Saturday, March 28, 2015

Farewell and good luck

Life in a host country is a multifaceted experience. It brings with it the opportunities to explore a new and diverse culture, to meet people and make friends in a way improbable or impossible by staying at home. It takes courage, or foolhardiness depending on your perspective, to leave behind what you know and embark on a new life. In these days of the internet, email and Skype, the wanderlust is maybe a little less emotional than it once used to be; to an extent the umbilical cord is not so much severed as stretched but it remains a step into the unknown.

And living away from where you grew up, the nationality you were born into, brings you together with others who are sharing the same experience, that of a foreigner in a foreign land. With the life of learning in a new country comes with it the opportunity to share your time with others stumbling as yourself, as best they can, not just experiencing their time but bringing with them a little of their own lives and backgrounds and seeding that into the friends and circles around them.

By definition the time in a host country is transient and all that is transient will one day come to an end. One of the sadnesses of this lifestyle is saying goodbye to friends as they move on to the next stage of their journey. And today we say goodbye to friends who have enjoyed the pleasures, and the frustrations, of Japan for over five years, bringing with them a suitcase and taking away a beautiful baby daughter. And importantly leaving behind a little of themselves in the memories and stories to which we all belong. Farewell and good luck Michael, Linh and Ella. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Better the devil you know...

Japan is essentially unique in world history as being both the only country to eliminate modern weapons during the two hundred and fifty years of isolation under the Tokugawa shogunate but also, quite famously, remaining closed to the world throughout most of this period. With few exceptions, Japanese who travelled abroad did so under an effective death sentence on return and foreigners were strictly limited to Dejima, a small trading island off the coast of Nagasaki, some 1,000 kilometres from Tokyo.

And then in 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in a steam-powered gunship and offered the government a year to think about opening trade routes with America and the rest of the world or he would open the routes for them. Anchoring first at modern day Yokosuka, now a US Naval base (from where the phrase "Hunky Dory" reputedly derives from) at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. In 1854 he sailed closer to within sight of Tokyo and set down at Yokohama, then a small fishing village.

The government, seeing the options of having Tokyo shelled from the sea and all inbound shipping blown out of the water or acquiescing to the request, signed the agreement and Japan was an open country. In 1854 two new ports were opened to foreign shipping, one being Hakodate and the other generally being thought to be Yokohama. But the second port was actually Shimoda, at the far end of the Izu Peninsular. Out of sight, out of mind was the policy of the government of the day. Until they realised the foreigners were counting all the trade ships running the routes to Tokyo. And then they relocated them quickly to Yokohama. Better the devil you know as it were.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

July 8th - say goodbye to your gaijin card


A significantly less painful process than feared. Although there is virtually no parking at the Shinagawa Immigration Office, the actual process took less than thirty minutes. And for the first time ever, no fee required! Fill in the form, provide an updated picture and hand over your passport. Soon you're foreign immigrant and no longer a gaijin...

The ubiquitous gaijin card, the foreigner's registration card, is about to be consigned to the annals of history. Until now it has been a legal requirement for all foreign nationals residing in Japan to carry their identification card with them at all times. The rest were supposed to carry their passports. Non-compliance could result in a fine and police were allowed to stop and require this proof of identity without cause. But that said, in over twenty years I've never actually been requested to show my card, except occasionally at Narita when leaving the country for some reason. 

The big change is a question of who's in charge. Up until now registration as a foreign national residing in Japan was a matter of turning up at the local ward office, filling in a form, handing over a photograph and receiving your card in due course. It was a local matter managed by the local government. And now it's a national matter, managed by the national government. And as a guest in the country I don't see a major issue with this. I'm simply moving from one database to another.

Except.... it's actually not a question of civil liberties. I get it. Foreigners living in Japan need to be registered with someone. All Japanese are registered in one way or another too so there's no big deal there. No, the issue for me is  practical one. I used to be able to walk to my local ward office to renew my card. The staff were friendly and actually spoke great English making life easier. But not any more. Hello Shinagawa. An hour's walk, train, bus (ok, taxi) away from here. And if you arrive after about 11.30, bring a good book. July 8th, if you live in Japan, that's your deadline.

And we're off to Shinagawa!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Japanese students are taught the answer; they need to be taught to figure it out

In today's world kids have more information thrown at them in twenty-four hours than their great grandparents received in a life time. The vast quantity of data means a change in learning has to come. But the debate in Japan goes round in circles about exactly how to revise the education system. The vested interests are formidable and entrenched and it's a discussion that has been around for at least a quarter century. When you're taught at school not to take risks, you're unlikely to develop the character to risk revising those very same institutions. Better keep your head down and tie straight.

In a world where kids on the school bus network their GameBoys together to play virtual soccer, you realise it's the one with the book who is missing the social opportunity. At a lunch in Tokyo once, some friends brought their eight year old daughters. Their mother lamented she couldn't persuade them to put the games down as the girls just sat there in silence, glued to their separate screens. Then my son showed them how to network together and the shouts of joy pretty much drowned out the party as they raced against each other on their virtual tracks.

The world is changing so fast in our eyes but for the student at international schools it's natural. Computer games aren't the antisocial evil they were when I was young, it's how the students interact with friends across town and often across the planet. When their eyes are glued to the screen, they're talking and engaging with those very same friends. And in this world you see how Japanese schools  still teach the kids how to line up their pencil cases in the top corner of their desks. So instead, how about letting them figure it out for themselves? Little steps, one at a time. It's a different world.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Shibuya - before you rise from the ashes, you have to be ash

So the Shibuya re-development in Tokyo continues. I've lived in Japan over twenty years and cannot, for the life of me, remember a time when there wasn't redevelopment around the station, home to three million commuters every working day of the year. In 2014 the main station building and the attached department store were closed and torn down and on March 22, 2015, it was the turn of the Tokyu (not a typo) Plaza, a positive warren of disconnected 1965 stores and restaurants.

This round of development was kicked off in the early 2000s when the Tokyo Metropolitan Government decided the area was desperately in need of a lick of paint. By co-incidence the early phases are set to be complete by 2020, I'm sure in time for the Olympics, to be held that autumn. The principle is to replace inefficient low rise buildings with sparkling new skyscrapers that will attract international business. An uptick in English wouldn't hurt that objective either.

When complete the area will, in principle, provide a coherent interconnection between station and stores. The first go at this, the relocation of a number of train lines to the new Hikarie building, was heralded as an outstanding success by the planners, and equally by the general derision from the commuters who actually need to transfer on a daily basis with long connections and deep, dark stairwells. The images though have to be said to look stunning.

Farewell Tokyu Plaza, hello the Phoenix.

West exit of the new Shibuya Station.
Environmentally friendly and easy to navigate.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

So, did Japan apologise?

A German friend once explained to me that when he talked to his children about the War that he still experiences heartfelt remorse even though he was born in the years following. He doesn't feel he has to revisit that every day but he said to his son "we made a mistake". He was open, honest and clear about his feelings. I hadn't even asked him about the subject, the conversation had just progressed there as we talked about raising our children. No one would even consider Angela Merkel should include an apology if she spoke to the British Parliament. And yet today US veterans, heroes of the day, consider it would be appropriate if Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, were to address the US Congress. Why?

The Western perspective of an apology is that it is a two way street. It has to be given and it has to be accepted. It must be sincere and it must be unequivocal. It carries remorse as well as recognition of responsibility. And once given, it cannot be recanted. But Japan is not a western culture and here lies the root of the continuing controversy. Seventy years after the end of this global conflict, many in the West remain unconvinced that Japan's apology was genuine, though most Japanese would consider it now to be a closed issue. In the early 1990's, Prime Minister Murayama apologised and that should be an end of it is the position. But still, in 1998, British veterans of the Pacific War turned their backs on the Emperor on his state visit to the UK.

Adding to the dilemma is that the war was fought in the name of the Emperor and it was considered taboo to criticise the throne whilst he remained, in the eyes of many, a living god. So as Abe "reconsiders" Murayama's apology, confirming the view point of some that they were empty words in the first place, what we have is not a question of whether Japan apologised but the view points of two very different cultures. So, to answer the question "did Japan apologise?" the actual position to some is "yes" and to others "no". But life for Germany has moved on whilst, seventy years later, Japan remains dogged by the question.

Yasakuni Shrine. The Prime Minister paying respects to 
the war dead including fourteen convicted war criminals

Friday, March 20, 2015

Twenty years ago - the day people removed their masks

Japan has a habit of wearing face masks. The white, surgical ones that cover nose and mouth, hiding identity. People wear them for various reasons, to avoid catching a cold or alternatively to avoid spreading one are the usual explanations. Recently a survey also showed that many young women wear them to prevent people from hitting on them in trains and around town. Whatever the reason, people wear the masks through winter, and through spring, and then summer and though autumn and back to winter again.

But one day, twenty years ago today, everyone had removed their masks by the end of work. Twenty years ago a group of deluded fanatics released gas on the Tokyo subway. I'm not going to go over the story again, it's well covered and I'm not going to give them the space here, but it changed the way people acted for quite some time. The perpetrators wore masks. White, surgical masks. And by evening the pictures had gone around the globe. So people took their masks off and went home barefaced. 

The world didn't come to an end. We could see each other's faces. Flu didn't sweep the country any more than countries where people don't wear them. This mindless act of barbarism somehow actually returned a little liberty to the country for a while. And so if you can, take your mask off and smile at a passerby who is not wearing their's. Look up and give a thought to those whose lives were changed forever that day. But maybe the best way to remember them would be to take the mask off. Maybe just one day a year.

And here's a picture of the sakura to come in the next few weeks. Because life can be better than that day.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Seven reasons to look to the skies

Looking up can be a rewarding experience especially in these days of smartphone zombie syndrome. In fact, if you happen to be in the UK, tomorrow will treat you to a solar eclipse, the first to cross the UK in some fifteen years. But walking through Shibuya in central Tokyo you find yourself constantly side stepping people with phones to their faces, oblivious of the world around them. So here are a few things we've seen in the sky over Japan in the last couple of years.

Night over Shibuya as a storm approaches, the rain had started to fall and the city lights illuminated the sky. This was followed by fox tears, rain falling from a clear blue sky, I've been fortunate enough to see this twice in Japan. But a photo is a simple blue sky so I've skipped that one. Remarkable event to witness though. The next is simply sunset after a typhoon, the sky in the West will often light up with fire.

Then there was the day in 2014 when the old Olympic stadium, constructed for the 1964 Games, Japan's coming out party in effect, was finally decommissioned. A rare salute from Blue Impulse, Japan's Self Defence Force (military) display team passed directly over central Tokyo and actually looked fairly spectacular though comments on Facebook asked whether the Chinese were invading. 

Following Typhoon Neoguri we were gifted a rare double rainbow that lasted for several minutes in the early evening sky.

And in 2012, a solar eclipse actually crossed over the early morning of Tokyo allowing us to video from the west of the city. Sadly the east was covered in cloud (you can see the video here). And then one evening the sun itself actually chased my Shinkansen as we travelled to the mountains of central Japan.

The sad one was for the Transit of Venus in 2012. It was raining that day in Tokyo and as the clouds obscured any chance to witness the event, we were out of luck. The next chance is 2117 though I'm not planning on being around for that one. 

So tomorrow look up from your phone. You never know what you just might find.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ski season comes to a close, but something for next year's "to do" list

And ski season slowly draws to an close. Niseko in Hokkaido is still looking good. Ten years ago it was a simple ski resort, a couple of hotels and a few runs. Today it is an entire concept unto itself. A number of enterprising Australians opened the area up to foreign business and the rest is history as it were. Flights from around Asia now by-pass Tokyo and head straight for the snows with a warm welcome awaiting the flocks of skiers.

Niseko is an interesting, though somewhat isolated, concept. Skiing in the rest of Japan is on a steep decline. Numbers are half that of twenty years ago when the queues would be up to an hour for the ski lift. But despite this, Niseko is thriving. People not only fly from Tokyo for a few days in the snow, they fly from Sydney. And Hong Kong. And as far west as Singapore. The team who have re-made Niseko have demonstrated how to revive a dying pass-time.

And then there is Hakuba. Nagano was the venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics which has left it with, amongst other things, an Olympic bobsleigh run. And yes, twice a year they allow the general public to try it out. You have to do skeleton, head first, face down. And actually its the safest option, you're simply a passenger, the sled knows where to go. And Newton was right. Gravity really does work. Just watch those gaijin go.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Formula 1 in Japanese - just who was the greatest of them all?

And so the season begins. Formula 1 is a love it or hate it sport. If you hate it then the trick is don't watch, stop moaning and go and do something you find more rewarding with your time. If you love it, the race for the title starts today. And before we go further I have to confess, I've been a die hard fan since Alan Jones won the Championship all the way back in 1980. And Japan is often front a centre to events.

The Suzuka circuit is one of the drivers' favourites (though access for fans has significant opportunities for improvement). The sport itself here often follows the success of Japanese involvement and this year Honda is back. Or more to the point, at the back. Let's see how they improve through the season though, early days yet. If they start to win, with Jensen Button at the wheel (an ex-World Champion married to a Japanese super-model), the sport will go stratospheric again. The only issue though is that, despite many examples to the contrary, it is only broadcast in Japanese. 

You can watch in real time on SkyPa 613 or you can view an hour out of sync on Fuji TV. But whichever you choose, you're going to be language limited. There are two alternatives though. You can go to one of the many foreign sports bars and join the crowds enjoying the spectacle, beer in hand and time delay out by just a few seconds. Or the second option (allegedly) is to get a VPN and listen on a foreign radio station (allegedly Five Live Sport for example). And (allegedly) you can enjoy your race in English whilst watching with the TV on mute. It's March. Let the race begin!

The Greatest of all Time (note the absence of a question mark)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

And the stadia are announced - now for the mascot

Four years will go fast. Really fast. Japan is a sports loving country. Distance running is more or less an obsession and people run in what Westerners would consider a racing flat. Although currently struggling, both football (the type with a round ball) and baseball (also a round ball) remain hugely popular with television audiences. But in four years time there will be a Rugby World Cup in Japan and the stadia have now been announced. From Hokkaido to Kyushu, twelve cities will host one of the world's great tournaments.

The original plans for an "Asian RWC" with matches held in Hong Kong and Singapore have been quietly scaled back and the the twelve venues are now spread across three of the four main islands of Japan. The new National Stadium is set to host both opening and final games and with a bit of luck  will actually be built by then. The National Rugby Stadium, Chichibu, is less than ten minutes walk from the main stadium and misses out completely which is a shame as it really needs a good wash and a lick of paint.

Ask an average person on the streets of Tokyo what is happening in 2019 and they will tell you it's preparation time for the 2020 Olympics. The world's second highest viewership event remains a hidden mystery at the moment. Rugby is seen as a sport for grandfathers to take grandchildren here. Stands are rarely full though college games can attract significant crowds as students cheer on their teams. But there is work to do to make the Rugby World Cup the success it should be. Japan will rally round, schools will fill seats in the regions and The Brave Blossoms will play the games of their lives. And then their will be a mascot. With a bit of luck it'll be a touch less scary than the Olympic one too...

"Tsunny" the Olympic's proposed slightly scary and mildly unpronounceable mascot  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

So run. Run uphill.

Just run. Run uphill. Don't worry about the others. Save yourself first. 

And tell the future generations that a tsunami once reached this point. 

And that those who survived were those who ran. Uphill. 

So run! Run uphill!

March 11, 2011

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Stay Strong Japan

After the earthquake of March 2011 the world was galvanised into action. Rescue crews were on the first flights in. No repeat of Kobe, no ridiculous excuses for not accepting the help this time, Japan opened it's house and said "please help". The US military cleared the roads in Operation Friendship, and South Koreans worked hand in hand with Japanese clearing houses one by one. New Zealand sent a team despite the devastating earthquake in Christchurch a few weeks before. No questions asked.

My company at the time shipped tens of thousands of winter jackets north; it was still snowing. Our main competitor, unable to ship product due to damage at their distribution centre, donated a equal amount to the emergency aid funds. The roads were closed to all but emergency traffic but some slipped through. A friend filled his truck with supplies and drove 350km to Tohoku. He sat for hours as people queued and took a few needed items and then he drove back to Tokyo only to repeat the process again and again.

If you're of the generation that saw "Live Aid" in the summer of 1985, you'll remember that moment when David Bowie paused his performance to play a video, a graphic display of the famine in Africa, hauntingly set to the music of Drive by The Cars. Suddenly it was more than real and the world collectively choked back a quiet sob. Moments like that are rare, they stay will you. And in it's own small way, after the tsunami, it happened again. If you have a few minutes, here is something special. 

Stay Strong Japan

Monday, March 9, 2015

Foreshock - March 9, 2011

The mega-quake of March 11, 2011 didn't arrive unheralded. On March 9, soon before lunch at 11.45 in the morning, the earth moved. A magnitude 7.3 temblor, 160kms out into the ocean, shook the city of Sendai and soon the signs were swaying in Tokyo, some 250kms further on. We were in our office as the shaking started and it was clear this was a major incident. 

As the waves of an earthquake travel through the ground they spread out in a similar way to the cars in a motor race. Eventually the earthquake is no longer a single shock but a series of rolling convulsions. The longer the tremor continues, the further away the origin; if you can feel it. And if you can feel it, it will have been big. A long duration earthquake, even if it feels mild, was a major one somewhere. 

After we saw the location we confirmed the staff in Tohoku were safe and then sent a short note to a business partner who's office was close to Fukushima checking everything was OK. And then we carried on. It had been a while since we'd experienced an earthquake and the subject was a hot topic of conversation over lunch. And that was all we thought of the matter. At least for the next two days.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Life as a Japanese website

Arriving in Japan is similar to regressing to early childhood; you know what you want to say but you can't get anyone to understand you. Unless you arrive speaking Japanese you're unlikely to find someone who speaks your native language even if it's English, the global default. And that's only the start of the problem, next comes written text. Unlike phonetic languages where you have at least the chance to figure it out, with kanji you either know it or you don't. No halfway house. It's understanding or ignorance. And that's a pity because Japan has some of the most enjoyable experiences, including some of the best food, in the world, and it's all one unfathomable character away.

The rise of the website has helped. If I were to choose the most enjoyable dinner experience, it would be the same every time. A small, family run, sumiyaki restaurant in Akasaka central Tokyo, sitting around an open fire, brazing a mouthwatering slice of Kobe beef. You walk into an old, concrete office building and you step out on the fourth floor in 17th century Japan. But look it up online and you'll receive a page of impenetrable symbols, clearly useful, if only you could read them. Some websites, that don’t take advantage of modern translation software, provide basic English these days, but it is basic. Japanese, lacking a definitive particle, is the devil incarnate as far as legacy translation systems go. Just find a Japanese post on Facebook and hit the translation button, it can be hilarious and absolutely baffling.

So the market for an effective translation system is wide open here at the moment. Expats usually have the luxury of a bilingual assistant, but with the best will in the world they're not going to be too happy to translate your order for you on a Saturday evening. Most people simply give up. Pizza Hut has a simple English structure so that's often what it ends up being for dinner. But there is so much more available. The Internet was a game changer for foreigners in Japan. Ordering books from Amazon US was a complete revelation when it became available but move past the major corporations and English disappears almost completely. To be fair so do their customers, 99.9% of whom will be Japanese. But it would be so good to be able to read all those illegible ideograms and open up Japan to the adventurous but illiterate amongst us. Yoroshiku onnegaishimasu.

Amazon Japan's English language site. At least the books are good...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Hanami Parties of Japan - time to get planning

The hanami party is as much part of the annual cycle of the seasons in Japan as are Golden Week shopping and being stuck in the Obon U-turn rush. Hanami refers to the viewing of the cherry blossoms that bloom in late March and early April marking the end of the long, cold Winter and the onset of Spring with the warmer weather to come. It also usually marks unexpected rainstorms and the end of under floor heating until needed again in November.

However, it has to be said that Japan knows how to party and when the weather turns, the parks will be filled not so much with purveyors of beautiful flora but the bon viveurs of Asahi Super Dry and Kirin Lager Beer. Friends will have organised a gathering in a favoured location and will spend the day enjoying each others company. The main park in Shinjuku actually tries to ban alcohol and suddenly young mothers with babies become popular as they sneak the bottles in under the push pram blankets.

As ever the atmosphere will be relaxed and jovial, some may even bring mobile karaoke systems but no one will play music so loud as to annoy anyone else. Those partaking of the event a little too much will be wrapped in coats and allowed to sleep it off while the festivities continue into the night. And at the end of the day everyone will pack up their litter in carefully separated recycle bags and in the morning you would never know anything had happened at all. And then it starts all over again.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Face masks and Swine Flu - it's the season in Japan

It's flu season in Japan. Apparently it's a little bit of a record year with over two million arriving at hospitals across the country for treatment so far. And although the infection rates are beginning to decline, it's been my turn this week. Back in 2009 I contracted Pig Flu, and this one is a walk in the park compared to that. I can type for a start, I couldn't even think that time. As I fell sideways, felled by a billion little viral axes, my son bought a copy of Kung Fu Panda, which he retitled "Kung Flu Panda", and sat with me for five days as we watched it over and over again while I recovered.

Japan has first rate medical facilities and containment systems are fast and effective. In 2009, as Swine Flu swept Asia, Japan simply closed all the schools in the affected areas to maintain quarantine and although some cases did get through, life outside the Kansai region continued pretty much unaffected. The once popular anti-viral drug Tamiflu received bad press after the outbreak, being blamed, rightly or wrongly, for a number of bizarre deaths where people hallucinated believing they could fly. It didn't end well.

And so the approach now is largely preventative. Everywhere you go you'll find bottles of hand-wash, especially around elevators and escalators where pressing the buttons or holding the rail is an excellent conduit for transmission. However the favourite form of protection to ward off the onslaught of flu is the ubiquitous face mask. Congratulations to the company that invested in developing these. Doesn't help when you already have it and are sitting typing a blog post though.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

American Idol is a Phenomenon. Why is there no Japanese Idol?

Ok, let's get the merriment over. Many would say the reason there isn't an equivalent of American Idol is because Japan has more taste than that. Others may point to AKB48 and suggest there just isn't the talent either. I would argue both are off the mark and there is actually a very different reason that could easily be resolved. It's because the Japanese TV channels suffer from an awful case of NIH "not invented here", the phobia of anything you didn't create yourself.

For those who knock American Idol, The X-Factor and all the global spin-offs, are usually those who have never really watched it. Many a time I've heard "I don't watch rubbish like that" to which the obvious question is then "well if you don't watch it, how do you know it's rubbish?" If Smokey Robinson can rise and give a standing ovation to Adam Lambert for his rendition of "Tracks of My Tears" then that's good enough for me to be honest. And you can watch it with your kids (however, please note FOX, 9.00PM on a Sunday evening isn't great scheduling when it' school tomorrow).

No, the real reason has nothing to do with taste (seriously, just look at what's on Japanese TV night after night if you believe that) and all to do with the national policy not to import show formats. If it's not developed in-house it's not going to be developed at all. And this applies to all genres, not simply the humble music show. Buying and broadcasting a completed product is fine, usually with questionable subtitles or a surreal voice over. Japan's global winners look to the world and try to exceed it; the television companies here look to yesterday and try to copy it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Tourists of Tokyo

Japan has a slew of international events coming up over the next few years. Celebrations kick-off with the Rugby World Cup in 2019, followed by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and a possible Women's World Cup in 2023. Things are going to get busy. At some point. Hopefully. Interestingly both Beijing and London actually saw falls in visitors during the time of their respective Olympics as people stayed away to avoid the crush. But let's hope people take the opportunity this time around.

2020 is at the heart of the government's plans to boost national tourism from the current (fairly miserable) 13 million people a year to 20 million by the time of the Games. Compare that to Paris that welcomed ~32 million in 2013 all by itself. Chinese tourism is clearly already increasing, simply walk into any of the major stores and look at the language of the signs behind the counters. But there are many areas to tackle before 2020, language being only one of them. With the decline of the yen in the last two years at least Japan has become more affordable, so that's one off the list.

Wariness of foreigners remains an issue and once out of Tokyo the complete lack of English support becomes another. Charging per person in the regional inns (ryokan) and websites targeted only at Japanese remain additional hindrances. But there is one area which has quietly been reforming itself to be more tourist friendly without people really noticing and that's the local taxi companies. The drivers have all been issued with cheat sheets and I've heard more "please fasten your belt" and "have a nice day" comments in the last six months than the last twenty years. Basic English but English none the less. And they seem to be having fun with it. So, you have a nice day too.

The taxis of Tokyo, and now in English too