China to Japan

There are few similarites between China & Japan
Beijing’s still behind the Pearl River Delta region. I see little change in the past 20-years, except for price increases, cars replacing bicycles and the new subway lines, which are a bargain at US$0.32 to anywhere. Even the latest airport, largest in the world, looks like it’s built on the cheap – although the architecture is slick and its new railway to downtown is supurb.

Beijing has always been harsh – too cold in the winter, too hot summers, and choking pollution from factories and the Gobi Desert. The Nationalists moved the capital to Nanjing, why didn’t Mao shift it to Shanghai where the Communists began?  No wonder men’s faces look constipated. After two-nights I was glad to leave.

Now Japan is a different land – a country at its peak of evolution. Everything works well, a prime example of logic and efficiency, nothing out of place. More organized than any country I’ve visited.

It’s silent in the trains, no one dare use a mobile incase of disturbing others, and so clean you could eat from the floor.  In Hong Kong men dress casual, girls dress well but like children – in Japan everyone wears sophistication. Japanese have politeness in their bones. In a 7-11 you get treated as if you’re spending big, strangers will bow to you, and the street-sleepers never beg. Crime has almost been eliminated.

Japan has its own way of doing things – it works, but different for global travellers. Take the Tokyo Metro. It looks like something in a sci-fi movie with lines running close together in every direction, but not all compatible on one ticket as they‘re owned by different companies. Makes travelling hard work. Labor’s expensive, so vending machines to sell transport tickets and drinks are expected – but the Japanese have them in restaurants instead of tills. And every toilet I used had heated-seats.

My strangest experience was squeezed in a capsule hotel with communal washing. The largest in the world with 650 capsules in Shinjuku, the centre of Tokyo – each measuring a whisker over 6 x 3 x 3 feet inside with TV, mirror, radio and alarm clock, stacked two-high like washing machines.  I smuggled a little bottle of whisky in, but after pulling the rattan screen and shutting the light, I slept well.  

 At 7.30am I found the spa bizarre. About 60 men sitting on little stools in front of a bowl, a mirror and a low shower by the walls around the hot tub.  Each thoroughly scrubbing their bodies with a flannel, before and after soaking. The hotel is kept orderly by a series of lockers – first for your shoes, then one for clothes and luggage, and another in the spa.  Every imaginable toiletry is free, from ear-swabs to toothbrush. Cost was US$41 for the night – no girls or tattoos allowed.

I found the trip fun and different, but not easy. In my eyes Japan’s no utopia. Extremely civilized, comfortable, and not as expensive as London – but too much order takes the edge away, where’s the fun? I enjoy spitting bones on tables in China, getting drunk on trains and being noisy in public!

Scroll down for full details of the schedule on my previous posting, and YouTube video coming soon.

See the video of this trip here
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