In the United States there are a lot of little annoyances that we ignore; those insignificant problems that bug you in the moment, but later become an afterthought. There’s an attitude of “deal with it,” which is fine, because, really, no one should waste her time being upset about such trifling incidents. On the other hand, in Japan people go to the next level to erase any discomfort or inconvenience you might be feeling. Examples of extraordinary care and concern can be found in nearly every aspect of Japanese daily life, and just like the annoyances are forgotten in the U.S., sometimes I wonder if the conveniences are forgotten in Japan. Their usefulness and rarity were certainly not wasted on me, and there were some amenities that stood out in particular.
The vending machines even say hello (or good morning/evening depending on the time), and thank you for your business in a cheery female voice. At my school, during mid-terms and finals they said “Otsukaresama desu!” or “Good work!”
Japan’s courtesy could be found in the most unexpected places. Sidewalks are covered in rows of bumps to help blind people move about easier. Shopping carts in grocery stores and suitcases have wheels that swivel in every direction, so it’s never a struggle to move them in any way you like, even in tight circles. Much better than lifting those ungreased, broken-wheeled carts at Safeway whenever you need to move to make room. Ice-cream stores provide guests waiting in line with paper flavor menus, so you can choose faster. Iced-tea orders come with individual packets of liquid sweetener for easy dissolving. Malls have attendants at entrances to help you locate what you need, instead of just providing a map that might be hard to read.
These every-day amenities stem from the fact that the Japanese are a very polite people. In everything they do, they are concerned with being unoffensive and avoiding any discomfort for their guests. They are very hospitable by nature. This attention translates into the entire service industry, even when there are no actual people there to serve you. It is as if the entire country is trying to say, “irasshaimase!” or “welcome,” even if you are just walking down a sidewalk or buying some munchies to get through tests. Personally, I wish my toilet seat would be a bit more courteous and learn to warm up next winter.