You’ve probably heard that the Japanese are very disciplined. It’s true. Matt and I saw this while in the front car of a Tokyo subway train, where we could see into the driver’s cab. He sat up straight, in his uniform and gloves, and was constantly on alert. He regularly pointed at either his instrument panel or the green traffic light, presumably to force himself to take notice of his surroundings, and you could tell he was very focused on his job.
In the back of another subway train sat a woman who made sure passengers got on and off the train safely. While on the train, she had nothing to do, but always sat upright looking straight out the window. No slouching, no staring at her fingernails, just self-discipline big time.
It’s also true that the Japanese are very polite. The service at all levels was absolutely superb. In Osaka, Matt had lost something at a store and tried to call its lost-and-found department. When he couldn’t get through, a hotel employee kept trying for 15 minutes before getting through, without us asking. Michael said that his standards for service were permanently raised by going to Japan.
Hong Kong and Taiwan are a different story. The higher-end places are still often okay, but many other places are loud and brusque, if not downright rude. In Taiwan, I asked a bus driver in Mandarin where a particular bus stop was, and when I asked for clarification, he started yelling at me. And this was at the end of the line, so it’s not like I was holding up the bus. In Japan, the bus driver would be apologizing that he couldn’t walk me over to the bus stop himself.