Japanese Efficiency – In a Parking Lot

parking lot bike manLast week my husband and I went apartment hunting. Our house is being sold and our landlord will not be renewing our lease in June. So we have intermittently been going out with a realtor to see what’s available.

The realtor always drives us to places and makes both of us sit in the back seat, chauffeur-style. It’s formal and not altogether comfortable, but neither my husband nor I have the temerity to mess with custom in this case.  At one high rise building in Nishi Azabu, we went down under the building into the parking lot and the realtor asked the attendant where to park precisely, since he was showing one of the available apartments. Instead of telling us, the guy hopped on a nearby bicycle, and let us down two floors and across the third to find the realtor space.  From the point of view of the rear of the car, it was hysterical to see this little man, probably in his late fifties or early sixties, bearing down, speeding down the ramps and zipping around the corners, ahead of parking lot bike man 2the car.

Parking-bike-man pointed out the spot, bowed deeply as the realtor started turning the car to fit into the space, and then in a flash, he was off again, back up the ramp to his station by the parking entrance.

He was so zippy that the photos are terrible, but they’re the best I could do.  This is Japanese kindness and efficiency all rolled into one neat package – on wheels.

Sake Served Beautifully

sakeThis is not tea; this is how they serve sake at a wonderful restaurant called Mon Cher Ton Ton in Roppongi.  It’s a teppanyaki restaurant, so the entire meal is prepared on the grill in front of the diners.  We normally order a set that includes a salad, a succulent steak and prawns that the chef puts on the grill live. It’s wild to watch the seconds of squirming before they finally succumb but I have learned to hide my eyes.  After the prawns are cooked, we get to eat the body and tail while the chef re-grills the heads, seasons them and serves them separately. Delicious! A month ago my cousins were visiting from New York and they loved the meal from the salad start to the garlic-rice finish. But Susan did look at me and say, “Oh my goodness, I just ate a shrimp head!”  The rest of us had a good giggle over it.

Mon Cher Ton Ton is one of those special places in Tokyo where every detail is taken into account, right down to keeping the sake cold.  If you look carefully, you can see the middle of the “pot” is full of ice.  Japanese people take the alcohol seriously and great service is a hallmark of the culture.  Put together, the service of alcohol is always carefully considered and beautiful. At the restaurant, every few minutes a server added a tiny bit of sake to our tiny, little cups so we lost track of precisely how much we were drinking, a common problem in the Tokyo restaurant scene.  But if we have to get a little tipsy over dinner, certainly it’s fun to do it with such a lovely vessel for the alcohol.

National Azabu Renovations

Normally if a supermarket renovates its interior, I wouldn’t take enough notice of it to write a whole blog post about it, but this is different.  National Azabu is a fixture in the expat community of Tokyo and in 2011, it closed, razed to the ground, and rebuilt.  It just opened in August 2012.  So why, less than 3 months later, is it closing for a couple of days for renovation?  The answer is to respond to client demand.  The people who shop there have been complaining that the new layout is confusing and not intuitive.  It’s difficult getting through the aisles.  So people complained and the “powers that be” are responding.

But there’s more.  The supermarket is closing in part for two days to re-vamp the whole thing, and they’re so concerned about it that they’re offering a special sale to make it up to customers.  In addition, the postcard I got in the mail announcing the disruption in service has a little man on it who I am positive is looking down at the ground saying “gomen nassai” – apologizing.

This is yet another thing I love about Japan.  Customer service second to none.

Japanese Bathroom Trash?

The image to the left here is from the men’s bathroom in the office of a friend of mine.  On the sink, just left sitting there, is a pack of cigarettes with a lighter inside.  On the pack, the building cleaning crew has left a note.

Loosely translated, the cleaning crew is asking if it’s okay to throw the pack away or if someone wants to claim it. The date of April 29th is at the top of the note, and it adds that if it’s okay to trash the pack, then tear off the bottom of the perforated note and the cleaning crew will trash it.  After 1 day of sitting unclaimed, the pack will automatically be trashed.

Here’s the literal translation: “We don’t know if it’s okay to throw this away. We will will leave it for today.  If it can be thrown away, please tear off the part below the perforated line. Thank you.”

Think about this: someone actually has to tear off the bottom section in order to have the cleaning crew – or someone else – throw it away!   This was clearly meant for use on larger office items, so as my friend asks, do you think someone might have a sense of humor??  My friend also points out, you have to think about the time people spent to design this system and then create the perfect sticky and perforated forms for it.  Training for the cleaning crew was probably involved.  I mean really – how does one decide what is just to be automatically trashed and what should be considered worth saving?  It illustrates not only the cleanliness of the Japanese, but also the orderliness of the society.

Where else but in Japan would you have the option to re-claim your lost cigarette pack and lighter?  I’ve said it before: what a country!

Construction, Japanese style

My road is under construction.  It seems that the water and gas pipes under the street are not as earthquake-safe as they could be, and needed to be replaced.  The process has been painful and inconvenient, but I know it’s worth it to be safe.  The other day the road was so torn up in front of my house that I couldn’t get in.  Or, I could sort of get in, but there was no way my bike was making it  – there was no solid road on which to ride; even I had to tiptoe through dirt.  The lady who was “minding” the front of the road (i.e. standing by the do-not-enter sign and being extremely sure that no one really enters) shouted out for someone.  The next thing I knew, a big, burly guy was lumbering toward us.  Seriously, how many big, burly guys have you seen in Tokyo?  They exist and they work construction, unsurprisingly.  Without a second thought, he picked up my bike, ten-pound battery and all, and carried it down the street, depositing it neatly by my house. The whole time this was happening, the minder-lady apologized over and over again for the terrible inconvenience.

Have I mentioned lately that the service in Japan is second to none? 

Packaging in Japan

The Japanese people take their packaging very seriously.  A little while ago I went out to buy a plant at D2.  Not only did the store employee put the plant, pot and all, in a bag for me, but she also took the two handles of the plastic bag, and hooked them together with a plastic handle.  That way, the bag-handles would not squish the flowers of the plant and it would remain intact all the way home, no matter if I was in a car, on a bike or walking.  My plant made it home securely without a scratch.  Enjoy the photo!

Note the safe handles to avoid harm to the plant!

Japanese Service at its Best

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend a  luncheon sponsored by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (more on the lecture and English-language issues in another post).  The lecture was in one of the beautiful banquet rooms at the ANA Intercontinental Hotel in the Akasaka section of Tokyo.

Before the lecture I had met with my writing group and I was carrying a pink, leather-bound portfolio with my notes, and story drafts in it.  It also had the drafts of my group members.  Of course in my excitement after the lecture and meeting the speaker, I left the portfolio at my seat in the banquet room.

I realized my error a few days later when I went to correct my drafts.  I called the hotel and they connected me to an English speaking manager, Hosokawa-san.  Hosokawa-san asked if he could go look for the portfolio and call me back, which was, of course, fine.  He called within ten minutes, telling me he had the portfolio.

My plan for the day involved grocery shopping, so I had the car with me.  Parking in Tokyo is no easy feat, so unless I’m going somewhere that I know has a parking lot, I walk or take the train.  To me, it’s not worth the stress of finding parking.  So I told Hosokawa-san that I would be coming by car, and he assured me that I could drive up to the hotel with no problem, and leave the car for the few minutes that it would take to get the portfolio.

I drove up to the hotel, right where guests get dropped off by taxi drivers. Upon exiting the car tentatively, the bell hop rushed toward me, saying, “Mrs. Aimee? Are you Mrs. Aimee?”  Clearly he had been warned of my arrival and ushered me inside, assuring me that he would watch the car, and asking me to leave the keys just in case.  I did as I was told.

Inside, the concierge called Hosokawa-san, who hurried to the front, with my portfolio neatly wrapped in an ANA shopping bag.  I signed for the “lost and found” item, took my bag and went on my way, thanking the bell hop, as I got back into my car.

The entire enterprise took under ten minutes, and I was on my way to the grocery store.  No one would take a monetary tip from me.

The ANA will get my business in the future if I have any needs for a hotel.  I always love living here, but there are days when I really adore living in Japan and admire the service-oriented culture very much.  This was one of them.