Sunday, June 2, 2019

Trains and Toilets

So I am just back from a business trip to Tokyo. Just like many of you, I am generally mesmerized by the Japanese way of life. From their beautiful shrines, temples, zen gardens all the way to their food, electronics, umbrellas, pens, shoes, advertisements and culture, everything seems to be so extraordinary.

Anyway, after several trips to Tokyo, I have narrowed down on 2 Japanese things that I really adore - their train systems and their toilets (T&T).

Let me start with Trains. Disclaimer - I love public transit. I think it's the best means of transportation in an urban jungle and nothing can be more efficient. Every city that I go to, I always make it a point to "figure out" their public transit and use it extensively. It gives me a false sense of being a local. When I was younger in Singapore, I would always make it a point to be amongst the first ones to go visit a newly opened train station. In all the countries that I have been to, Tokyo by far, is the most complex train system that I have ever experienced. If the train system is not complex enough, their underground exits are even crazier. While I am generally proud of my sense of direction and my ability to understand complex metro systems, I still get easily lost on Japanese train stations just "looking" for the right exit.

Tokyo Subway Map
Tokyo Subway Route Map

But, the more I have used it, I realize there are so many small things that are provided to aid commuters, that it's just amazing (For e.g. do you know that it is possible to walk underground all the way from Tokyo station to Ginza if you take the right exits!). And while most Japanese people are stoic, if you ask them for directions they go out of their way to help a random stranger? We could do a treasure hunt on the Tokyo Train system and never get bored.

Breakfast gazing
Breakfast observing people

One of my favorite thing to do in Tokyo is to sit in a random small coffee shop inside a train station, sip on my coffee in the morning and see the world pass by. Every Japanese "salary man" in a suit making his way to his place of work, in a hurry, hassled by the crowd, but determined to reach his destination on time (yeah also the ladies, but if I say I observe them to - I sound like a creep - so yeah, I hardly notice them). Occasionally a cleaner or a police man making sure everything is in order would also pass by. While everyone will give you their own list of top 10 things to do in Tokyo, I would say that my list starts at "experience and assimilate the railway system".

Now let's talk about the Toilets. I think I have already dedicated a blog post to this one before. Now that I am repeating it, you can already imagine how in love I am with these works of art. I guess no where else in the world am I so fascinated to enter a public toilet just to see how amazing the toilet is. Forget about cleanliness, almost all toilets in Tokyo are amazingly clean. Depending on how old or new the toilet is you will get to experience a toilet that can do everything from bringing the seat down for you, cleaning it for you, making a loud musical tone so that you can do your business in peace without being embarrassed, to sophisticated nozzles, water jets and air driers that make sure that every bit of your backside is first cleaned with water and then dried so that you can confidently wear your pants later without any worry. Attention to detail and personal hygiene is way beyond my imagination. This is probably the only country in the world that "I look forward to" going to the toilet.

This my friends was a short summary of an otherwise tiring and uneventful trip to Tokyo. While I love the trains and toilets, I dread their work culture, the long work hours and the absolute crazy level of hard work.

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