1. Public Transportation. It goes everywhere you want to be. Not like here where generally it mostly goes where you don’t want to be.
2. Vending machines that do everything but walk over to your house to bring you your drink. The humble vending machine has been perfected in Japan. They serve hot and cold drinks (until May when it all goes cold), will take all bills, no matter how ripped, crumpled or crinkled, and some of them even talk. Not only drinks are served, but I’ve seen vending machines for hot food, batteries, and even clothing in the capsule hotel (see the entry in Sand and Tsunamis v1.0). Need a new shirt? No problem! Just drop in a few coins, and select the right size, and press the button! There it is!
3. Tofu Man: In our neighborhood, every Saturday morning, the Tofu Man would drive down the street in his truck singing his tofu song. One morning, Melody was awakened from sleep by his song coming through the neighborhood, and was quite insistent that I get up and go out and get some. Don’t worry about the fact that it usually doesn’t get eaten before it expires, she had to have it. So, I got up, threw on some pants and a shirt, and tried to catch him. When I finally chased him down, running down the street past our neighbors (who stared at me with looks of “Crazy Gaijin…”), it turns out that it was the laundry pole guy. Not Tofu Man. I was a bit peeved.
4. Speaker Trucks: As alluded to above, there are a lot of speaker trucks that drive around pitching any number of things. Laundry Poles, the aforementioned tofu, sweet potatoes (“Yakimo! Yakitate!”), and political candidates during election season.
5. “Night Knockers.” In our neighborhood, shortly after the sun went down, a team of a 2 or 3 people would walk through the neighborhood with flashlights with orange cones and wooden sticks that they knock together. As we understood, this was to remind people to put out candles before going to bed, sort of a safety patrol.
6. Koto Woman. Sometimes, on summer evenings, as I walked back from the parking lot where I kept my car, I would hear haunting strains of the song Sakura floating through the street, played on the koto, sort of a Japanese harp instrument. That, almost more than anything, really brought home the fact that I was living in Japan.
7. Heated Toilet Seats. You don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t have one of these. Especially in a poorly insulated Japanese home (it would get down to about 40degrees Fahrenheit in our genkan/foyer area in the winter).
8. Politeness and Customer Service. These are areas that Japanese culture has a distinct advantage over that in the US. People who are in customer service roles take their jobs very seriously and strive for excellence. There is no risk of getting your hamburger spat upon as there is in other places. Not that I begrudge the service industry at all. We couldn’t live without folks who do those jobs, and they are many times overworked and underloved. Still, sometimes customer service suffers. Especially in bureaucratic organizations like the DMV, etc. Not so in Japan. Everyone does their job well and to the best of their ability, whether they are swinging an orange stick waving you through a road construction area, or the kimono clad waitress at a high class Japanese restaurant. Excellence is the standard.