I’ve been away from Japan for seven months in order to take chemotherapy for lymphoma. Now that I have a clean bill of health, I’m back with my family in our adopted home of Tokyo Japan. (More on reacquainting and other issues on another day…) Here are the top ten things I’ve missed about Japan and am joyfully rediscovering daily:
10 – Walking everywhere I have barely used the car since being here and my new friend FitBit tells me that I’m taking about 10,000 steps daily – in my regular life, without embarking on an exercise program just yet.
9 – Cleanliness Everything is Tokyo is shiny clean, no mean feat in one of the most populous cities in the world. People don’t litter. Being neat and clean is a matter of pride, so that every shopkeeper is responsible for his front sidewalk and sweeps and cleans it regularly. People carry their trash until they find bins. It’s amazing.
8. Polite People Everyone says excuse me and speaks quietly. Japanese people are polite, orderly and quiet in general. Yes, I’m generalizing – but that’s the cultural norm with individual instances of the opposite characteristics happening rarely.
7. Timeliness In general, people show up when they’re supposed to. Things – events – start on time. The trains, with rare exception, run on time. I never wait more than ten minutes for a doctor. It’s amazing.
6. Pomp and Ceremony In Tokyo, things are marked by great displays of ceremony. We were at the Grand Sumo tournament last weekend and we decided it’s as much about the show as it is about the wrestling. Walking out of the arena afterward, there was a drummer high in a watch tower, beating out the rhythm signaling the end of the day’s matches. Ritual. Ceremony. Expectation.
5. Heated toilets with various functions A serious luxury. Amazing stuff. In the dead of winter there’s nothing as comforting as a warm toilet seat and I missed it.
4. Shrines, randomly placed with various events at them We were walking out of the subway at Azabu Juban station on Sunday and the shrine next door to the station, the one with the beautiful torii gate and streamers, had a festival going on with amazing drummers and dancing. It was unpredictable and beautiful and placed right in the center of the city. Beautiful and unexpected and appreciated.
3.Vending Machines They’re omnipresent and sell everything from shoelaces to soda to sake. Drinks can be warm or cold in the same machine. Quite extraordinary and handy.
2. Small Portions of Food in Restaurants The portions aren’t overly small, they’re just reasonable for a meal for one human. It’s quite the opposite of the US where I almost always took home half my meal. Some people eat double portions!
1. The Unbelievably Delicious Food From sushi, to noodles to French food to pizza, there’s no better place to eat than Tokyo. Tokyo has more Michelin stars and more Michelin starred restaurants than Paris. Come here for a truly incomparable eating experience.