also still quite a sight… the crowds move as one, in one direction, with little room for travellers to walk in the opposite direction. Underground passages can be really long, filled to the brim with men and women walking 10 to15 people across, all going to their respective offices in the one direction in the morning, and in the other direction in the evening. 

The other strange things are the following:

  1. Umbrellas are fixed to the handlebars of bikes thus allowing the cyclist a safe and dry passage in the pouring rain (today). Can be dangerous for pedestrians – the umbrella spikes can poke out your eye.
  2. Loud slurping is still the best way to show your host that the food is delicious…
  3. WC toilets are now mostly plastic and work on the principle of “bottom up” – that means a water fountain appears by magic from underneath afterwards when the right button is pressed. The seats are really hot because we could not find the button to turn off the seat heater… Toto (the toilet maker) appears to have a monopoly.
  4. The Japanese authorities have opened up bicycle lanes by removing cars from them with signs. The cyclists also use the pavements and swerve to miss pedestrians who get in the way. Their behaviour is just a copy of the underground passage ways in the metro with people criss-crossing aggressively to get where they want to go.
  5. “Don’t feed the monkeys”, say the signs in the Temples. The monkeys cannot read, and will grab your nuts and sandwiches if they see them peeping out of your bag.
  6. … and people do still smoke in restaurants… really strange…

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