Monday, June 06, 2005

Automated Culture

Have you taken your dog on a walk through the automatic dog wash lately? A trend among Japanese is to find quick fix solutions for their already busy lives. This of course means relying heavily on technology to free up their time and make ease of completing the task they set out to do. Surprisingly, there is one exception, the dishwashing machine. For how many families own one for convenience it strikes me as funny that most everyone here in Japan still prefers to hand wash the dishes. Something about the satisfaction of hands on work, I suppose.

A neat invention which is popping up all over Japan now is the automatic dog wash. It's like a car wash, and looks like a coin op. laundry, in which you take your dog in and set him into a tub that adjusts to its size and weight. After placing in a 500 yen coin the shower turns on with your choice of soaps, sprays, and massaging capabilities. Upon soaking your pet you can then switch over to the drying arm which swings over and jet dries your pooch. It's fast and easy, and for Japanese who often don't have room enough to store a pet, now have the complete satisfaction of being able to conveniently wash their animals without having to worry about the doggy shake and spray afterward.

Want a Soda? Got a cell phone?

Another fun convenience is the cell phone activated vending machines. These devices, in case of extreme thirst or the mishap of forgetting your wallet, allow you hold your phone up to an infrared reader and speaker and you type in a dial tone. The drink automatically drops and your cell phone is charged the bill for the drink.

Yet another technological convenience, and one of my favorites, is the countdown cross walk. At any major intersection in Japan crossing the street becomes not only effectively safer, but also time saving. Each stoplight cross walk has your standard issues pedestrian symbol of a walker, red light means stop and green means go, however along with that symbol is a meter which looks like the digital tics of a score bored. They start out red and decrease in number, leaving less tics in the vertical box, as they slowly decrease they allow the persons waiting across the road on the other side the luxury of knowing if they should have time to dash to the bus or if they should wait. The tics also alert people so that nobody jets out into the street expecting the light to turn. Everyone in Japan knows exactly when the light turns. Once the cross walk okays the right of way the light turns green and the tics work in the reverse manner, alerting everyone to the amount of time they need to get across. An annoying chirp or beep accompanies these devices to also alert the blind that they too can cross. When the time runs low the pangs of the sound speed up and the green cross walk sign blinks alerting those of the immanent change. Late comers know that if the sing is blinking they should stop and wait for the next session, however many just make a mad dash across.

Most all new cars in Japan contain a rear bumper cam, so when you back up you can see exactly under your rear bumper with a distorted fish eye view. This allows you to back into tight spaces, and also watch out for things that may be lying under your back bumper. All cars in Japan have that construction bleep bleep wide load sound when they back up no matter how small the car is. This convenience is one that I have found especially handy.

Sadly, however, the banking systems in Japan still need a much anticipated up date in the automated convenience of online banking and ATMs. If it wasn't for the convenient store Seven Eleven forcing the utilization of 24 hour ATM machines, the concept would still be an alien one. However after this bold move the banks have begun to compete by opening new safer ATMs and all automated banking booths are now open longer hours, even though Seven Eleven remains the only true 24 hour ATM service. They also accept VISA card, it's everywhere you want to be.

7 Eleven

Even though Japan isn't as efficient on the digital transactions of money, as they are still running on a cash based system, the banking process can be time consuming. I guess being an American I take for granted the instant access ability to have my money at a moments notice, however in Japanese society there is a more personal feeling to the social interaction of others. It was a shock at how frustrated I first was having to wait 45 minutes at my Japanese bank to make a currency conversion, especially after setting up the meeting a week in advance, but when it came down to it I realized that I was a closet banker. That being used to the interpersonal banking styles of American society I never had much people interaction (accept on rare occasions with the teller) and even when there was an interaction is a limited one. Nobody has ever served me coffee, not even when I opened a large bank account, but here in Japan they cater to your every need, including asking if you prefer cream or sugar. This now seems to me the better way to do things as I realized people skills, and patience for that matter, was something I lacked greatly. Living in Japan teaches you, if anything, to be part of a community no matter how anti-social you are. With so many people living in such densely populated lives it is extremely important that you get along with one another.

It's surprising how much living in a different culture allows you retrospect on your own, and also you’re self, but the neatest thing is living in a non-western or Euro-based culture. These are the times when you can really reflect on life and see the beauty in experiencing something new. The only thing that stops most people is fear which is inevitably followed by a series of excuses no matter how valid. It also disappoints me when so many of my American friends share the excited news that they are going abroad to Australia or England. "That sounds like a nice vacation," I tell them. Inevitably I feel let down at their lack of courage and adventure. Sometimes they have a genuine interest in those countries, and that is wonderful, but for the common person that is not opening the boundaries of their lives any more than going from Chicago to San Francisco. If any of you ever have the chance, I highly recommend moving out of your comfort zones for one year and forcing yourself to grow. The knowledge you gain and the friends you make are definitely worth it.

Until next time...

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