With my apologies to David Letterman, this completes my top ten reasons why I like Japan. I guess you could also title this the top ten reasons to travel to Japan.
5. Vending machines
I have never seen any statistics, but on a per-capita basis, Japan has to be the vending machine capital of the world. They can be found everywhere in Japan. No street corner or location is too remote or insignificant not to have a vending machine. You will even find vending machines on quiet side streets in the middle of a residential neighborhood which the residents from the surrounding area will use. One thing that still amazes me is that many ryokan and hotel vending machines sell alcoholic beverages. This is something that would not work other places other than Japan. You can even buy food from vending machines in Japan. At some restaurants you purchase tickets for your food from vending machines, and then give the tickets to the restaurant staff who prepare it and then bring it to your table. And at some ryokans and hotels, particularly business hotels, you can purchase instant ramen or even hot prepared foods from vending machines to eat in your room. And the best part is that the vending machines can dispense both hot and cold drinks!!
4. Convenience Stores
Did you know there are more 7-11 stores in Japan than in America? You would swear the same person who decides where to add another Starbucks is also deciding where to add another convenience store. There seems to be one on every street corner, and sometimes even more. The fact there are so many of them, along with the fact they are always open and they have just about anything you might have just run out of make them very convenient. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) You can even pay your electric, gas and phone bills at convenience stores. I would never consider buying food from a convenience store in America. But in a pinch, prepared foods at convenience stores in Japan are quck, easy and inexpensive sources of food in Japan. While the food may not win any culinary awards, it isn’t all that bad.
3. Public Transportation
Sure the French TGV and the Chinese magnetic trains are faster than the Japanese Shinkansen (bullet train), but there are many more Japanese bullet trains operating in Japan at any one time. (There are hundreds operating simultaneously around Japan during peak times.) Between Tokyo and Osaka, there is a train every 5-15 minutes from about 6:30 in the morning until 11:30 at night in both diections. And anyone who has ridden these trains can attest to the almost frightening punctuality of these trains. If you arrive on the platform a few seconds late, you will probably end up waving goodbye to the back end of the train. There are thousands of arrivals and departures of the Shinkansen around the country every day. It is said the Shinkansen, on average, are 6 seconds late. While maybe not quite as punctual as the Shinkansen (but for the most part still punctual), the rest of the public transportation sytem in Japan (trains, subways, buses, taxis, ferries, etc.) is every bit as convenient and clean. (And where else can you find taxis with doily-covered seats?) It is very easy to get just about everywhere in Japan using the public transportation system, even in rural and remote areas. When you put it all together, there is no doubt that the public transportation system in Japan is one of the best in the world, if not the best.
Everyone knows the Japanese are very courteous and polite. They have, in fact, taken courteousy to another level. It’s been my observation that you can never thank someone or apologize enough in Japan. And when meeting or saying goodbye, one bow is never enough. I’m still amazed that people waiting for trains and subways will always patiently wait in orderly lines and board the train in the same way. You will see younger riders giving up their seats to elderly riders or riders with special needs. You will almost always see everyone lining up on the same side of escalators, yielding to others who are in a hurry. If the person in front of them changes sides on the escalator, people behind them will almost invariably match their change. It’s almost comical. But this courtesy does have its limits. Under any circumstances, you do not want to get caught between a soon-to-be-departing train and someone rushing to catch the train. All courtesy is forgotten in this situation.
And, the drum roll please. My favorite thing about Japan?
1. The food (And I have the love handles to prove it.)
Did you know there are more 3-Star Michelin restaurants in Tokyo than Paris? And there are the same number of 3-Star Michelin restaurants in Japan as in France? It is actually difficult to have a bad meal in Japan. Even school cafeteria meals are not all that bad. The fact is that all the food is fresher and tastes better. Even foods you would not think of when you think of Japan like bread is much better in Japan. This is not just my observation, but the observation of the majority of our clients as well. One of the biggest surprises to our escorted tour clients is the quality of the food in Japan. And the stereotype that Japanese food is very expensive is overblown. It is easy to get a tasty and filling meal for $10 or less. The food is usually presented beautifully as well, and sometimes looks too good to eat.