So this is it then! My time in Tokyo is at an end, so what better way to celebrate with the things I’ve most enjoyed about my time living in this great city? Hopefully I’ll be able to return sooner rather than later.
Quite simply, the trains are fantastic. Quick, regular, and on-time. Compared with the London Underground (what is it, £4/480yen a single journey these days?), also pretty good value, being able to get pretty far on even 200yen on the JR lines. Added to that, heated seats in the winter, which although when you first sit down feel like a sweaty, fat guy must have just got up, and air con in the summer.
I should say, off-peak travel is fantastic. Rush hour travel can be a bit of a nightmare, and thankfully with my job I don’t have to ever use the trains first thing in the morning when it’s at its worst, but breathing space is often at a premium! But all the Japanese I’ve spoken to are utterly bewildered at the thought of peak/off-peak pricing; different prices for the same journey? You must be having a laugh!
The train guards on the platform
Simply for the hilarity they continue to bring me every time I see them point along the platform at the train leaving the station, before turning and pointing in the direction of the arrival of the next train. Sometimes they even point both ways down the platform when a train’s not even close. I have no idea why they do it, but it constantly makes me smile.
Staff in shops
The difference in service between Japan and Britain is simply staggering. When you enter a shop, all the staff welcome you in. When you go, even if you don’t buy anything, they all thank you for having a look around anyway. The assistants seem genuinely pleased to help you, and go above and beyond the call of duty (especially in games of charades when something’s been lost in translation). Compared to England, where it often seemed to me the assistants seemed to prefer you to be in any other shop but theirs, it’s something I’ll miss immensely.
Sort of coupled with the last one, no one bats an eyelid if you pay for anything with a 10,000 yen note. 10,000 yen is about 80 quid, and even if you’re just buying a chocolate bar they don’t care whatsoever. Buying a paper with a 20 in England will get you, if not a comment, then a disapproving condescending look. And don’t even consider buying anything with a 50 back home.
Japanese style pubs. Focused more on the social side, rather than the race to get pissed. Order lots of small dishes of food (edamame beans, sushi, sashimi [sushi without the rice], fried chicken, random parts of chicken or beef on a skewer, chips) to nibble with your beer.
One downside is the lack of smoking ban, which I never really realised I’d appreciated so much. It was strange coming home with my clothes stinking again due to people smoking around me; restaurants do have no-smoking sections, but it’s often just the end of the restaurant nearest the door.
Delicious, fresh, completely different from everything in England. Still get cravings for pie and sausage rolls every so often though!
Say no more.
The quirkiness of the supermarket packing system
No trolleys, no conveyor belts, no self-service checkouts. Everything’s basket-based: use one to do your shopping, when you pay the assistant takes your food, scans it and puts it in a second one, you take this second one to a table away from the checkout to pack your bags at your own pace. In Seiyu supermarkets, they even have different coloured baskets for each function!
They’re so bloody convenient! Open 24 hours, buy drinks, snacks, if you’re Japanese spend all day in them reading comics for free. Pay your bills, pay for bus tickets, gig tickets, train tickets. If you don’t have a credit card, buy something off the internet by printing out the voucher and pay for it at the convenience store. Photocopying, ATMs, the list goes on and on.