I had the pleasure of going to Japan for the last 8 days or so on vacation with my wife. Overall, we had a wonderful trip that included visiting friends and family, eating good food, and trying a few different “onsen” (Japanese spas). And while I had thought about posting from Japan, my schedule and Internet access did not really permit it. As such, I thought I would post a few comments now that I have returned.
1) WiFi Access: In retrospect, I should have likely brought my notepad (which has an ethernet port). My iPad was less useful than I had hoped for short-term online access to the Internet. The Tokyo Prince Park Tower Hotel had no WiFi access and the ubiquity of free WiFi in Starbucks cafes in Canada does not seem to exist in Japan. The Tokyo Park Hyatt – an amazing hotel featured prominently in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (starring Bill Murray) – did have WiFi (and an amazing view of Mt. Fuji from our room and the 45th floor spa). In addition, 3G access on the iPad in Japan did not seem to be a realistic short-term option since 3G on the iPad in Japan appears to require a long-term contract from Softbank, although a young salesman in the LLAOX home electronics store in Akihabara tried to sell me a Pocket WiFi connection which apparently may have given me 3G access for around 6,000 yen for the week that I was there.
2) Personal versus Group Rights: For Westerners – with our sense of entitlement to privacy and individuality – it always come as a shock to see a culture where group rights often prevail over individual rights. The one example of this I used to give when I lived in Japan a number of years ago was a story in the Japan Times of a high school principal who secretly had the photographer of a class photo touch up the photo to darken the hair of two girls to black who otherwise had naturally dark red brown hair so that everyone in the photo would have black hair (consistent with the old saying in Japan that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down”). In my wife’s home town in rural Japan, I was surprised to see (and hear) that an air raid siren continues to ring every morning at 7 am to wake everyone up despite the fact that not everyone there nowadays works 9 to 5. Noise pollution continues to be a challenge in others ways with vans regularly patrolling the streets with massive loudspeakers blaring out messages. And in one store I stopped and counted what I think were 6 different records (loud) sounds of music or advertisements.
3) Smoking Laws: The improvement in non-smoking opportunities was noticeable from when I was last in Japan with fairly good compliance on train station and subway platforms of people not smoking (until 1985, Japan Tobacco was owned by the Japanese government!). However, having been used to no-smoking restaurants and bars in Canada now for sometime, it was a shock to the system to be in smoky restaurants and bars and to see cigarette vending machines everywhere (and a Japan Tobacco TV commercial, albeit promoting their support of sporting events for children or something along those lines). While there, I read a good article in the International Herald Tribune on the lack of tobacco regulation in many Asian countries (and until I read this article, I was unaware of the YouTube video of the chain-smoking 2-year-old Indonesian baby).
All in all, a great trip. Now, back to work . . . .