February 21, 2017

A very short list: things the US does more efficiently than Japan

So, it's laundry day, yet again, which, you might have noticed is a big deal on this Sabbatical.  It's overhead that must be dealt with regularly as we only have 7 days of clean clothes.  But we are in Japan, which is a wonderfully civilized country.  We've been thrilled to find that most moderately priced business hotels (<$100 USD/night) have COIN LAUNDRY *IN* THE HOTEL for super reasonable prices (typically 300Y to wash and 100Y to dry for 20-30 minutes -- total for all of our cold-weather/heavy laundry is always less than $15USD and sometimes less than $10).  What a fabulous idea!  Why doesn't any other country we've visited do this?

Typical Japanese Business Hotel Laundry Center.

Even better, Japan's coin washers are pre-filled with their own detergent and they dispense it during the cycle for you.  Like many of the amazing ways Japan treats us, this hand-holding care is simultaneously wonderful and yet it feels like they are judging us, as if we couldn't possibly be trusted to figure out what detergent to buy, how much to use, where to put it, etc.  And you know what?  After struggling with all of those questions in 10+ countries so far, I'm totally down with Japan's decision that we might not be qualified.  It's been dangerously close on several occasions.  I think they made the right call.  Also, the laundry machines only take 100 yen coins.  But don't worry, they are always on the same floor as the vending machines (including beer), and you can get change from them.  It's really just the perfect system.

Obligatory homage to Japan's Amazing Trains

Anyways, we've got another week left in Japan, but after 2 weeks, we feel fairly comfortable, like we've got a decent handle on what to expect (including the signs that things are headed somewhere we don't understand and we should just go ahead and expect it to be weird). 

Hermetically Sealed Bathroom Capsule, dropped into most of our hotel rooms.

Japan has the highest general standard of Okay of any country we've visited.  And we are currently in relatively rural Japan, on Shikoku, the smallest of the 4 major islands, with less than 5% of the population.  Even here, most things work quite well (and certainly they work much more predictably and reliably than equivalently rural areas of the US and Canada that we visited on our road trip)

Ichiran Ramen Ordering Stations (further customized by paper forms after you are seated)

Because it's so rare, E and I made a list of the very few examples we can come up with where the U.S. is *actually* more efficient than Japan:

1. Hotel check-out and check-in.  For some inexplicable reason, this almost always takes tons of time with several sheets of paper exchanged (even for pre-paid rooms with no mini-bar or restaurant).  I don't like going through the motions of filling in paperwork when I already entered the same info on the Internet and I really like just leaving my key in the room and leaving.

2. Wrapping and unwrapping.  Of everything, but especially food.  Holy over-packaging batman.
3. Toilets (rural train station toilets are squat toilets, so if you are sensitive to that issue, you may find the US more efficient on a different axis).  For us, the efficiency kicks in with the automated toilets, I'm not necessarily complaining about the luxury experience, but it does slow things down if your toilet has either some sort of water-flowing boot-up sequence it has to complete before you can flush, or it thinks it needs to greet you with a song and slow-motion auto-opening lid.

4.  Crossing the street (rare in bigger cities where there are entire underground tunnel complexes to eliminate the need for this entirely).  Due to the rule-following culture, jay-walking is rare, and people often just stand at the side of the road, waiting for the walk sign to turn green on 1 lane roads with no cars or motorcycles or bikes.

And... that's all we've got. 

Hers and his RFID-billed plate stacks at Kaiten-zushi

Everything else we can think of that we've encountered this trip Japan has the US beat on efficiency/dependability: subways, trains, grocery shopping, buying pre-prepared food from vendors, food stalls, eating at mid-range sit-down restaurants (using a call button to get a server immediately, whenever you want one and not having to deal with the "How are we doing?" interruptions), vending machines, convenience stores (more, so easier to get to), everyone keeping their phones in silent mode (no talking) in public spaces to preserve a communal quiet, the speed with which messes are cleaned up in the street, and more.


Arvay said...

An assumption of inability to operate what are commonly accepted as ordinary and daily appliances might be a good thing to build into my world. :)

bt said...

@Arvay - actually, what is your laundry situation?

Arvay said...

I do laundry at a public coin laundromat in town. It is conveniently located a few blocks from the Chinese grocery store, and next door to an old-fashioned "drive-in" with cheeseburgers and shakes. But usually I just sit there and do leisure reading. :)

bt said...

Sounds great!