“I’ve never seen cars this clean”. These are literally the first words my father uttered when he came to visit us in Tokyo last month. It’s fair to say he tends to zone in on all things car related but, he’s right. Even the trucks shine.
Cleanliness is critical in Japan. In fact, the word for beautiful is the same word to describe something as clean. No distinction.
A few examples of how this plays out in daily life…
The public toilets (of which there are many) are spotless! In the UK, I approach public toilets with some trepidation, not sure what I’m going to find. Here, it doesn’t seem to matter where the toilet is or what time of day. Always immaculate. I could write a book about the toilets but I’ll save it for future weeks.
Not only do dog owners poop-and-scoop religiously here (expected). They carry a bottle of water to wash away their dog’s pee so as not to leave a trace. Love it!
No-one eats or drinks on the streets. Therefore, no need for litter bins and no litter. Anywhere. In food courts, you collect a pre-soaked dishcloth from a communal stand to wipe down your table for the next person once you have finished. Consideration for others is the beautiful layer on top of this importance of cleanliness and because everyone follows the rules, everything stays pristine.
Bags never touch the floor. In cafes and restaurants, baskets are thoughtfully provided to stow your belongings. On trains, bags sit neatly on the lap or in the overhead racks.
Recycling is a work of art. Neatly sorted and tied, the newspapers bring to mind the song from Sound of Music…’brown paper packages tied up with string’. If the weather looks inclement, a waterproof net will be placed neatly over the top to prevent any unpleasant mess.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned slippers - shoes off at the door and straight into slippers (then change into a different pair of bathroom slippers if you go to the bathroom). You even remove your shoes in shop changing rooms where you are also given a piece of gauze to cover your face to prevent make-up staining the clothes you are trying.
And how can I forget to mention the masks! Worn for various reasons, but mainly to prevent the spread of germs.
The major upside of all this…and I may be jinxing this now…is that I haven’t been sick since I arrived. Possibly coincidence. Possibly not.
Is there a downside? How could there possibly be one? Well, yes. Just one. Not letting the side down and fuelling the image of the louche Westerner. The self-imposed pressure is immense and I’ve already failed.
First off, I strode onto the mats in the gym to do some stretching and was very quickly and politely reprimanded for not removing my trainers. Aah, so obvious! Then only the other day I took a sip of a bottle of water on the subway train – already stupid I know – my toddler lurched out of her seat so I reached to grab her and a fountain of water flew in splendid fashion all over the carriage to audible gasps from the surrounding commuters. Idiot! I’m still not strong enough to talk openly or in any detail about the time the toddler snacks rolled for several metres in all directions. I’m still cringing.
On that note, I’m off to redeem myself and get the car cleaned. 1 hour of cleaning, brushing vacuuming, polishing and whatever they do to get it that shiny. My Dad will be super impressed.