What’s So Great About Japan?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s hard to miss the worldwide interest in Japan over the last few years. And it’s growing.
Why do people seem to love Japan so much – and why does it have such a high rate of return visitors, and how does it make such avid promoters out of past visitors?
Here are some ways that Japan excels, and impresses people along the way. We’ll be adding to this list in the coming weeks.
1. The Random Acts of Kindness
I remember I was on a bus once, going from Nagoya to Osaka. It was 08:30 in the morning, and I sat down in my seat next to a gruff-looking woman of about 40 years of age. I thought nothing of it, until she started pulling her snacks out. And before you think this is the act of kindness, no, she didn’t offer me any.
She pulled out a Strong Zero. At 08:30 in the morning. As the bus started, she abruptly opened her can of Strong Zero and downed it, as she pushed down her other snacks. If you don’t know what a Strong Zero is, it’s pretty much the strongest alcohol at the convenience store and gets you totalled. It’s a cheap night of drinking, and you are absolutely punished for it in the morning – the hangover is akin to the atoms being torn from your body and you can feel them floating around you.
Nonetheless, I quickly made up my mind about the type of person I was sitting next to based on what she looked like and what she was doing. I thought there was going to be a long ride ahead of me. It was totally wrong of me.
At our first stop, she tried her best to speak English to me and say, “Excuse me. Sorry to bother you, could I get out here?” It didn’t come out exactly like that, but her effort and politeness came across clearly.
When she came back from the 10 minute break, she bounded back onto the bus with a big smile on her face. As she approached me, she shoved a big potato croquette into my hands and said, “It’s for you! I hope you enjoy it!” She had got one for herself, too, and wanted to eat it together with me. She watched closely for my reaction, and I thanked her graciously.
I felt guilty, because I was clearly wrong. It’s such an elementary example of the schoolkid learning, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Funny how we continuously fail at that in adulthood.
For the rest of the journey she occasionally shot me a smile, and I thought she had all but exhausted her English knowledge. That was at least until I opened a pack of sour candy, and she instinctively shot her hands as if to say “me too, please”. Oh, and she did actually say that. Now she had exhausted all of her English knowledge.
The natural reaction to reach her hand out, totally expecting that I would happily comply, spoke to me of her kindness and genuine nature. It was really sweet.
Finally we arrived at Osaka bus station and I said my goodbyes as I disembarked the bus. It was a quick, “see ya! Nice to meet you”, and I thought that was that. A simple memory that was over but I wouldn’t forget.
Yet at the bag collection, she quickly stopped me and gathered her three seemingly much younger friends who were seated directly behind us, unbeknownst to me. In Japanese she said that we need to take a picture with my new friend. She threw out some wild poses and the crew was going nuts. I threw my head back with genuine laughter and asked for photos on my phone too. We split up, and that was the end of that.
An isolated incident? Certainly not. Perhaps not following the same storyline or details, there are countless tales from travellers, and other stories that I myself hold too, about the friendliness and kindness of strangers in Japan. You just need the right elements to fall into place. In fact, a large amount of my memories took place on the bus, thanks to the people seated next to me. Highly recommended – skip the train, take the bus.
2. The calm in the chaos
Japan is a small country with hellishly large population in comparison. It comes as no surprise that it is often crowded and chaotic.
A great joy about Japan, however, is that the stresses of crowds are removed through procedure. On a busy train, it’s not a free-for-all – everyone lines up, waits for commuters to get off, and boards calmly in single file. Once on the train, where possible, your space is maintained.
Walking over the Shibuya crossing or along the famed Takeshita Street in Harajuku looks like it’d be a mess, yet you find that people flow around you like a stone around water – even if you’ve got luggage.
And guess what? It’s not loud either.
One of the first things people notice when visiting Japan is that although you can see it’s full of people, it certainly doesn’t sound like it. In busy cities like Tokyo and Osaka, the silence is an eyebrow-raising experience. Yet, it keeps you stress-free and calm, and noise pollution is kept to a minimum…Until you open the doors to a pachinko parlour, at least.
3. Lightning quick customer service and efficiency
If anything goes wrong on your trip in Japan, you can be sure of one thing – you won’t be inconvenienced.
The first time I travelled to Japan in December 2014, I landed at Kansai International Airport near Osaka. I had pre-booked a train ticket and card, and was looking forward to a smooth process getting into Osaka.
Unfortunately, strong winds had recently canceled the train service. I thought, “how on Earth am I going to get to the city now? What about the money I have already paid?”
Well, fear not – Japan Railways, the national train company, had arranged a bus service enmasse to shuttle the full population into the city…Free of charge.
What do I mean by ‘bus service enmasse’? Well, there was a bus coming every two minutes, equipped with seats that fold out into the aisle so we could be seated to mass capacity. Since it was December, it was an icy cold day, so they made sure no one had to stand outside in the cold for too long. It was high-precision service, with buses arriving down to the second.
Oh, and that Japanese friend that you can find in the most unlikely of situations? An old couple took that form this time, making sure to accompany right to my train platform so that I’d get to the right area of the city without any hiccoughs.
I’ve been to many other major cities, and none have dealt with the problems as efficiently as Japan has. Overall, service providers know how to turn a negative situation into a shining positive, and visitors certainly take note.