1. Sending directors of traffic to baton-waving school
Imagine how much better road travel in America would be if the construction-crew members who direct traffic were properly trained in the use of clear, consistent signals. No more misunderstandings about whether the slacker with the flag wants you to stop immediately or hurry forward; merge to the left or to the right. In the small park across the street from our house, several times a week there are classes in proper baton waving and whistle blowing for purposes of traffic direction. The usual number of students is somewhere between three and eight. That may sound like a lot considering this type of training must go on all over Tokyo, but in addition to using multiple traffic directors whenever there is any kind of repair or construction work (even if traffic patterns aren’t affected), I think every parking lot in Japan has at least one professional baton user. Their training is taken very seriously. I’ve seen the teacher earnestly correcting students for not executing a crisp wrist flick that ends at just the right angle and in the correct location in space. Then the whole group has to do the wrist flick several times to make sure there is no more confusion about the proper technique. Any deviation could, after all, lead to disaster. Once you accept sloppy wrist flicking, you start down a slippery slope indeed.
2. Circumventing the post office
Here in Tokyo, we pay our utility bills at the convenience store (“Family Mart”) down by the station. Now that’s convenient. You stand in a short, fast-moving line with others who are waiting to pay for their take-out sushi or deodorant, and when it’s your turn you simply hand the cashier your bill. She scans a bar code and you give her cash for the amount due. While you’re there, you can even pick up some dried octopus snacks for the kids or tickets to Cirque du Soleil.
3. Circumventing the bank
Perhaps to earn new market share after losing bill payers to the convenience stores, post offices act as banks, offering savings accounts and other financial services. In fact, the government-run Japanese postal service has more than 24,000 offices throughout the country and assets sizeable enough to make it one of the largest banking institutions in the world. Of course, with long waits for service at many U.S. post offices, having to pay a visit to mail something is painful enough. It’s unlikely anyone would willingly increase their reliance on post-office workers (or trust them with their money). Maybe instead U.S. banks should offer mailing services?
4. Tiny restaurants
Tiny restaurants, which are exceedingly rare in America, are superior to big restaurants for one simple reason: The food is much better. Why? I have a few theories, but will spare you the details. If you don’t believe me, come to Tokyo and find out for yourself. Of course, tiny restaurants are not huge on space, so you may have to get up and move out of the way when someone needs to get to their seat at the table next to yours. But that just makes things friendlier.
5. Biking for groceries
Most Tokyoites rely on bicycles to some degree. Like many of them, I use my bike when I go grocery shopping. Transporting everything home in the baskets on my bike beats the hell out of carrying it by hand for the 8-minute uphill trek to our house. When you grocery shop by bike, the amount of stuff you can bring home is naturally limited, which means you have to go to the store more often. Once you get used to it, you realize this is a good thing. For example, it enables you to increase your personal fitness while reducing your carbon footprint (as opposed to, say, driving your car to the gym). In addition, you can pick items for a meal that suits the day’s mood perfectly instead of having to decide on Saturday what you’ll feel like having on Wednesday. Of course, there are days when the prospect of biking for groceries brings out creativity you never knew you had, as you strive to make use of the food already in your freezer or pantry – anything to avoid another trip to the store on your damn bike. Once you’ve mastered grocery shopping by bike you can graduate to bar hopping by bike (see photo).
6. Not taking what isn’t yours
Along with the bike-to-the-store idea, it would be helpful to adopt the Japanese concept of respect for personal property boundaries. It’s not necessary to lock your bike in Tokyo because it’s highly unlikely that anyone in this metropolis of 12 million people will steal it. Biking becomes more convenient when you can count on your faithful steed always being right where you left it.
7. Princess fashion
Escape from reality and help restart the economy. What are you waiting for? http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB122713804938242481-lMyQjAxMDI4MjI3MDEyMzA4Wj.html