It’s the little things that make it different, like toilets.
I can safely say, Rob Stainsby, that a heated toilet seat does not feel like someone else has just left it, but more like sitting on a radiator at the perfect temperature. On a cold day – and some have been freezing – it is very welcome indeed, I can tell you.
In fact, Japanese toilets are the friendliest conveniences I have ever encountered. One yesterday opened its lid when I walked in… as if to say “Well, hello!” Some of them flush themselves when you get up to save you the bother. Many politely play background noise in case you make any embarrassing sounds, and if the signs on the control panel (yes, there’s a control panel) are sufficiently legible you can not only get either a jet or spray of warm water over your nether regions, but also a blow dry afterwards.
Other little differences: everyone but everyone waits at the road crossing til the green man appears, even if there are no cars coming. No one jaywalks, not even young lads.
Smoking is allowed indoors, but only in certain places. And the same goes for outdoors. Smoking on the street is not really done; there are allocated smoking areas.
There isn’t any petty crime. People sort of lock their bikes, with a bracket over the back wheel that a child could undo, but that’s all you need, cause no one is going to make a serious effort to nick it. Admittedly they mostly have crap bikes – no one seems to care about the latest model or composite frame or whatever – but still. In tokyo the police have little houses with cute roofs to stand around in.
It’s one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world, yet crap bikes, they dont go big on credit cards you pay by cash mostly, cafes dont have wi-fi, cashpoints only take Japanese cards by and large. Loads of stuff like that. The cars are pretty square too, quite often.
Oh, slippers. There’s a whole thing. This is generally known, I think, but they really take it seriously. You simply dont ever go into a house with your shoes on. Quite a lot of other places too – restaurants, bars etc. You remove your shoes and before you go up a little step you will have put your slippers on. And when you go to the bathroom you take off those slippers and put on the toilet slippers, which will be sitting there waitng for you. Obviously it’s a huge faux pas to forget to take off your toilet slippers. In the place I was staying in tokyo, there was a little balcony. Sure enough, there was a pair of outside slippers there for the purpose. Absolutely no slippers or anything but socks or bare feet though, if you are in a room with tatami matting. A lot to keep in mind, and it can get difficult when you are trying to communicate with someone at the same time. I have slipp(er)ed up a few times, walking out of restaurants with slippers still on, for instance.