As we arrived back in Phoenix I couldn't help but replay a bit of what I had just absorbed in the past couple of weeks.
First off, Japan and its people, even in June (Japan's most "off" month) was/were beautiful.
Random Thoughts (Rant Warning!):
Japan is a country that is really trying to go green. The usage of mass transit was impressive from urban to rural. I saw one hummer. Traffic snarls in Tokyo were uncommon because people use effective mass transit. Anyone that says it won't work in the US is living a lie.
Tokyo is one of the most spread out urban city's in the world (like hundreds of square miles - it is common for workers in Tokyo to commute more than an hour to and from work each day), so the "American cities are too spread out for effective mass transit" excuse only goes so far.
The simple fact is this: America's perpetuation of our inept car based zoning / land use policies, and having gas so cheap for so long, has left us in a stupor. We live with the illusion that fixing freeways is the way to fix our commute and mass transit cannot work here.
When you leave a hotel room in Japan you hit a kill switch that shuts everything in the room off. Domestic Marriott / Hilton / Starwood / Hyatt take note, why do you do it there and neglect to incorporate such a simple feature in your hotels in the US?
Escalators have infra-red sensors that turn them off between uses.
There are no garbage cans except at fast food restaurants and where they do exist, they ask you to separate combustibles and recyclables. The combustibles go straight to waste to energy plants. Oh and there is no litter. People carry their empties for blocks until they find a can.
American's pride ourselves on our individuality. Japanese tolerate individuality, but also seem to respect each others space. I'm starting to think our embracing of individuality may be coming with a high price. I think a lot of the time we mistake rudeness as individuality.
In Japan every time a conductor or food vendor entered or exited a train car they turned and bowed to their passengers. That simple act of respect to their customer was indicative of Japanese customer service at every level.
At the boarding lounge for our flight home I saw a single mom with a baby and all the gear. If we did not have so much stuff ourselves, I would have been there asking if she needed help. When the flight started to preboard, three ANA reps appeared from nowhere and took everything from her except the baby. They escorted her all the way to her seat.
When we got to LA and we went to check in for our flight a customer at the counter next to us asked the clerk if she would mind throwing something away for her. The counter agent did not even acknowledge she heard the request. I heard it and I was a lot further away. So the traveller stepped away from the counter to toss her litter in a nearby trash can while the agent was hammering away on her computer. When the agent looked up and saw her customer had walked off she screamed like a maniac "would you like your boarding passes, and your baggage tags, and your card back? You, yeah I'm talking to you". The customer who had already turned to come back to the counter was rewarded with the agent's big eye roll and sigh. Then when the customer had finally left, she looked at me and said "can you believe that?" I just looked at her. I said "no, I really can't". Of course I wasn't thinking what she was thinking. I was thinking "that would never have happened in Japan".
We then went through LAX Terminal 1 security. We counted about 40 TSA staffers. There were so many of them they actually were in each others (and our) way. They were cracking jokes and generally just distracting each other. The bins on the exit end of the x-rays had to be picked up and stacked by the travelers in order for the belt to move. The excess screeners essentially were just wasting our time and tax dollars. Of course my son's bag of fluids, which he always forgets to take out of his bag, went right past our government paid - with benefits TSA screener - no questions asked. That happened both domestic directions. It did not get through at Narita.
I saw actually saw TSA send a 6 year old boy straight to secondary where a screener wanded him. I realize bad guys might be twisted enough to use a kid as a mule to carry bad stuff, but somehow I think having him empty his pockets again, and re-screening him through the halo would have been more prudent.
At Narita I counted about 12 efficient screeners. They were checking in passengers for dozens of jumbo jets. The process was fast and it was exceedingly thorough.
When we arrived in Japan, before we could even get out of our seats, three health specialists boarded our flight and screened everyone. If anyone on that flight had been reported sneezing, or demonstrating visible signs of illness, we would have been held and tested for swine flu.
Returning to LAX, well of course, we all just got off and went to customs.
Smoking / Drug Use
Japan just does not seem to be getting over their love affair with the cigarette. Thank goodness I think, we are.
Conversely drug use is uncommon in Japan. Here, the misuse of drugs is so far out Pandora's box we should weep as it continues to tear our families, our economy, and our society apart seam by seam.
I love my country, but I also want it to survive and for true democracy to thrive for generations to come.
But, I learned from our trip that if we want to sell our products to the world we have to treat our clients with respect. We also have to give them, to the best extent possible, what THEY want, not expect them to take what we deem fit to sell them.
We have to go metric. Being the last major country in the world to adhere to measurements based on a kings foot, is well, stupid. It is costing us billions in global sales opportunities.
In sum. While the customer may not always be right, sometimes they actually do know what they want, and they always deserve respect.
And kindness, well that should be free.
Roadboy's Travels © 2009