The first thing I noticed when I arrived in thoroughly modern Japan was how much more Westernised it was than I’d expected. Most signs were in Japanese and Roman script. So, even if you couldn’t understand them, you could at least pronounce them.
The buildings were mostly steel, concrete, brick and glass. The roads were lined and signposted. The clothes were from the high street. I guess I expected everyone to be wearing clogs and kimonos. But, not in downtown Osaka or Kyoto.
Because of this, getting around Japan was straightforward, and my pre-travel apprehension was mostly unwarranted. People were usually helpful and very respectful. Thank you very much (arigato gasaimasu) was the most common phrase I heard. I got used to saying this myself, and bowing a lot. It took a couple of days to stop bowing when I got home.
The locals obeyed the laws and protocols like a religion. I didn’t see any litter, or witness any altercations. The trains and buses were incredibly punctual. Everything was eerily ordered.
After a few days, I became accustomed to to my new surroundings, and started to notice subtle differences. The houses had no gardens. Side streets had no pavements. White surgical masks were commonly worn. There were cables everywhere. Every square inch of space was used. Everything worked.
On the downside, the city centres were a stark contrast to the Zen temples. Gaudy multicoloured signage and advertising was everywhere. I thought the Brits had bad taste (in comparison to the rest of Europe), but Japan wins the prize for turning their streets into dogs’ dinners.
And the loos. It’s admittedly a weird thing to take away from a trip to Japan, but I remember the loos as much as anything. Every one had an electric plumbed seat. Some played music. Some warmed your bum. All were more complex than your average washing machine, and provided your undercarriage with a combination of washing and drying cycles.