Opinion Comment

Thursday 17 October 2019

Billy Keane: 'Welcome to Japan - flush with the finest toilets and a quiet respect in the land of whispers'

Keane's Kingdom

A Japanese fan gestures as he watches the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match. Photo by Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images
A Japanese fan gestures as he watches the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match. Photo by Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Today's column is coming from Tokyo and the Rugby World Cup. In the last 24 hours we have made our way from Helsinki over the loneliness of Siberia, Mongolia, China and close enough to North Korea. The roadworks on the N11 were a challenge as was the M50. But we are here now in downtown Tokyo, with all the news.

The journey has taken its toll.

I'm typing this while sitting on a toilet seat in a huge city centre hotel with 2,000 rooms and a view of the city skyscrapers that makes Listowel's finest building seem no bigger than the pier of a gate.

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The new cursed lightweight laptop only works in the bathroom, which is appropriate enough seeing as I have spent most of the day in a wide range of Tokyo toilets.

The Japanese are the friendliest people. I was allowed to jump queues outside toilets. And this in a country where jumping queues is considered to be the height of bad manners. Their politeness is not forced. This is their way.

I am very sick from colitis. I knew I was bad when a young lad got up to give me his seat. The changing of the time zones is probably the main cause. Tokyo is eight hours ahead of Listowel. I haven't had a really bad attack for years. But we will battle on.

There's a positive side to everything.

The toilets of Tokyo are a wonder of the world. Nearly every toilet has touch buttons on the side. The one I have spent most time in has controls for a bidet setting, a shower inside the rim of the crater, a temperature gauge for heating the bowl, and warm air to dry the bottom after the wash. My beloved cousin Bill, who has lived here for many years, told me there was a bowl that analysed the stool samples and sent a report to the user.

Every toilet seems better than the next.

I did get out from the toilets of Tokyo to survey some of the city. We are only here but a few hours at the time of writing.

The people will smile at you and say thanks when you make way on the underground.

The six o'clock trains were packed with people right to the edge of the door, which works wonderfully well even if it is very crowded at rush hour.

The commuters are wedged in to each other. But from what I could see no one was asked to back off. There is no aggression of any kind when the commuters vie for space. The locals fly around the place. Those of us from the country note that the pace is faster in Dublin. But Tokyo is home to the fastest walkers on earth.

One man was in a hurry for a train in Shibuya Station, which is the second-busiest in the world. He was going so fast he walked into a wall. And then he nearly crashed in to me. The man apologised before speeding off madly in all directions.

Shibuya pedestrian crossing is a very wide intersection which brings the people out of the train station in to the bustling shopping precinct of the same name. When the lights turn green hundreds upon hundreds of people come at you, and they are all walking as if they've spent too much time in the pub on their wedding anniversary.

People make eye contact here and for such a busy city there is very little talk. The citizens of this city of 30 million are not loud people. The respect for others is the cornerstone.

The small boy was running about in the lobby of the hotel and he was, as small boys often do, letting a few shouts out of him. His dad went shush. The boy kept on shouting. The dad went shush again and the boy went quiet. The dad bowed towards an older gent who was sitting opposite. The older man bowed back. The dad was respecting the older man's silent space.

Personally I would have enjoyed the roaring boy more than the silence but we do talk too loud in Ireland. There is no roaring out aya boyas here. This is the land of whispers.

Indeed in most of the places we visited the hum of the talk rises barely above the noise levels of a pub where sick men go to for a cure early in the morning.

The traffic is non-stop though and quite a few of the commuters wear masks to keep out the fumes and bugs

We were talking in our pub on Sunday night and one of the lads said when I walk into a pub in Tokyo the locals will say will ye look at the size of the people walking in the door. The Japanese are small but the younger generation seem taller than those who came before them.

They will talk to you if you strike up a conversation. There is no wariness. The smiles are wide and real. I got the feeling the Japanese seek to avoid conflict which is not surprising when you consider their troubled history.

Very few were overweight. The people who milled in and around Shibuka and Shinagawa train stations were neatly dressed. There were no beggars. Neither was there any lads in doorways selling weed and smoking same by way of advertising their product like a coffee shop brewing a fresh pot. Ireland and O'Connell Street please take note.

The shops in Shibuka have huge electricity bills. The Japanese have turned neon into an art form. Huge screens turn night into day and there was a huge queue for the opening of a new shop called GU. The money burns a hole in their pockets.

The Japanese women are most elegant and very dainty on their feet. The fashion for many is for long skirts with white socks and black shoes, which is almost like schoolgirl uniforms.

I have only been here a day but already there is that sense of a people trying to find the balance between modernity and the old ways.

The city is built around getting people in and out fast by train. Recently the mayor of Tokyo apologised when the trains ran four minutes late.

Irish Independent

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