13 Times I Was Blown Away By Japanese Inventions

Like many first time visitors to Japan I was absolutely blown away by Japanese efficiency. Especially in Tokyo, where almost 14 million people live in an area of 2000km², it’s so incredible to see that everything just works. (I guess it kind of needs to.) A few times I came across inventions that went way beyond where we’re at in Oz or the UK – these are my favourite ways the Japanese have thought of everything.

1. Heated Toilet Seats

Finding heated toilet seats in remote service stations in the mountains = winning

I think it goes without saying that when you stop at a service station in the middle of snow-capped mountains, where outdoor temperatures are -3 degrees Celsius, and find a heated toilet seat, that it is pure bliss. The bum-warming Toto Toilet is so ubiquitous in Japan that I only sat on 1 cold seat in 10 days and it was a major bummer! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

2. Toilets That Tinkle

In traditional ryokan toilets have their own slippers too

The prude in me also loves the Japanese toilets that play a little tinkle or a noisy waterfall effect to cover the sounds of you toileting. (The gushing waterfall noises also help you go with the flow.)

3. Baby Toilet Seats

Seats for little ones inside the toilet cubicle is smart

Still on the subject of toilets (I’ll move on soon, I promise), I was super impressed with the cubicles I spotted in public loos that had baby seats in the corner. In shopping centres and theme parks especially, the Japanese have thought about the solo mummy and created a way to keep little ones safe whilst you see to your ablutions. I also spotted mini urinals for young boys in the ladies toilets and wanted to applaud the thoughtfulness.

4. Train Queues

Everything is orderly at the train station

Now onto transport: The Japanese train network is notoriously efficient and that’s kind of mind-boggling when you realise how extensive and jam-packed it is. It utilises a couple of nifty systems I’ve not seen elsewhere though that make all these journeys run like clockwork and one of them is the queuing system. When we were waiting to board the bullet train in Sendai we approached the appropriate section of the platform for our carriage and found 2 lines marked out – one for those waiting for the next train and one for those catching the train after. How smart is that! By standing in their neat lines passengers quickly filed on and off the trains and thus everything ran more smoothly.

5. Top Up Fares

Just buy the ticket you think you need & work it all out at the other end!

If you’re caught a little short on your train journeys in Tokyo, instead of stopping you catch that much needed train or causing embarrassment at the barriers, you simply go to a fare adjustment booth. Fares are charged according to distance but if you bought a ticket for a shorter ride or run out of money on your rail pass it’s not a problem to pay the extra at the exit gate. This is also handy for when you’re leaving Tokyo and don’t want to put another big chunk of funds on your card – you can just pay the difference when you get to the airport instead.

6. Push The Button

Riding the Tokyo metro

Door handles are so 1980. You hardly ever have to hold a door open in Tokyo – they literally do what you need at the touch of a button.

7. Bento Boxes

Instant deliciousness in a Bento Box

A bento box is the cutest packed lunch/ take away food option ever but did you know you could also buy ones specifically for train journeys? Called Ekiben, these packed lunches sold purely at trains stations often feature specialities from the region you may be travelling to. The great thing is you can get hot ones too. I watched my guide pull the cord of a self-heating box filled with steak and rice and it made me incredibly jealous!

Little tip: Head to department store food halls at the end of the day for 20-50% markdowns on gourmet eats.

8. Vending Machines

Instant hot drinks in vending machines – don’t think about how long the coffee has been warm for – just drink it!

Vending machines are everywhere in Japan (there’s 5.5 million of them!) but did you know they dish out hot drinks as well as cold? Instant hot coffee, chocolate, tea and soup are dispensed at the touch of a button – and they taste surprisingly good!

9. Traffic Co-Ordination

Organised chaos at Shibuya Crossing

Just like the trains, traffic seems super co-ordinated too. When I was staring wistfully out of the window at Park Hotel Tokyo I noticed that all the traffic lights on the major highways would change at the same time so you can see people crossing the street at the same time for several blocks in a row. Tokyo’s busiest and most famous crossing, the Shibuya Crossing, is also fascinating to watch. As hundreds of people head in all directions across the junction; it’s like the most amazing form of organised chaos you will ever witness.

10. Rotating Train Seats

Everything about the bullet train is genius

The Shinkansen bullet train is such an awesome way to get around Japan – fast, direct, and roomier than airplanes (seats have tray tables and plug sockets). The ride is so smooth you can hardly tell you are hurtling through the countryside at 300 km/hr. I also appreciate that all the seats face the direction of travel (I guess to avoid motion sickness) and spied how easily this is done in Sendai when the train on the next platform automatically rotated all its seats to face the opposite way before departing.

11. Machine Meal Ordering

Gentleman dining at an izakaya in Morioka

A lot of small Japanese restaurants up the efficiency factor by taking your order before you even walk through the door. Noodle restaurants, in particular, will have a vending machine out the front where you pick the dish you want, enter the money and are given a ticket that you present to the chef inside. It takes the time out of ordering but you also never have to wait for your bill – or argue with the restaurant about whether you can split it (*coughs* Australia).

12. Plastic Food Menus

Plastic food menus – just point and eat

You’ve also got to respect a restaurant that have plastic mock ups of every meal on their menu in their front window – take that language barrier!

13. DIY Dining

Tucking into yakiniku with friends

Finally, I love dining in Japan in general due to its sociable, DIY nature. Some of my favourite meals in Japan – where we feasted on okonimiyaki (savoury pancake) and yakiniku (grilled meat) – we did most of the cooking ourself as we laughed, chatted and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

I travelled to Tohoku in Northern Japan with jnto.org.au and extended the trip in order to experience the awesomeness that is Tokyo. Find out more about my wonderful time in Tohoku here and stay tuned for more on what I got up to in Tokyo.

10 Comments

  1. Reply

    Yulia Dyukova

    December 13, 2016

    Honestly, after moving to USA two years ago, I always felt like America is so comfortable (in comparison with Russia where I come from) that I even wrote a whole post about it. Simple things like ATM drive through or good roads all over the country amaze me. But Japan really takes it to the next level! I saw the rotating seats on your Insta stories – this is crazy good!

    • Reply

      Jayne Gorman

      December 13, 2016

      Haha I completely understand. I thought Australia was pretty savvy and then you visit Japan and realise we’re all in the dark ages lol

  2. Reply

    Angie Silver

    December 13, 2016

    When were in Japan we were always shocked that every train was so on time as if that was such a great novelty!! I’m just far to used to the constant delays on the London trains!

    • Reply

      Jayne Gorman

      December 13, 2016

      Me too! All those leaves on the line and signal failures just become part of the norm!

  3. Reply

    Lucy

    December 13, 2016

    Brilliant round up – heated toilet seats are just genius!!

    • Reply

      Jayne Gorman

      December 13, 2016

      It takes a while to get used to them though doesn’t as if you get a warm one at home it means someone was on it for a while 😉

  4. Reply

    AlicevstheWorld

    December 13, 2016

    I’m pleased to someone else who was impressed by the toilets in Japan! They are weirdly innovative and I wish they’d take a leaf out of the book here in the UK!

  5. Reply

    Jayne Gorman

    December 13, 2016

    They were always immaculately clean too which is a massive bonus 🙂

  6. Reply

    Anna

    December 13, 2016

    Japan is just totally wonderful. I swear I should have been Japanese! Another thing I love about Japan is the restaurant tables dug into the floor where you’re effectively sitting on the floor. How’s that for space efficiency?

  7. Reply

    Deborah

    December 14, 2016

    I wanna visit Japan so bad this makes me sad! everything seems so cool over there! I definitely wanna spend at least 3 weeks there and visit a few cities. I wish it wasnt so expensive.

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