One of the best things about foreign travel is the knowledge that invariably comes with it. It provides the opportunity for each of us to learn more about the world and its’ many diverse cultures, as well as a little bit about ourselves. Another bonus is the chance to see which technology, trends, and practices are popular in the local region. I discovered some of the most amazing Japanese innovations while living in Tokyo.
Think back and I’m sure you can recall a few things that made you go “Why don’t they sell these back home?” or “Damn, why aren’t we doing this at home?” even “Look at that, how awesome!” Most often those thoughts and semi-rhetorical questions are soon enough forgotten. But for me, at least in the case of Japan, not a day goes by that I don’t miss all the great things about that country.
Japan is full of innovative ideas, futuristic technology, impressive customs, and other things that make you say WOW. Don’t believe me? Take a look below — and feel free to add any other cool or quirky Japanese innovations to the comments below 😉
14 Amazing Japanese Innovations
Those Fancy Japanese Toilets
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Many people already know that these crappers are in a league all of their own. I wrote an entire article about fancy Japanese toilets and other bathroom innovations. Their toilets have features most Westerners have never dreamed of, including background noise to cover any sounds that the user may make, a warm cleansing spray, self-warming seat, built-in water-saving sink, and other impressive features. Be sure to read that post for more intriguing info.
Automatically Opening Taxi Doors
This one is essentially self-explanatory, I don’t know what more I can write about them. They are controlled by a button up front and swing open really fast. Oh and they are twice as great when its raining out.
Underground Bicycle Garages
These things are pretty neat, Mayu showed me how to use one. Basically you just hop off your bike and roll it onto this platform. Insert your card and the machine will automatically stow your bike in a huge underground cylinder. This keeps it safe from both thieves and natural disasters while also reducing the amount of clutter at street level. To retrieve it simply re-insert your card into the attached machine and it will spit your bike back out in around ten seconds.
In areas without the Eco Cycle storage it is not uncommon to see hundreds of bicycles crammed together as part of a makeshift bicycle lot (a trend which I hope has died out since my last trip to Japan).
I don’t have any personal photos, unfortunately, but I did find this nifty little artist rendering:
Automated Vehicle Garages
An enlarged version of the bicycle garages, these things are amazing! They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are pretty wild to watch in action. Some are drive-thrus that slide the vehicle off to the side. Others in the basement of high-rise buildings feature a circular pad so that the vehicle can be rotated 180° and driven out in the opposite direction it was driven it.
Other models are individual lifts that hoist one vehicle up into the air so that a second can be driven in underneath it. Walk past people’s homes in the evening and it is not uncommon to see two vehicles stacked atop each other.
Astonishing Array Of Vending Machines
In the big metropolises of Japan you are never more than two blocks from a vending machine. They are usually found in pairs but sometimes also in long banks of a dozen or more. They sell all the traditional items you would expect such as refreshing beverages (soda, water, coffee, tea, milk, juice, beer…essentially everything liquid) and cigarettes (requires scan of a Japanese ID to dispense product) to other more unconventional items including ramen, electronics, umbrellas, even underwear and ties.
Touchscreen Menus At Upscale Restaurants
The wave of the future has already arrived in Tokyo. In some ways traveling here is like traveling to the future 😉
Pachinko Parlors That Nearly Induce Seizures
Anyone who has ever walked past one of these has undoubtedly heard the noise and flashing lights blaring out. They are basically like arcade halls combined with casinos, some being multiple levels and taking up entire blocks. I never played myself but did wander through a couple of them.
Japanese citizens love these things and have been know to spend hours playing in these giant parlors, like the stereotypical American Grandma glued to the Las Vegas slots. Not very popular among foreigners though due to the constant flashing lights and never-ending din of bells, chimes, tings, tongs, pings, and general noise of hundreds of people gambling.
Love hotels are plush yet discreet hotels that rent rooms either by the hour, a several-hour “short stay” period, or for the entire night. Each room has different themes with the fanciest being compared to a brief stay in paradise. These swanky rooms would undoubtedly fit right in with some of the classy hotels of Las Vegas or Dubai.
When I say the theme varies greatly between rooms, I cannot stress that enough. One could be Egyptian theme, the next dungeon-themed, another a retro-hippie love-nest, etc. I highly recommend you check out a love hotel, especially if you’ve met a cute little Asian girl at the club that night.
White-Gloved Helpers… Everywhere!
A variety of businesses have staff that are ready and waiting to help you at a moment’s notice. For lack of an official term (that I know of) I jokingly refer to these people at the white glove crew. Whether standing next to the trash cans in McDonald’s waiting to take your tray from you and dispose of it themselves or inside the elevator, eager to take you to whichever floor has what you need, these people always have a smile on their face and white cloth gloves on their hands.
The railway attendants are dressed similarly and also sport the white gloves. However, they don’t always have a smile on their face — especially not during rush hour.
Of all the amazing Japanese innovations, this one is the greatest:
Drunk Female Attendants At Clubs
No, not drunk “female attendants” but rather “drunk female” attendants. Big clubs in Japan frequently stay open until sunrise. Many even have an employee on hand who’s sole job is to care for the ladies that have had way too much to drink; other employees that are walking around the club will bring these women down to him. Not only does this prevent them from getting taken advantage of or robbed, but it also leaves their boyfriend free to keep partying (guilty, I’ll admit it).
This employee is even armed with rubber bands and miniature black trash bags for — you guessed it — tying up their hair and puking. This “drunk person attendant” is located near the entrance, making it easy to retrieve your drunk person on the way home. Hope you saved money for a cab because they will not be fit to walk!
Now that is a level of courtesy service that is hard to match — in any country. Unfortunately I never even once thought to get a photo. That is kind of the last thing on your mind when you drunkenly stumble out of the club at 4am to claim your even more drunk missus from security (like she was a lost kid or jacket checked in storage) before beginning the arduous task of making it back home.
BONUS! How to find the best Shibuya nightlife:
A great way to experience the authentic Tokyo nightlife is with a local. If the idea of barhopping around Shibuya — the biggest nightlife area of Tokyo — sounds appealing to you, check out the folks at Magical Trip. They have a Shibuya barhopping tour 😉 Whether traveling alone, with your buddies or your significant other, this is a great way to enjoy most authentic and enthralling nightlife in Tokyo. The guides from Magical Trip are friendly and entertaining — exploring with them is just like meeting a new friend who knows a lot more than you about Japan and Japanese nightlife culture.
All The Paper Currency Is Perfectly Crisp
Now this isn’t so much a Japanese innovation, but rather a testament to their level of perfection. Every bank note is impeccably crisp, whether receiving it from an ATM or as change from the local corner store. No bills are ever raggedy, torn, of limp, as other countries currency often is. I suspect that the banks simply rotate out worn bills at an increased rate. Whatever it is the fact remains that this simple little thing is surprisingly easy to get used to.
Based on the American dollar stores, Japan revamped these into stores that offer products that are not utter crap — even fresh food — and people are not shopping at them because they are poor.
Although you can smoke inside restaurants, clubs, and a variety of other places in Japan — basically everywhere except grocery and clothing stores — many cities have restrictions on outdoor smoking. For example outside railway stations and airports there are sporadic smoking areas. Some are merely painted rectangles on the ground but others are actually fully enclosed cubicles with high-powered ventilation to combat the smoke, as pictured below.
(Almost) No Homeless People In Tokyo
Given the fact that Tokyo is the most populated metropolis in the world (36.9 million people at the time of writing, over 10 million more than #2, Mexico City) I initially expected there to be a lot of homeless people as well. After all, I was born in NYC. I’m familiar with homeless people.
There is nothing more depressing than walking around a big city only to pass underneath a bridge and realize you are walking through someone’s home. And damn, now I’ve got to keep smelling this God-awful smell until getting out from underneath this bridge and several paces away.
In my many months of wandering around Tokyo at all hours of the day and night, I only recall seeing a single homeless person. I’m not saying that they do not exist, just saying that thanks to the strong principles of the Japanese culture, homelessness is not near the problem there that it is in many other countries.
There is plenty more that makes Japan a fantastic country to visit, however you’ll just have to experience it yourself and see what you find 😉