One of the fantastic benefits of travel is being able to observe and experience new cultures, unfamiliar environments, unique customs, and different ways of doing everyday things. Recently I visited Tokyo, Japan and absolutely loved it. And I realized on this trip that there are many examples in Japan, compared to the U.S. and many other places I’ve been, of how we can save time and money by doing things differently.
Anti Bulk Is In
I love Japanese grocery stores. The food selection is amazing! If you think Japanese food is only about eating sushi and ramen noodles, you’re really missing out. Not only are the snacks, dried foods, candies, seafood dishes, soups, and condiments amazing, the flavors are totally scrumptious. But what cracks me up about Japanese grocery stores, which is also pure genius, is their anti bulk inventory that’s filled with itty bitty packages and bundles. In the U.S., so many people are obsessed with going to Costco or Safeway and buying a ton of crap in bulk. But a lot of the time, consumers end up overspending and stuck with a bunch of excess when buying in bulk unless they have a large family and a lot of storage space.
In Japan, they are much more focused on freshness, quality over quantity, minimalism, and convenience. You can find vegetables in small quantities so that you can make a meal for 1 or 2 without worrying about cooking more than you need or having unused produce spoil in the fridge. I’ve had to throw away groceries on more than one occasion because I simply didn’t get to consume them fast enough, and I hated myself every time I did that. In Japan on the other hand, you can easily buy just what you need and use it all while it’s super fresh. It takes more trips to the grocery store, but it avoids overspending and wasting food.
You Buy It, You Bag It
Another thing I love about Japanese grocery stores, is that the checkout lines move fast. Not only are shoppers buying fewer items, it’s standard to bag your own stuff. While I’ve done this at Trader Joe’s before, the Japanese method is better. After the sales clerk finishes scanning all your groceries and collecting payment, you take your items to a separate bagging area with tables and baggies to put frozen items or prepared meals that may leak.
The stores don’t need as many employees using this checkout method, which helps keep prices reasonable and overhead low, and also saves time being stuck in line. Buying groceries more frequently for freshness and in smaller quantities is definitely not the American way of doing things. So the anti bulk and bag your own customs of Japan would probably receive a lot of resistance from most US shoppers. But these are two every day examples of how it’s possible to save time and money by doing things differently.
The Ease Of Eating Out
Continuing on the theme of food (can you tell I’m hungry as I’m writing this post?), I absolutely loved that it’s so fast and easy to eat out in Japan. First of all, restaurants have window displays with plastic replicas of their most popular menu items with the prices clearly labeled, which makes it fun to walk around and decide where you want to eat.
Second, after you’ve decided what you want to get you either a) order from a machine before grabbing a seat or b) push a pager bell that summons your server to your table. This saves time and hassle from having to flag down a waiter and gets your order in fast. Third, if you bought a ticket for your order, you don’t have to hang around and wait for a bill after you’re done eating. And the restaurants that don’t have ordering machines, typically have a counter where you can simply walk up to and pay on your way out, which also eliminates the need to wave down a server. And fourth, you don’t have to tip in Japan! Customer service is absolutely incredible in Japan and far superior to anywhere else I’ve been.
Lastly, because fewer servers are needed to work at restaurants, and some places only have cooks with no servers, more restaurant owners are able to launch and operate businesses long term due to low overhead. There are a lot of small business owners in Japan as a result, which I think is really cool. I love seeing how people can save time and money by doing things differently.
Punctual + Prolific Public Transit
Japan does transportation better than any other country I’ve been to. And with 126 million people in a country the size of Montana, they are masters at getting residents and tourists from point A to B to C. Tokyo is a very walkable city, and you will see people of all ages from toddlers to white haired elderly seniors out and about on the streets. Not only that, lots of residents ride bikes, including those 80 year old senior citizens! It’s awesome seeing so many people in their golden years blazing down the sidewalk on a bike, something I’ve never seen in the U.S.
There is also prolific public transit all over Japan, which allows people to live independently, reduces the carbon footprint, and makes it super easy to travel all over the country without needing a car. On the other hand, most places in the U.S. have unreliable, limited, or non existent public transit. And a lot of people in the States aren’t able to easily get around without a car. Most of the big U.S. cities have decent train/subway/bus systems, but they can’t compete with what’s available in Japan.
The two main reasons are the transportation systems in Japan are incredibly punctual and prolific. If a time table says a bus or train is arriving at 7:43 or departing at 5:11pm, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that’s exactly when it will be at the gate or leave the station. This reliability makes it so much easier to get to work on time, know when to leave for a client meeting, and avoid the expenses of driving a car. I think if more cities put a priority on punctual and prolific public transit, more people will be able to save time and money by doing things differently than in places where getting around without a car is impractical.
Superior Work Ethic And Customer Service
Japanese people are some of the hardest working people with unbeatable customer service. Everywhere you go, if you are a customer, you are always greeted, spoken to in a polite manner, and practically treated like royalty. It’s incredible and hard to imagine unless you’ve experienced it first hand multiple days in a row without fail.
Having a superior work ethic and a solid dedication to customer service is impressive and admirable. And these focus points help both customers and businesses save time and money by doing things differently than in other places where other aspects are prioritized instead. A lot of businesses I’ve dealt with in the U.S. are so focused on cost cutting that employees end up overworked, underpaid, and unhappy, so customer service greatly suffers. Which then leads to a downward spiral of frustrated customers who end up taking their business elsewhere.
Less Is More
I probably saw tens if not hundreds of thousands of people during my visit to Japan. And among all those people, I only came across 3 individuals who were obese, a minuscule fraction of a percent. I’d say roughly 15% were mildly overweight, and the remaining 85% of everybody else were a healthy weight and well proportioned. Japanese people are really healthy!
The funny thing was as soon as I got to the gate at the airport for my ride back to the US, where the vast majority of passengers were American, about 60% of the people I saw were obese, 25% were moderately overweight, and only about 15% were a healthy weight. It was so frustrating to see so many unhealthy Americans again. It’s no wonder our healthcare system is screwed up. There are too many unhealthy people in the US with obesity that are costing us millions.
Another thing you will notice in Japan are the small, yet sufficient portion sizes. Since restaurants serve smaller portion sizes, people are less tempted to overeat, and with the daily walking and biking they do at all ages, the population stays quite fit and healthy. The food in Japan is also a lot healthier than in the U.S. While there are still plenty of sweets and some fried foods in Japan, the majority of the food isn’t high in fat or calories. And you won’t find many people who are addicted to sodas and McDonalds. Japan has it right that less is more.
If you go to Japan for the first time, you’ll probably do a lot of double takes when you start seeing people all over the place wearing face masks. These thin cloth masks are typically white, cover the entire nose and mouth, and look a bit intimidating if you’re not used to them.
But they are actually quite genius in my opinion. People wear these masks whenever they start to have symptoms of getting sick, develop a cold, have allergies, or want to filter the outside air if they are in an area with a lot of exhaust fumes.
I love these masks and the cultural guidance to wear them every time when you are sick because they help prevent the spread of germs. The masks might look strange at first, but the wearer is actually showing respect for others around them, and it’s not weird since it’s commonplace.
We all know that people don’t always stay home when they are sick. I can’t count the times I’ve had to sit near someone who was hacking up a lung at the office. There is nothing worse than being around someone who is coughing, sneezing, or has a runny nose, especially on an airplane. All I want to do when I see or hear a sick person is run away or cover my face so I don’t breathe in their germs! So I really like this Japanese custom because it promotes the prevention of spreading germs, helps people stay healthier, which in turn helps people save time and money by doing things differently.
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Prairie Eco Thrifter says
This is fascinating – I love hearing and learning about other cultures and they way things are done elsewhere in the world. We came back from a trip to South Asia last month and it was very eye opening. We loved it and changed some of our practices.
I’m glad you liked the post. It is pretty neat how different cultures do even the simplest things like eating out in other ways than what we’re used to.
South East Asia is on the top of my travel wish list. I’m glad you had a great visit there!
Awesome you made it to Tokyo Sydney – it’s probably my favourite place I’ve visited so far! And agree the transport system is just brilliant – a stark contrast to the shambles of a network we have here in Melbourne, Australia. It does make a huge difference to the willingness of people to embrace public transport when it works so beautifully. I completely agree with all your other observations, which are all the big reasons I love Japan (especially the food!) – and a bonus they just happen to save time and/or money in one way or another.
That’s sweet you’ve been there too and loved it. I do miss their trains. I was riding one back in SF today and we got stuck three times waiting for trains in front to pass. I thought to myself “I wouldn’t be stuck waiting like this if I was in Japan!” 🙂
It’s amazing how high quality everything is in Japan. The best Italian food I’ve had is in Japan for example!
Did you find people you interacted with in Japan to be happy?