The genius of the Japanese

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TOKYO — I’ve been blessed to have visited many countries but there’s something so extraordinarily brilliant and efficient about our East Asian neighbor. From our 10-day stay here, I’ve listed several astonishing innovations:

There’s the taxi whose doors automatically open. When I boarded one in Kyoto, I shut the door myself, only for it to remain open as the driver, with the press of a button, slammed it shut. (This helps when your hands are full of bags and it’s raining outside.) Plus, this was charming: our driver was female and she wore formal wear with accompanying white gloves.

How about those vending machines (thousands of them found in every street corner) that’s color-coded: blue labels for cold drinks and red for warm (coffee/tea) beverages. And they sell ramen, electronics, umbrellas, ties and underwear!

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Robots? In this land where English is not very well spoken, when we visited the Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, a robot stood at the storefront, nodding left and right, waving his hands, smiling and welcoming guests.

Or that see-through umbrella so that you can (literally) see-through traffic and buildings overhead as you navigate yourself in the world’s busiest crossing called Shibuya in Tokyo (where as many as 2,500 cross the street at the same time).

Hungry? How about ordering via touchscreen menu? As you enter the restaurant, you choose from a variety of pictures; you pre-pay, take your seat and, 15 minutes later, your steaming hot bowl of Sukiyaki is delivered to your table (by a waiter, not a robot — that will come in 10 years).

Ta-Q-Bin. This is clever. Prior to leaving Cebu, my sister-in-law Atty. Michelle Mendez Palmares and our “Japanese consultant” Jourdan Polotan introduced this idea. I dismissed it. Ta-Q-Bin is a delivery service where your luggages are shipped the next day anywhere. Why spend extra when we can carry our own luggage? I said. It turns out, Ta-Q-Bin is amazing. The day before we left Osaka for Kyoto, we shipped two large suitcases to Tokyo (our third destination). Total cost: only P800 for both items. It’s not expensive and it saved us a lot of hassle of having to drag the luggages from Osaka to Kyoto to Tokyo. We dropped off the items in a Family Mart (or they can be picked up in your hotel) and, voila, the day after, it’s inside your hotel room.

Shinkansen. We took the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo. The distance spans 513 kms. but it took the Shinkansen Nozomi train only two hours and 20 minutes, reaching a topspeed of 300 kph. It’s expensive (P7,400/person) but is a convenient hop-on, hop-off way to travel. A bonus midway through the trip: we caught a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. The coolest part? As the train leaves, the conductor at the end of the train leans out of the window and salutes everyone on the platform.

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But I save the best for last: the toilet bowl. Seriously. For the first time in my 22-year sportswriting career, I’m writing about the toilet bowl. To us, there’s nothing to be celebrated about this bathroom fixture; but not to the Japanese.

It starts with the heated seat. Then, you hear water rumbling — it’s background noise to cover any sounds of the user. Then, after you’re done with “business,” there’s a washlet. It’s a bidet-type washing mechanism. Like all things amazing-Japanese, it spews out soothing warm water. After, there’s a dryer from underneath. Finally, when you’re done, there’s a built-in water-saving sink at the top that pours into the tank to conserve water as you wash your hands. Incredible. This, from the nation that has produced brands like Toyota, Sony, Uniqlo, Asics, Epson, Ajinomoto, Mazda, Nintendo and Yakult.

Finally, lest this column get transferred to the Travel Section, a dose of sports: Tokyo 2020 promises to be the most high-tech Olympics ever. Some examples: Hydrogen-powered buses. Instant language translation. The use of facial recognition technology to verify ticket holders. Driverless taxis. Amazing. Only in Japan.

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