Letters From Japan ~ Vol II ~ Hi-Tech


Introduction: I recently began writing letters to send to my friends and family regarding my experiences here in Japan. I've received some encouragement to release the letters net-wide and am doing so in the hopes of providing some entertainment and maybe even some useful information...

More news on life in Japan...

I ended my last letter talking about the high-tech computer map in the taxi so I'll continue in that vein for a moment. Many things here are very automated and "high-tech." Take the elevators in this building as an example. As soon as you press the button, a light over one of the elevators lights up immediately telling you which one of four is going to arrive first. Then, while riding the elevator, a computer voice tells you whether you're going up or down and what floor you're currently stopping at. It even knows enough to say "good morning" at the beginning of the day. I think the main purpose of such a voice is for handicapped persons. In addition, there's a small screen (one of those LED displays) displaying the current date and time and what to do in the case of an earthquake. (That last is a slight exaggeration on my part ;)

Also here in Japan, what I call "Star Trek" toilets have become popular. These are toilets with a command console on the side which allow you to perform bidet functions, controlling the direction and flow of the water, as well as air drying functions. Some I've read about even analyze your output to perform a health check for you! The Star Trek toilets have been around for a few years here but I had never seen them actually in use until recently because the building here has them. I haven't actually built up the nerve to press any of the buttons because I don't want to do it while I'm sitting on it but I don't want to end up with water sprayed all over the front of me either. How would I explain that to my colleagues? In any case, the heated seat is kind of nice. I'm puzzled as to the popularity of these things because I don't think the Japanese have traditionally used any sort of bidet. I think maybe it just appeals to their sense of novelty.

Another thing that seems strange upon first arrival here is that most every shop here has sophisticated electronic doors. The strange thing is that this includes most little dinky shops that take up less than 100 square feet of space. Instead of swinging out or in as supermarket doors in the U.S. The doors here slide from side to side like a patio door. As you get to less urban areas, however, you'll find many more manual doors. They have Western doors as well. These are in apartment and office buildings, houses and the like.

The subway is my final example of technology in Japan. Here, rates are charged depending on the where you get enter and where you exit, as opposed to the simple one-fare-for-anywhere system operated in many other places. In order to implement this much more sophisticated system, instead of tokens you buy a ticket from a machine. The ticket is about .75 X 1.5 inches and is magnetically encoded with the fare that you paid for it. This is printed as well. When entering the subway, you stick the ticket into the gate which will punch your ticket and give it back to you as you pass through. On the other end, the same procedure occurs except that the gate keeps the ticket. If you've erred and haven't paid enough fare, the gate refuses to open and rudely informs you that you screwed up. In less urban areas, the same procedure is followed except that there are humans on one or both ends to clip your ticket as you enter and to check it as you exit.

Other news:
I've decided to head West and live in the Kitazawa area. Although the northern area is closer to work I'm in agreement with my friend Kyomi about its lack of "atmosphere." In general it seems to be more of a "concrete jungle." More crowded and maybe less clean as well. The area towards the west seems to be less urban and quieter and maybe a bit more upscale. There seems to be more foreigners out that way as well. That may be good or bad depending on one's viewpoint. I'm limited in terms of living areas if I stay within my goal of around a half-hour commute. Spending 2+ hours per day commuting on trains, while not unusual here, is not something I want to do.

Speaking of foreigners, they typically ignore each other without even acknowledging the other's presence when passing by on the sidewalk or while riding the subway. I'm not sure if this is because they've picked this habit up from the Japanese or if it's just a big city kind of thing. Strangers are not very social here.

Easter for me was uneventful since there's no sign of the holiday here. The first day of spring is their equivalent holiday sans religious significance, of course. One incident of note happened the Saturday before Easter Sunday. In Shinjuku station I was stopped by a little Japanese lady who spoke almost no English. I was able to determine, however, that she wanted me to go with her to church (Christian) with her for "salvation only" and that I didn't have to "change" my religious affiliation. I lied and I told her that I had to meet a friend at that moment but let her give me a little photocopied card showing me where the church was. This kind of thing, while not uncommon in the U.S., is very unusual here. At least I had thought so.

Speaking of solicitation... I've been stopped near several stations including Shinagawa and Ginza and asked to give for world relief (for refugees I think). The solicitators are usually kids who have both English and Japanese donation forms with them. Since I haven't received a paycheck yet and have little money at the moment a little white lie of moo shimashita ("already gave") takes care of them quite well.

This week and weekend I'll be doing some ohanami (frolicking among the cherry blossoms) so I'll talk a little about that next time...

(C)opyright 1994 Mike Chachich

This material may be freely copied and distributed for non-commercial uses provided this copyright information remains intact. Commercial uses are strictly prohibited without prior written consent. All stated opinions are solely the author's and do not represent those of any other person or organization.

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Created: Apr 5, 1994
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2005