Tokyo…and the living is easy
The thought of moving to Tokyo with a young family was, at first, overwhelming. Not speaking or reading Japanese, I was worried about doing even the simplest of things. To be fair, the first couple of months were pretty overwhelming. However, once I got my head round things, I started to realise that actually everything is set up to make life pretty darn easy.
So, for your reading pleasure, I have compiled my Tokyo Top 10 for easy living…
Convenience stores They say you are never 100 metres from a convenience store in Tokyo. Beyond the usual supplies, they have whatever you need to keep life comfortable just when you need it. For example, there is a day at the start of Autumn when heat patches start to appear to keep your fingers and toes warm. Similarly, spring arrives and the mosquito patches and cooling sprays pop up. Most also offer an ATM, a pristine toilet, a photocopying machine and a little place to sit and eat your surprisingly tasty lunch purchase.
2. Toilets. Yep, it’s the toilets again. Literally everywhere. And let’s be frank. Once you have used a Japanese toilet, there is no going back. Warm seats in winter. Every manner of water jet at different angles and pressures with air drying to ensure you leave squeaky clean. And to protect your modesty in public toilets you can play background music while you ‘go’. There is always of course a hook or two to hang your things on (never broken or missing) and in one or all of the toilets a little seat to pop your small child in. I even saw little toddler loo seats provided at a service station. All pristine and hanging neatly on the wall of course. No worries about germs here.
3. Vending machines. Everywhere! On every street corner and several places in-between. There are cold drinks for hot days and all manner of coffees that come out warm for cold days. And that’s just your bog standard ones. There are ice-cream machines and I even saw a hot savoury snacks one recently. Fried chicken and fries on demand anyone?
4. Bicycles. In Tokyo they are electric so despite the hills and the summer humidity no-one perspires. You can’t even buy deodorant here (don’t worry, I import)! Most parents ride one instead of driving or pushing a stroller and have their kiddies on both the front and back. A couple of times I’ve seen a mum with an extra little one in a baby carrier strapped to her front. I’m not sure I trust myself and have stuck to the car but the bike beats the car in Tokyo traffic hands down.
5. 100 yen stores. That’s about 70p or $1. And, you can forget Poundland. Way better. They are set up to ensure that if there is anything you need. And I mean anything. They will have it. For 70p. It’s pretty darn good quality and I seem to have developed something of a 100 yen shopping addiction. It’s really quite amazing how many things you didn’t realise you absolutely need.
6. Umbrellas. Available to purchase for next to nothing at every convenience store. They are transparent so you can see where you are going and they dry super fast. To prevent a slippery situation, shops and public spaces provide umbrella dryers or plastic covers for your umbrella so you don’t drip everywhere. And at restaurants and public buildings on rainy days, umbrella storage units will suddenly appear by the doors where you can lock it away with your own little key so you don’t have to remember which one belongs to you on your way out. All very carefully thought through.
7. Customer service. Great lengths are taken to ensure you are happy with your purchase and your experience. Ice packs to keep cold purchases cool. Puffed up plastic bags to keep fragile items protected. Paper bags are wrapped in plastic if it’s raining to stop the bag getting soggy. Bags are packed for you. You don’t even need to put your own card in the machine. You are always served with a smile and often a bow.
8. Getting about. An efficient subway system with air-conditioned carriages and free Wi-Fi is complemented by an extensive overland network connected to the bullet trains which will take you to the major destinations of Japan in next to no time. Then there are the buses, so cute and dinky, although not too helpful if you have a bottom any bigger than a couple of peaches…tiny seats! Recently I found out that when the bus drivers strike, they don’t stay off work, they carry on working and doing the route, they just don’t take any money. Doesn’t that just fill you with respect.
9. Men waving batons. They seem to be everywhere showing you where to go. For example, if some form of obstacle appears in the street, men with batons will suddenly pop up to ensure you know how to get around it and that everyone follows the correct route. And not just one man with a baton, they seem to come in packs. The men with batons at first appeared somewhat over the top to me but I have to admit I now find them a rather reassuring presence.
10. Speaking the language. My main concern has been effectively made null and void by most of the signs also being in English and perhaps moreover simply by just looking like a Westerner. I am trying to learn the lingo as they say but it does seem that when you don’t look like you are Japanese, you are sort of forgiven for being probably a little bit useless. The fear factor taken away, I have become a bit too lazy at making the effort. Must. Try. Harder.
We’ve just returned home to England for a little while and it’s already becoming clear how much I’ve got used to this culture of convenience. The other day, I went clothes shopping. When I reached the till, I automatically handed my card to the shop assistant with both hands and a small bow and proceeded to wait patiently for her to put it into the machine that sat right in front of me. There was an awkward silence, followed by a raised eyebrow and a creeping look of incredulity until I finally snapped back into English mode. I can safely say I was blushing pretty hard. Take me back to Tokyo!