Tokyo Imperial Palace


Tokyo Through the Eyes of Spence

Tales of bullet trains, bidets and bamboo

January 21, 2019

Man, what a trip! Eight days in Tokyo and Kyoto seeing Japan's most beautiful shrines, sites and temples. From the architectural majesty of the 2,080 foot Skytree (that's nearly double the height of the Stratosphere) to the natural beauty of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Japan was one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. 

Here are a few of the takeaways from my trip.

1. Clean - There are more people living in the greater Tokyo area than any other single metropolitan area in the world. The capital of Japan has more than 35 million residents. That's nearly double the population of New York City and if TripAdvisor is to be believed, Tokyo is also the cleanest city on the planet.

If you've travelled to NYC, LA or Chicago, it's expected that you will see litter in the street, areas that appear to be unsafe with an unpleasant stench and filth a fair amount of graffiti. That does not fly in Tokyo. Cleaner is better. I rarely saw even the smallest scrap of litter in the city. The trains were immaculate. In more than a week of travel, many times on the Tokyo transit system, we saw graffiti near the railways once. Even stray cigarette butts were hard to find. More interesting was, at times, it was difficult to find a trash can in the city. It's not like they were on every street corner. 

The respect the Japanese show regarding the cleanliness of its country can be summed up by the actions of one local resident. There wasn't a trash can nearby so she took the wrapper from her food and placed it in a ziplock bag in her purse. 


2. Bidets - I suppose this could also be directly related to the Japanese and their desire for cleanliness. Every hotel, restaurant, mall bathroom and most public bathrooms featured an electric bidet. Now, if you don't know what a bidet is, it's a device outfitted to your toilet to squirt your naughty bits with water after you've finished your "business." The device can squirt water in the front or the back. There are buttons to control water pressure and nozzle position. You could choose from an oscillating spray or a setting titled, "massage." Even flushing was controlled by the touch of a button on the panel. Yes, after you were done with the water, there is a dryer feature that blows warm air...down there. Oh, and for those chilly late night trips to the potty...yes, it features a seat warmer. It's no wonder, I rarely left the bathroom during my trip. I am not kidding. Once you travel to Japan, you will immediately search Amazon to find your own bidets for your  home. They are life changing.

Skinkansen Train at Tokyo Station
3. Trains - In a city of Tokyo's size, easy, affordable transportation is a must. Tokyo's transit system, according to, ranks ninth in the world. Not only were the cars spotless on the inside and outside, the trains were always on time and the stations were easy to navigate. The computer monitors and signs at the gates and on the trains utilized Japanese, as well as, English to disclose times and destinations. The in-train public address system followed the same formula. Yes, Tokyo Station is crazy busy and if you travelling during the commute, you are packed in like sardines. However, people do not talk on their phones while on the train. Except for conversations between friends, the ride is relatively quiet. Eating on the train is all but forbidden. You just don't do it. And if you have a backpack, you take it off your back, and hold it in front of your body as to not disturb other travelers. 

We rode the Shinkansen, basically the bullet train to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto. The distance between the two cities is nearly equal to the distance between Vegas and Los Angeles. We covered that ground in just short of 2 1/2 hours. Imagine being able to travel to from the Strip to Disneyland that quickly and avoid driving the 15 in to Cali. We need one of these bad boys here!



4. Vending Machines - They are everywhere. In train stations, outside of stores, on random corners, on random really could not walk more than fifty feet without finding a vending machine. They dispense, well, exactly what you think they would: snacks and refreshments. Water and coke and coffee drinks to warm corn potage and red bean soup. I even found a vending machine labeled "The Liquor Store" with a selection of beer and wine. And, again, even with all of the accessibility to quick food and drink, no trash on the ground. Plus, here in the US, you couldn't have some random vending machine in alley for very long without it being broken into. Japan's crime rate is so low, that there are rarely problems. Awesome, right? And didImention the beer vending machines?


5. The People - I found the Japanese to be some of the most polite, unassuming people I have ever encountered. In a non-tourist

Steps at Mt. Inara
season like January, it was rare to see Americans. No one stared at us or mocked us. They didn't really start any conversations either. You might hear, "sumimasen," Japanese for "excuse me" if they bumped into you but, for the most part, they kept to themselves and their phones. Service industry-wise, most Japanese know at least a little English and were polite and patient with us, especially when we had only memorized a handful of Japanese expressions. Yes, they bow to differing degrees depending on the situation. It's kinda cool because it made one feel welcome and respected. I can't say I had one single bad encounter while in Japan. When I didn't know something and did my best to ask how to get somewhere or how much something cost, I was happily assisted. 

See Spence's Japan Photo Gallery here.