Thursday, 21 September 2006

Why do I dream of Tokyo?

by Lucas Maximilian

I recently had the pleasure of spending two weeks in Tokyo. A fantastic experience that I would encourage anyone, that can, to try for them selves. As an Englishman born and bred in North Kent who fled to the relative paradise of Sussex as soon as they were able, I'm fascinated by the places, and ways in which, people live.

So what of Tokyo (or maybe you were just thinking "so what?")? The thing that most sticks in my head, now I'm back in Old Blighty, is just how damn nice it was there. Yes I know "nice", very convincing... but that is the best word my poor vocabulary has for the feeling it gives you. Yes it's interesting, it's different, it's exciting, but so are a lot of places. Tokyo felt safe, it was clean, it was efficient (but not clinical), and it was full of pleasant people.

Tokyo's inhabitants seem to exhibit something that, living in the West, I assumed was lost long ago, respect. Real respect. Respect for their country, and respect for each other. Despite the fact that Tokyo is full of career-minded workaholics, keen to get-ahead (just like most major cities), they don't seem to have the 'it's all about me' mind-set that this normally brings. Smokers carry their own ashtrays rather than drop ash and cigarette butts on the floor, those with a cold, or the flu, wear what look like surgical masks to protect others form their germs and in all the time I was there, travelling on the packed underground everyday, I wasn't barged out of the way once!

Of course this respect is part of their culture, has been drummed into them as they grown up, reinforced with the idea of honour and pride. Those are another two words that I see little evidence of in England. Here it seems that National pride means cheering on the English football/cricket/rugby (please delete according to your social class) team, or supporting our troops aboard, and nothing more. There is no pride in England being clean, pleasant, efficient, and a nice (that word again) place to live. With honour it is much the same. What bothers me so much is that these are things that England used to do so well.

Everyone I met/saw in Tokyo, and I mean everyone, clearly took great pride in doing what they did to the best of their ability. No one was clearly doing their current job while they were waiting to be discovered, no one made me feel that serving me was beneath them. Quite the opposite, I have never felt so appreciated as a customer. Not that I'm under the illusion that they don't want to do something else, something "better", but by-God while this is what they are doing they will do it well.

I've spent some time in America and I always come back impressed that their customer-facing employees are so helpful and friendly compared to their UK counterparts. The difference between the Japanese and the American service, however, is that you get the impression that the Americans are being fake. Being friendly and helpful due to a fear of what will happen if they are not (Americans being excellent at complaining and making sure they get what they want). The Japanese seem to be motivated by wanting to do their best, they are friendly and helpful because that is what they expect of themselves.

I do fear, as no doubt do the older Japanese, that as Western attitudes and ideas gain increasing popularity with their young the county will lose this respect. I hope it doesn't, it certainly hasn't yet. So far they have picked fun parts of Western attitudes and fashions and incorporated them into their culture. Neatly and efficiently fitting them in around what makes their society work so well.

Please don't get me wrong, I love England, and I doubt I will ever live anywhere else, I don't think I could for long. It just pains me, as I see more of the world, to realise that things don't have to be the way they are in England. We could respect our country, we could respect each other, we could feel pride in ourselves and our achievements without openly resenting those around us. We could feel national pride without dropping some bombs or waiting for a sporting event. England could be... nice.


Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Welcome to the team Lucas. Glad to have you on board - steaming first post.

Charles Pooter said...

Just in time to bring the tone back up. Nice one.

Ted Hoffman said...

Excellent stuff, welcome to the team Lucas

Lucas Maximilian said...

Thanks all...

Patrick Crozier said...

My good Japanese friend tells me that those masks are there to protect against pollen - not to prevent the spread of germs.

Lucas Maximilian said...

I believe there are a number of reasons that people wear them, with avoiding pollen certainly being one of them (and arguably the most popular reason).

However the idea of keeping their cold to themselves is also one.