Spick & Span Japan

People in Japan don’t jaywalk. Or at least none that I’ve seen so far.

Everyone and everything seems to be so orderly, so precise, so polished.

On this, my first visit to Japan, the cleanliness of the place, and the politeness of its people, have bowled me over. Both city and countryside appear to have been scrubbed from top to bottom – despite the density of the population. People wear masks over their mouths when they have a cold, so that others won’t be infected with their germs.

The city streets, trains, cars, bars, buses and hotels are crowded. But the only litter to be found is the occasional autumnal leaf, lonely and forlorn on the pristine pavement.

Even the homeless in the bowels of Shinjuku station, the busiest train station in the world, erect their cardboard-box quarters in neat and orderly rows before they crawl inside to sleep at night, seemingly oblivious to the constant stream of passers-by.

On the way from Tokyo to Kyoto, the rice paddies, squeezed impossibly between endless flatland suburbs that race by at more than 200 kph on the Shinkansen, are perfect squares of greenery amidst the dense housing. The not-so-distant mountains, which comprise about 80 per cent of the country’s landmass, carve a crisp, green border against the blue sky.

Tonight I will sleep in my first traditional Japanese bedroom. It too, is neat, clean and spare. Four tatami mats cover the floor. There’s no table, no dresser, no chair, and, until my hostess unfolds the futon from the cupboard, there isn’t a bed either.

The rest of the house is much like my sleeping place. The two main rooms have no furniture other than a beautiful antique lacquered table and four white cushions. Sliding doors, some wood and glass, some painted panels, isolate each of the home’s six rooms from the others. When the doors are open, the house comprises one large open space.

Although Tokyo is arresting with its interesting architecture, bustling streets and countless secrets awaiting discovery, I’m glad to be here in this traditional village, in the home of my hostess’s ancestors.

It’s simple and quiet here.

It makes me think, yet again, of all the clutter I seem to have in my life. And I ask myself, yet again, if it’s not time to let some of it go.

Listen, see and read more here: What would you ask a geisha, if you had the chance? and Fukiko makes me beautiful in a kimono.