During these 70 days in the most technologically developed country of the planet, we've seen many amazing things. At some level, after some time of being here, one feels that the Japanese are really beyond everything. Let me explain it. The reality of this country is so so different than that of the rest of the planet, especially the one in the third world, that at some point it almost feels like science fiction. The activities, the problems, the preoccupations that seem to occupy the mind of the Japanese are so radically different from those that me and the people around me lived with that I sometimes feel like I'm in Disneyland. Tokyo never stops and life happens at full speed. The famous crossing of Shibuya,, sees 100.000 people crossing it per hour during rush hour. With its squandering of light and yelling advertisements, it is the icon that sums up the frantic pace of life in Tokyo. In each of its corners, when the traffic light is green for the cars, people start accumulating like drops of rain in a water tank, when the traffic light turns red it bursts, and people run like ants going in every direction as when one steps on an anthill.
Now I will ask you to have a look at the photo above and I invite you to guess what it is. I will go on a limb and guess that you are thinking it's the lobby of a quite expensive hotel. Well, it's not. What you are looking at it's just the reception floor of a 6 stories high animal hospital that includes state-of-the-art operation rooms, hairdressing rooms, washing rooms, pedicure, canteen and whatever the hell your pet needs. In this aspect, Japan is the exact opposite of the third world, when in the latter humans are treated like dogs, here they are treated like humans. So humanly, that sometimes seems like mockery. I present you Montjiro
Montjiro is an elegant dog that walks about the streets of Tokyo with his proud master. Even though dog boutiques abound in Japan, Montjiro is more of an exquisite dog for he only dresses clothing especially designed for him by his master's mother. More than a dog, Montjiro is a gentelman and he will kindly shake your hand as soon as you ask for it..
You'll probably think that Montjiro is an exception but is not. There are more dogs like Montjiro that you can count going around the streets of Tokyo. However, Montjiro is indeed an example because he actually walks. In Japan, many dogs, don't even walk when they go out, they are taken around town like dukes sitting on strollers specifically designed for them. They sit on them comfortably, dressing elegantly, watching the shop windows.
Some are obviously more privileged and they are taken on motorized strollers with 4x4 wheels. You can actually plug in an electric blanket so that your dog dressing like a Japanese emperor and wearing John Lenon's sunglasses don't feel cold during those bitterly cold winter afternoons.
Some dress more casually for an afternoon's walk though, especially when they have to actually walk. A pair of jean shorts or pink corduroy and an animal print T-shirt are good enough for Fukuoka's pleasant autumn.
And no better than the evening for some bitches to go out wearing their kimonos. Every single sort of clothing can be found in dog's boutiques and you can even buy dog's and cat's toothbrushes and pastes. I ain't joking, people do seriously brush their pet's teeth here.
I cannot help but wonder how many people in Latin America, Africa and Asia would love to be treated like dogs in Japan...
In reality, what all this reveals is actually one of the most worrying trends in this country, what some already usually refer to as "celibacy syndrome". According to some recent reports and statistics, Japanese people are seeing intimate relationships more and more as something that brings more hassle than benefits and a huge amount of young people are choosing to avoid them altogether. Recent polls indicate many youngsters don't have the slightest interest in having sex and even despises it, many adults younger than 40 don't have love relationships of any kind and people who get used to live without sex and actually developing a kind of phobia to intimate relationships. People seem to prefer to focus on work, shopping and having virtual friendships using phone apps. Children are not even the picture, as it is with relationships, they are too expensive, there is no time for them and take away's the little free time one can have. In 2012, there were more adult's diapers sold in Japan than kids'. For all these reasons and perhaps even more, it seems clear to me that having dogs and treating them like humans is an almost unconscious way to make up for this lack of affection and human connection.....what a weird society this one is. The government even seems to fear that if this trend continues, the Japanese gen might even disappear eventually. For those who are interested in learning more about this, this article in The Guardian isn't to be missed.
The art of defecating
If there is something truly remarkable about the Japanese is the ability to make an art out of everything. In every single thing, from the simplest to the most complex, from a garden to the wrapping of a candy, from a building to a toilet, everything reflects a true love for detail and a clear obsession for perfection. In this way, the Japanese have made a ritual of going to the toilet, almost a religious experience.
When we go into a Japanese bathroom, the very hygiene of it already invites us to sit on the toilet. The seat already has the perfect temperature so we don't have to dread that awful time when we let our body fall on to the seat, thinking we are going to feel our buttocks hit a cold seat. Once we sit we can even adjust the temperature further to match our comfort. Now, let's assume we come from a wonderful romantic dinner but we ate a mix of mashed chickpeas, beans, spices and other stomach irritating mixes. Our partner is sitting in the next room excited, waiting for us to come out but we know that walls are thin and noises permeate through it like paper and if they ever hear the display of fireworks and blasts that our holy body is able to produce, the relationship will end instantly and we won't find them in the room once we are done. In Japan, however, this is not a problem. We look for the operation board of the toilet, hit the music button, turn up the volume and a pleasant Zen-like music of water running down the rocks will play, hopefully blocking the aberrations of our most obscure body eruptions and making our partner believe that what we are actually doing in there is meditating.
However, there are actually more problems on the front. This explosive cocktail of food made us leave a foul pestilence that corrodes the lungs and destroys the environment. We look around and we see no deodorizer, we become desperate while we start thinking of excuses so that our partner doesn't attempt coming into the bathroom right after we finish, and that's when we find the magic button on the board. We push it and the toilet automatically deodorizes everything. We relax, finish our thing happily knowing that our partner will still be in the room once we leave the bathroom. With a series pushes on the board, we configure the water temperature, the type of spray and the desired pressure, we hear some robotic sounds, we have no idea what is going on down there but all of a sudden, bellow our "third eye" we have a mechanic arm that water us like a garden of lilies. Japanese society is a bit sexist too but they do think about women, the same mechanic arm also extends further to reach the female exclusive regions. One more push and a nice air current dry us completely and one final push and if anything happened there, no one could tell anymore. The magic is over, we pull up our pants, we are ready to go but we feel so comfortable that we would love to stay. We start thinking of what books to take next time, what three-hours-long classic movie to load on the ipad or who we haven't called in the last 4 years to call him/her to catch up.
The most impressive thing is that I am not even talking about toilets in expensive hotels. Some of these are the very basic functions of any Japanese toilet, including those of public parks, shoppings, Mc Donald's. Going to the toilet is one of the very few things I will miss about this country.
The art of taking a bath
Taking a bath in Japan is also a memorable experience. With the exception of our stay at Shingo's in Osaka, we have camped every single day during the 25 days we cycled across the country and even though public toilets have everything one needs to clean oneself, most do not have showers. This lead us to discover sento, the Japanese public baths. That's where you go, in the case of a cycle traveler, to take the bath of a lifetime, you can relax for a while, treat yourself and take away all the foul smell you generate during your cycling adventure. They cost as low as 4 bucks and there's virtually no time limit and you can bathe yourself until you are more wrinkled than a raisin. The bathing room includes tubs with different temperatures, we all (women and men in separate rooms) get in there as we came into this world, naked. No shame of any kind, kids, teenagers, adults and elders. You can go from a jacuzzi at 41C to a freezing 10 C tub. You can go from a steamy indoors room to a cold outdoors backyard. Then there are the surrounding walls of the big room which has mirrors and seats and a small shower head, and that's where you actually take your shower, sitting. The natural version of the sento are the onsen, which are natural hot springs bathing places. For obvious reasons I have no photos of any of these but the internal views would've revealed other interesting curiosities about the Japanese anatomy.
Ostentation and excess
Most of the time in Japan you can generally observe a certain uniformity in society. The economic status of the people may be higher or lower but the society is so even and the overall standard of life usually so high across all classes that the contrasts are very smooth. However, there is no country in the world that lacks a handful of extravagant wealthy and with hideous taste and here, due to the above mentioned lack of contrasts, they are notoriously visible. Some remarkable examples are those of a Mercedes Benz completely covered in Swarowski stones.
Another one, a Lamborghini Murciélago tuned looking like a brothel in a slum.
Many long time expats and even locals use to say that the Japanese are always working and when not, they are drinking. For what I've seen though, I would add gambling. The amount of Pachinko & Slot parlors across the country is staggering. Going in there is like plunging into a psychedelia of noises and colors. The noise of the Pachinkos (Japanese style pinball) and the slots is so loud that one cannot hear a person talking right next to you. People can spend hours there, they look hipnotized, coin after coin seeing there fortunes going away.
Machines for everything
Lastly, in this brief summary, I need to mention that machines, are finally taking over, as described in so many science fiction novels of the 20th Century. Machines are not limited to selling soft drinks or candies anymore. Many restaurants have the full menu in a machine where with a few pushes you can order your meal, pay for it and then just sit at your table until it comes. There aren't robotic waiters yet but I highly suspect they are coming. In supermarkets, the cashier don't have to stress anymore at making mistakes when giving change. The cash machines swallow the notes and the coins given by the customer and they spit the right change in return automatically.
Japanese society is famous for its high level of honesty but I'm a bit more cynical about this and like the saying in Spanish goes "todos somos hijos del rigor", something like "We are all children of rigor". It simply means that nobody is honest or nice just for being from some place or some nationality. There isn't a single store in Japan that isn't fully monitored by surveillance cameras.
If we talk about smartphones, with those you seem to be able to do absolutely everything with them. To begin with, they all have incredibly fast Internet access and SIM cards are so foreign to Japan now that they could be as well in a mobile phone museum already. Phones are 4G, LTE and God know what else but they are insanely fast. You can pay for mostly everything with them, read barcodes, QR's to access discounts and more. They even come with a built-in siren that will turn on the phone automatically and trigger an earthquake alert as early as possible, no kidding! (thanks Martin for the tip on this :)) You can do so much with them that you might probably forget you can actually call someone.
Prices in Japan are surprisingly reasonable taking into account the kind of country it is, but some things do have an extravagant price. Fruit is generally very expensive, so much that you can buy apples by unit and they could easily cost you 1.5 or 2 usd. Needless to say, we haven't eaten apples in Japan. There are a handful of ridiculous prices but the one that is really striking is that of the taxis. A taxi from Tokyo downtown to Narita aiport cost around 300 usd. An 8 to 10 km ride around town can cost you 50 to 60 usd. It is true that Japanese taxi drivers could very well be princes in many countries but neither their exquisite behavior nor their smooth driving justify such outrageous prices.
The dark side of the mind
The list of extravagances could go on and on for pages but I will end with the market of stuff directed to sexual fantasies. From the fanaticism for hentai (pornographic variation of manga and anime), to the role play of maids, teenage schoolgirls and even military women, to the fantasy of a woman resisting sex by yelling and crying histerically, to the grotesque bukakee ( dozens or even hundreds of men ejaculating on the face of the same woman), the most unimaginable things can happen in Japanese porn. It doesn't come as a surprise then that its Korean and Chinese neighbors, maybe due to their open animosity towards Japan, take advantage of this to say that there isn't any more perverse mind in the world when it comes to sex than the Japanese one. If this is true or not, I have NO idea and I can't judge it, but watching Japanese porn is sometimes more than good enough to see the kind of stuff that might motivate these people, who are apparently losing all interest in intimate relationships.
It seems unbelievable sometimes that so many things may have come and still come out of such a tiny country but with a society that like ants eat the whole world, before with their warmongering and in recent times with their immense creativity and technological delirium that never stop to amaze the whole world over and over. I could say many things I don't like about Japan and it is certainly far away from being one of my favorite countries in the world, but I have to admit that it is a truly unique and fascinating place, almost like fantasy.