On first glance, Japan still appears as the land of convenience and politeness, making it a fabulous if yet somewhat surreal experience for the first time visitor, especially if you are unused to high levels of hospitality and customer service. If you want a banana, there is a vending machine for that. On the metro, the intricate signs tell you in exact metres how far it is to walk to some of the different lines (believe me it’s far) and there are still station guards dressed in full uniform with white gloves waving off trains and directing people around minor construction works apologising to the passers-by for the inconvenience. My hotel owner at 7am this morning phoned up local courier who collected my bags and delivered them to another hotel on the same day for the grand total of £20.
Unsurprisingly, it can be very seductive and somewhat misleading to assume that all Japanese people are more polite and nicer than the rest of us. Their group orientated society demands certain behaviours to make sure it all ticks along nicely and people are aware of their effect on others. As a result, rituals and rules dominate. Everywhere you turn, there is a sign telling you what to do and how to do it and generally, this is respected. In effect, this is the pay back for a still highly functioning society where people generally do as they are expected to do. I have experienced the long-term effects on this as a non-Japanese living in Japan as it is not always a positive thing for someone from a more individualised society to adapt to when the politeness and rule following can result in inflexibility and prevents a depth of human connection.
In the world of fast paced business, some of these rules seem never to be questioned and can obfuscate and cause frustrations, especially for the non-Japanese, who are unaware of their roles in maintaining the status quo. However, for this trip I am completely happy to follow the rules and enjoy the ensuing harmony and politeness. Having recently experienced such poor levels of service in the UK, I can never get enough of being profusely bowed at and thanked when I come in and out of a shop and can have all my purchases wrapped beautifully without having to remember my ‘bags for life’!