Back in the States
I've actually been back for a couple of days. After leaving Japan late Sunday afternoon I arrived on Sunday midmorning. I love the sun. But a turbulent, weirdly pressured flight made for some nasty jetlag.
A few observations on Japan before I forget them. I wasn't completely blown away by the prevalence of technology like some people said I'd be. The cell phones were a little fancier, the plasma screens were a little more common, the LED text displays were a little bigger and more detailed--as they have to be, in order to display Japanese characters. It was amusing to see LCD screens in subway trains displaying commercials. My favorite ad campaign was the ostriches skiing, shouting "We want snow!" as part of Japan Rails's Japan Snow Project
, trying to get people to take the train north. (Click here
for a Windows Media File.)
There were, however, four little gadgets/customs that I think we might do well to adapt in some form.
1) In Kamakura, at the train station, we saw a rail official taking care of a boy in a wheelchair. He first went up the escalator, put up gates at the top, shut it off, turned a key of some sort, came down the stairs, put the boy on the bottom three stairs, shut a gate across the bottom so that no one could follow them up the escalator, and then turned it back on. Voila! The three steps he and the boy were on never separated from each other, but rode up the whole escalator as a single platform. I'll have to spend some quality time with an American escalator to see if I can figure out what's different (something seemed different to me, but I couldn't put my finger on it) but I don't see why this can't be more prevalent here. I don't think I've ever been to BART without a sign announcing that some station has a broken elevator, and this would be a nice back-up plan.
2) At almost every restaurant I went to someone handed me a little soapy handy wipe in a plastic packet. The environmentalist in me was horrified--plastic! paper!--but the public health worrier was impressed. The fact is most people--including me--often don't remember to wash their hands every time they buy a croissant, and sometimes it just isn't practical. But I wonder if there can be some happy medium--a way of making it easy and convenient to disinfect your hands without going through so much paper. At a few restaurants the alternative were two small rolled up towels--if they just wash them in boiling water afterwards, that seems somewhat preferable.
3) There are plenty of methods for taking care of the dripping umbrella in a store problem which seem better designed for making sure you don't lose yours. I mean, seriously, there's nothing wrong with just having a bucket in the front, and if someone runs off with your umbrella, well, that's the stuff of novels
, right? But I still thought it was pretty nifty that in the Yamaha store they have a machine for encasing your umbrella in a plastic bag that you then give back to them when you exit. Requiring no plastic were little umbrella lockers in front of the Tokyo National Museum.
4)The famous vending machines had recycling boxes attached directly to them. It made recycling very easy to find, and if you wanted to just stand there and chug your drink, it was very easy to then recycle the bottle.
Nothing earth-shattering. Just kind of cool.