Heat, health and hygiene: first impressions of Tokyo

It felt very odd arriving late at night in Tokyo when my body said it was lunchtime. Of course it was impossible to sleep, so we spent the our first hour trying to understand the rather threatening appearance of the lavatory. It has so many flashing lights, pipes and buttons that we hardly dare to sit on it, and in common with most public ones, has a permanently heated seat. (And so have the seats on the metro. It makes for an uncomfortable journey on a crowded train.)

The space age bathroom fits, I suppose, with the obsession with health and cleanliness which is evident in all areas of life. I have never seen so many people wearing face masks, both outside, where you might suspect it’s to avoid the worst excesses of pollution, but also indoors when meeting people at security at the airport, for instance, or on a reception desk in a museum. It all looks as if we’re part of some gigantic operating theatre.

It’s common practice to offer customers hot cloths to wipe hands and face before dining in a restaurant, but there are hand disinfectant dispensers at the entrances to almost all buildings. You wonder whether the Japanese of the future will learn to build up resistance to bugs and viruses.

But travel broadens the mind, they say, and life would be very dull if all people had exactly the same customs. At the moment, I’m enjoying Japan very much, but am surprised at how many contradictions there are. Watch this space!

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