Living in Japan isn’t quite as futuristic as you might have hoped, perhaps Europe has been catching up the last few years as the Asian tiger economies have crumbled. However there are lots of interesting innovations to spot.
- Rotating seats on trains. At the terminal station the train pulls in, the doors on the other side open and everyone piles out. Just as you’re wondering if you’re on the wrong platform, the doors close, all the seats magically rotate to face the other way, and the doors on your side open to let you in. I was gobsmacked. OK, I’ve only seen this level of efficiency once – Japanese trains do vary in quality a fair bit. But a manual seat rotating lever is standard fair, so everyone can always sit facing forwards.
- Electric map on underground trains. A light shows where you are, which direction you’re going in, and which station is next. When you are about to pull into a station, a light flashes on the side of the carriage that will open up. I’ve also seen a more sophisticated system on an overground train – it had a full computer screen, with not only a map of the line, and text in English, Japanese (both Kanji and Hiragana), but also at each station a map of the platform telling you exactly where the escalators are relative to your carriage.
- Automatic taxi doors. Unfortunately not high tech ones that lift up Back to the Future style, but a cunning little metal arm that can open or close the rear, pavement-side door. It’s ferocious, and you always worry that you’ll get your foot caught in it.
- Infra-red soap dispensors. Even in England we’ve started to get used to automatic taps, those hygenic and water saving things that turn on when you put your hands under them. In Japan this is occasionally taken one step further, with a second infrared device that dispenses liquid soap when you put your hands under it. If only they could figure out a decent hand dryer, they all suck.
- Electric toilets. You’ve no doubt seen these on TV programmes about Japan. We may have invented the western style toilet, but only the Japanese decided that it has to have a heated seat in winter, and that the lack of a built in bidet would be atrociously unhygenic… When the bidet spray doesn’t miss these are simply the best toilets in the world, but I still think the Burmese/Thai nozzle hoses are a better compromise of complexity, cost and utility.
- Cameras in your phone. If it hasn’t caught on already, prepare yourself for this in Britain over the next year. Sometimes I felt almost embarrassed to have a merely ordinary digital camera, which couldn’t instantaneously beam pictures of tourist sites to my friends across the world. A school girl on a train admired my blue eyes (really they’re off-grey, but in a society where all eyes are brown and all hair is black, caucasian variety is loved), took a photo of me with her phone, and then I daren’t think who it was sent to…