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December 28, 2014

Japan: Life on Batteries

Text by Neha Gupta. Illustration by Rahul Das

For a holiday to the future, Japan is your stop. Verve discovers the Japanese way of progression with machines galore and robots on the dance floor

The Japanese rarely need to look outside for sustenance and existence. Yes, their agriculture industry was diagnosed as ‘sick’, but it is still feeding its people, healing gradually. They have ample resources to fish their staple diet and enough equipment to help them enhance its flavours. For a smooth survival on this planet, they have their own Lexus cars, Daikin air conditioners, Hitachi home appliances, Sony smartphones, and Mitsubishi for almost everything that requires borrowed energy to function – all of which trace their origins to this island nation and are demanded worldwide.

No wonder a visit to Japan leaves you with an impression of its population being happy and content. So comfortable are they within themselves that it seems they don’t feel the need to learn a second language. The next generation is still studying to be confident in being bi-lingual and Japanese businessmen often have interpreters to help them shake on a deal. This is all because they produce everything the world needs for survival; and what they invent is only ahead of its time. The art of simplifying life is inherent in them – if I may be so bold as to make this anthropological statement.

With fuel prices on the rise and a conscientious concern for the ecology, Japan has switched to electric cars, which are all the rage. Not just in cities, move between any of the 47 prefectures by road and every pit-stop that is equipped with restrooms and fast-food kiosks will also have recharge stations for their new-age cars. Shockingly the Japanese rank second after America in their use of these automobiles. And not very surprisingly, the Japanese multinational corporation, Nissan rules over the world’s market share in highway-capable all-electric cars.

Perhaps this isn’t the best endorsement of Japan’s hi-tech way of life. This is where their love for vending machines waltzes in as a saviour of face. It is no joke that Japan is known to host the largest number of vending machines per capita in comparison to the rest of the world – roughly one for every 23 persons. And so little rooms filled with vending machines spoil you for choice. Forget a supermarket or even a restaurant. Help yourself to dispensing machines for anything from a simple hot chocolate to a full meal. You actually read about these in sci-fi comics, but in the Land of the Rising Sun, it is a verity in entirety. They have machines for cigarettes, drinks, toys, floral arrangements, umbrellas, sandwiches, eggs, barbequed meats – the list is exhaustive!

With a futuristic way of life on the go, at your fingertips, and literally, human expectations tend to seek more. The capital city, Tokyo, has an entire zone dedicated to electronic goods and gaming parlours. Virtual reality games take you to a different ecosphere in four dimensions. Tech-geeks may as well set camp here for this is where those bizarre innovations that we hear about land up. If a bum massager isn’t your pick, maybe battery-operated slippers that promise to chisel you into shape will be of more interest. Did anyone say walk the talk?

Conceivably the world is catching up to this rage of vending machines and mechanical devices for everyday use. But Tokyo’s entertainment is enough to scream evolution when you walk into its Shinjuku district for a dazzle of lights, burst of gastronomy and a plethora of amusements. Just around the corner from the station into Kabukicho is the Robot Restaurant which draws in huge crowds by multitudes for a show like no other. Flashing neon lights and loud trance music make an ambience for dancing robots manned by bikini-clad women. I had to book my ticket a week in advance. Every tourist has been guided to this party from the future. Aware of their popularity, you are even given a sneak peek at the entrance, in a modest sized ring, where robots dance and pose for photographs. If that is not enthralling enough, which it is, you can book your ticket and walk right in. The robots serve you, interact with you and put on a dancing show as well. At one point the androids even engage in a little exchange of fists to complete the drama of a realistic drunken gala.

I have travelled most of the world and never have I experienced buttons on my toilet, let alone that many of them – even in public loos, as I did in Japan. There are options for how you would like the flow of the bidet to hit your bottom and another to dry a wet fanny. The more luxurious ones allow you to warm your seat for a toasty poop-job in the winters. Surprisingly there weren’t any to powder the bum – perhaps because it may be unsanitary? One button remained constant on all the W.Cs though – that for a flush sound. The degree of coyness in Japanese culture refuses to let them answer nature’s call without fearing the risk of a second person hearing their body’s involuntary sounds. The audio is commanded to run so long as the person is sound-free.

Lesson: when in Japan, if you must do as the Japanese do, be technologically polite even when on the privie!

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