Of all the phrases and descriptions associated with Japan – world heritage sites, deep appreciation for history and culture, outstanding cuisine – being a modern, technology-driven country seem to take a back seat. In my opinion, it’s not the ultra-fast bullet trains (shinkansen), or extensive rail network that amazes me but the ordinary, daily things and places that are touched, used, and seen in plain sight.
As the Japanese are constantly thinking of ways in which technology can make the lives of locals and tourists better and more convenient, it is worth highlighting a few tech-filled inventions, contraptions, and products that are used everyday in the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan.
Aoyama (Aoyama-itchome, Tokyo Metro) in Tokyo happens to be Honda Motor Company’s headquarters with the Honda Welcome Plaza serving as both its corporate office and most comprehensive showroom. Beyond the cars, motorcycle, and even the HondaJet, there’s an even more high-tech member of the Honda family: the humanoid robot known as ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility).
The latest iteration of ASIMO does two waving, walking, and jogging demonstrations (1:30PM and 3:00PM) daily from Monday to Friday, and three times on Saturdays and Sunday (11:00AM, 1:30PM and 3:00PM). Entrance to Honda’s headquarters, as well as viewing and having your picture taken with ASIMO is free.
Want to experience first-world amenities even when using the toilet? Most Japanese bidets feature heated seats, water temperature and pressure controls, and even a spray “location” button to fit any person’s size and shape. The high-tech bidets even have sensors that sterilizes the toilet bowl pre-use, just don’t expect it to flush and deodorize itself after use.
Consistently ranking in the top 10 of countries with the fastest internet speeds, not only is WiFi/LTE fast, but it is also readily available. Foreign visitors should expect speeds to reach 20-50Mbps in their hotels and accommodations (free) and almost similar speeds in train stations, airports and large department/electronic stores (not always free).
The first time I to went inside Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara, I swear I figuratively died and went to electronics heaven. Most branches (Kyoto, Umeda in Osaka, Akihabara) feature separate floors for cameras and accessories; one for mobile phones, computers and peripherals; another for TV’s, home theaters and furniture, and dining establishments on the top floors.
Aside from the catchy in-store jingle, the best thing about Yodobashi is that it’s one of a number of Japanese establishments that waives the 8% sales tax (conditions apply) on almost every product. Even non-hardcore electronic shoppers can have a time of their lives in “Yodo” as I have noticed that the product lines are becoming more mainstream. Non-geeky items such as cosmetics, suit cases for travel, and bags and accessories are now being displayed and sold along side smartphones and digital cameras.
If you need a new toy, a spare part/replacement, or a unique electronic item and can’t find it in Akihabara (Electric Town), chances are you will never find it anywhere in Japan. Hundreds of small electronic shops, as well as manga and anime stores, line up the streets of Akihabara, a district in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo.
From second-hand, older (analog) technologies like film cameras to cutting-edge, must-have items like computers, smartphones, and digital cameras, there’s a big chance you can get a better deal from the smaller retailers than big outlets like Yodobashi. Akihabara is also known for it’s cosplay cafes, featuring anything from waitresses in French maid costumes and anime-related characters.
Most tourists are familiar with vending machines that only serve hot or cold beverages, and snacks. But in some parts of Japan, not only do vendo’s serve consumable items but also Secure Digital (SD) cards, AA batteries, earphones, disposable cameras, umbrellas, clothing, and even disposable female underwear!
Even without knowing how to read Nihongo, visitors can easily distinguish what options are available since samples or images are clearly displayed. One can use cash (bills and coins) to purchase the items or debit the credits inside smart (IC) cards like Suica (Tokyo) or ICOCA (Kansai Area).
The bus may be the cheaper, sometimes slower alternative to taking Japanese trains, but it does not mean that they lack cutting-edge features. Aside from closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs), Japan buses offer informative and comprehensive displays, engine stop-start systems, and hybrid powertrains. Fares for Japan buses can also be paid using IC cards and offer mechanisms for breaking a 1000 yen bill or 500 yen coin into smaller amounts.
Speaking of IC or integrated circuit cards, not only do Japanese and tourists use these stored-value cards for transportation (buses, trains, and trams), but also for small-value payments in vending machines, convenience stores, and a number of shops. Some of the major IC cards include Kansai region’s ICOCA card, Greater Tokyo’s Suica and Pasmo, and Hokkaido’s Kitaca. All IC cards can be used interchangeably throughout the whole of Japan.
If you find ASIMO quite small, consider going to DiverCity Tokyo in Odaiba (Daiba Station, Yurikamome Line). The life-size, 18-meter tall Gundam statue proudly stands in front, seemingly ready to defend Tokyo against all wanna-be invaders. Stay for the daily evening lights and sound show (7:30PM, 8:30PM, and 9:30PM) for an almost-realistic experience of RX-78-2 Gundam suit in action. Better schedule your visit soon though, as the statue already scheduled to be dismantled from its current site on March 5, 2017.
Not only does Japan’s advanced technologies, inventions, and innovations help make the locals’ and foreign visitors’ daily lives better, they also give a glimpse of what our future could be. Self-driving bullet trains, robot-manned restaurants, or even three-dimensional artificial intelligence tour guides, Japan’s future technology is only limited to its people’s ingenuity, innovation, and creativity.