This is my last post about Japan, and it contains a few random thoughts tied to my visit to Kyoto and Osaka. And when I say random, I do mean random….
Japan is exquisite — and its people compulsive. There are a few obvious things to say about Japan. It is an exquisite country on every level. It’s rich in natural and historic beauty, of course, but the exquisiteness transcends that. It’s the people who make it the unique place it is. And about those people. . . .
I have never seen a greater collection of people with what I can only characterize as “obsessive compulsive disorder” (OCD) and I mean that in the nicest possible way. To begin with, they are obsessively clean. I never saw a speck of litter anywhere. This was true not only in the shiny tourist areas, but also in the rundown area we walked through in Kyoto to get from one shrine to another or in the insanely busy, bright, noisy Osaka food and shopping district. There are almost no public garbage cans (I believe their absence is to avoid terrorist bombs and chemical attacks), but the Japanese do not litter. Like conscientious hikers who make sure to pack everything out of the backwoods, Japanese citizens make sure to leave nothing behind on public streets.
My favorite aspect of this OCD cleanliness is the public bathrooms. Whether you’re at a minor shrine, a major temple, a train station, a bus station, a shopping area, or anywhere else, the bathrooms are always immaculate. The toilets are clean, there are no scattered sheets of toilet paper littering the floor, the counters are dry and clean, and everything works. Most of the bathrooms have the awesome hi-tech toilets one quickly comes to love in Japan, complete with warmed toilet seats, sprinklers for cleaning oneself, and music for those too shy to do their business around others. When the bathrooms are located in a temple or shrine that mandates people take their shoes off, the public restrooms have slip-on shoes so people don’t have to walk in their socks over public bathroom floors.
I’ve always believed one can measure how civilized a country is by the state of its public restrooms and, by that metric, Japan is the most civilized country in the world. [Read more…]