“Tokyo – First Impressions”

This is one of a series of blogs which describe my trip to Japan in April 2012.  To see further blogs in the series, click on “Japan Odyssey” in the Tag Cloud.

Tired after an 11-hour flight, and a sleepless-night journey over the North Pole.

Quick and easy passage through customs – 5 minutes for finger printing and a photograph – no fuss, no suspicion, a polite smile from the Customs Officer.  (what a contrast with America ever since 9/11 – where now you are made to feel guilty and unwelcome before you enter the country – that dispicable act of terrorism has put a nation on the defensive in a way that is not at all American).

Instant baggage reclaim, followed by a cursory baggage check.   Just questions, no search (although Number-one Son had prior instructions from me to take off his Rayban dark glasses and Michael Jackson fingerless gloves!)   Then on to meet and greet a smartly dressed Mr …?….  (missed the name – I was not paying courteous 100% attention).

First step is to rent a phone – my old Nokia doesn’t work in Japan.   Two very helpful assistants speak good enough English to explain how the phone works  (which English people back home fail to do – is it my fault that I wasn’t born with a mobile phone stuck in my ear?)   When I take a deep intake of breath at the £5 a minute charge to phone home, both  shop assistants and Mr …?….  politely suggest I go and check out one of the other half dozen phone shops.   Not having intended to complain in the first place I do a quick 180° turn and sign on the dotted line.    I’ll bet ET didn’t have these problems.  🙂

Next step is the Japan rail card.   We must convert our pre-paid voucher into  JR Cards (Japan Railways) and get tickets and seat allocations for all our planned journeys.

The first thing that was different was that Mr ….?….  left our bags on the trolley outside the JR office – unattended – what implicit faith in the honesty of the Japanese.   I had been told stories before about the lack of crime in Japan, but both Tom and I kept looking over our shoulders to see if the bags were still there – they were !

Now back to the rail tickets and Mr JR office man  –  no stetson hat included.  Mr …?…. explained to Mr JR our full 5-day rail pass itinerary minute by minute, day by day, station by station.    Mr JR handwrote it all down with two pens taped together – one black and one red.    The black one for his notes of Mr ….?…..’s instructions, the red one later for a flourish of ticks to show that everything was checked.   Poka-Yoke  — mistake proofing on daily display.   ( Tom thought I was kidding when I used this term,whichI learned from Sid Joynson, but it was evident everywhere we went.)    Then each journey’s batch of notes were stapled together with another sweeping gesture.

Now comes the automated bit, surprisingly late in the process for this most high-tec of countries !   Mr. JR goes over to the ticket machine that must control the whole of Japanese Railways.   After a few minutes of data entry and printer wurrrrrring, he returns with a fist full of tickets.

His next step is to complete the JR RAIL PASS  –  the golden key to free transport the length and bredth of Japanese Railways.  All done by hand and checked with us again. Then journey by journey, ticket by ticket,  Mr.JR rehearses all our steps —- train by train,   coach by coach,   seat by seat,   station by station,   minute by minute.   Mr. …?…. interjected to say that trains are all on time ” one minute late – NO TRAIN “.  I sense they think that we might not be all that punctual.  We are on holiday after all.

The tickets were then placed in separate envelopes for each journey and handed to us with both hands and a bow.  The final sign-off flourish was done with an old- fashioned rubber date stamp and an ink pad.   A throw back to bygone years, in this land of advanced technology.    STAMP,  STAMP, STAMP, STAMP,  like a 21 gun salute to signal the issue of another JR RAIL PASS.

  As we leave MR. JR tells us —  at the station to present our JR pass to a real man in a ticket boothe and not to use the automatic machines. “Men are much better than machines – machines are not as good as men”  he says with a smile.

Anywhere else this twenty minute meticulous and repetitative approach would have come across as mindless beaurocracy.  In Narita Airport, it left you with an impression of incredible customer care !

                                         Thank  you Mr. JR   and Mr. Yoshida.

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