How life in Tokyo has modified from five years ago: Five personal takes from our reporter

“How do I order food?!” and other good things to know if you happen to’re visiting Japan this summer for the primary time since before the beginning of the pandemic.

With Japan preparing to greatly increase the variety of international tourists and calm down certain immigration procedures on June 10, there are more likely to be many first-time visitors to the country finally in a position to fulfill their pre-pandemic travel plans. At the identical time, even frequent travelers to the country will likely be stepping foot contained in the borders for the primary time in years. In my case, I’m a part of the latter group but actually arrived three weeks ago on a work-related family visa and will likely be in Tokyo at some point of the summer.

It’s been five years since I last visited Japan in 2017 (my March 2020 plans to go to were derailed), nine years since I worked at a Japanese junior highschool, and 12 years since I studied abroad in Tokyo. Other than the slight shock that comes from living in a small, rural town within the U.S. and suddenly finding myself in certainly one of the biggest metropolitan areas on the planet, I’ve often found myself pondering “Huh? Was it at all times like this?” on multiple occasions over the past few weeks. I’m not only referring to things that may be expected to alter as time goes by, like stations being remodeled, the sales tax now being systematically noted in prices, or stores opening and shutting (though seriously, what do you mean there’s a Pokémon Center Tokyo DX AND a Pokémon Center Mega now?!), but more like alternative ways of doing things. The next is a brief list of those personal takes on little things about day by day life that feel different to me since my last visit.

▼ By the best way, the everlasting Pokémon Café can be latest since five years ago!

Disclaimer: These reflections are entirely mine and mine alone. It could possibly be that my memory stinks, or that I used to be just oblivious to certain things up to now and am now noticing them on a regular basis (the frequency illusion). It may be the undeniable fact that my Japan lens is more focused on the happenings of the northeastern Tohoku region, which is where I’ve spent the duration of my time living and dealing within the country. In any case, I hope readers each outside of the country and inside can find common ground with me on not less than certainly one of this stuff.

1. Hand sanitizer is EVERYWHERE

I’m sure that is old news to anyone who’s lived in Japan throughout the pandemic, but alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations are all over the place in Tokyo. Normally this type of mundane statement wouldn’t be interesting in any respect if not for the undeniable fact that they’re truly EVERYWHERE here.

Five years ago, hand sanitizers were just about limited to supermarket entrances if anywhere, but now you’ll be able to’t go greater than a couple of steps in a public space without spotting one. The doorway to each store I’ve been to has a sanitizer, often with a convenient foot pedal or automatic sensor so that you don’t need to touch the nozzle.

▼ Foot pedal sort of sanitizer station

It’s also good to notice that at certain stores, especially restaurants, staff will direct you to make use of sanitizer before they guide you inside, or may even spray it in your open palms using a squirt bottle.

▼ Automatic sensor kind

Once I was last in Japan five years ago, I remember certainly one of my Japanese friends commenting on how “American” it was of me to whip out my little bottle of hand sanitizer from my purse because it was unusual to make use of it in Japan back then. Now I don’t even think twice about using it once I get on and off the train. As an additional note, pandemic protection is such a priority in Japan that staff may scan your temperature or ask you to face in front of a thermal camera on rare occasions as well, as I needed to do the opposite day while visiting a university class. Just be prepared to follow any guidelines about precautionary health measures that chances are you’ll be directed to soak up public spaces.

2. I can get takeout from just about anywhere now?!

One other thing which has caused me to do a double tackle several occasions is seeing takeout menus and posters for takeout food plastered all over the place. I don’t mean just at places designed for takeout, like those selling bento or drinks, but virtually all kinds of restaurants offer it now, too. Oftentimes a menu posted outside of the doorway of a restaurant will even note in English something like “Takeout OK” or indicate the particular dishes that may be ordered to go.

▼ An indication outside of a small, neighborhood café

I’m guessing it’s directly the results of the pandemic, but to me it is a major shift from five years ago, when most cafes and sit-down restaurants in Tokyo never gave the choice for food to-go.

▼ A takeout sign spotted in Odaiba. This one also indicates that online ordering is feasible.

Along these same lines, I’ve seen many more Uber Eats and other food delivery bikers than I previously recall seeing as well. I’m super curious–will the subsequent big change in Japan’s restaurant scene five years from now be the power to take home leftovers…?

3. QR codes to order food

Speaking of food, boy was I surprised the primary time I sat down at a neighborhood restaurant for lunch, only to then be directed by the server to order my food through a QR code taped to the table. Huh? Perhaps I’ve been living under a rock all these years, and I’ve since heard that this method can be getting used in some countries like Australia and particularly at bars within the U.S. largely attributable to the pandemic, but this one was latest to me. It appears to be a reasonably common practice (but not the norm) here because I’ve now encountered it at several eateries in Japan.

▼ A meal by QR code inside Shinagawa Station

While it seems pretty split as as to if an English version of the net ordering menu is out there at any particular restaurant, all of them appear to display good photos of the dishes.

▼ Similarly, some fast food chains like Sukiya appear to have done away with ticket vending machines at a whole lot of branches and now offer multilingual tablets for ordering at each table.

In a way, the QR system makes me relieved because I don’t have to interact in yelling sumimasen across the room to call a server over once I’m able to order something (other foreigner friends and I used to play janken to find out who got to do this dreaded task…). Alternatively, I can see how this might create a slight dilemma for international travelers who don’t have a smartphone, pocket wi-fi, or international data plan during their stay in Japan. If all else fails, ordering the analog way remains to be an option.

4. The Land of Point Cards has change into the Land of Point Apps

Japan has at all times been the Land of Point Cards, much to my delight. In any case, if I repeatedly pour my yen into a selected store, why wouldn’t I prefer to be rewarded with an occasional incentive (I’m looking pointedly at you, Book-Off–I’ve probably spent a 12 months’s price of my salary at you over my lifetime). Nonetheless, something latest and unexpected now greets me on the register of virtually every retail location I visit–the “Point App,” as I’m pondering of dubbing it.

It happened the primary morning I ventured out to order an iced coffee. “Do you might have our point card?” the staff asked, as is standard practice. Once I replied that no, I didn’t, but would love to get one, she handed me a small document with instructions on how one can download their point app. This didn’t appear to pose a problem until later once I tried to download the app on my Android phone, only to be told that “this app isn’t available in your country’s Google Play Store.” Darn, but oh well. It didn’t hassle me at first, but after running into the identical issue at every latest store I went to, it got to be increasingly more frustrating.

Now, I try asking if it’s possible to get old-fashioned paper card. I’ve had about 50-50 success–at some stores, they simply shake their heads and say they don’t offer them anymore.

▼ A fraction of my Japanese point card and member’s card collection, each old and latest

▼ Speaking of barcode wizardry, when buying my latest Spy x Family t-shirt at Uniqlo the opposite day, I discovered this latest setup. You just place your bag of things on the fitting and the system can scan them all of sudden–even over a dozen items. Wild!

5. Gates on train platforms

The last statement on my list today is that my first time riding a train in Tokyo again, it immediately struck me that many more JR lines now have automated gates on their platforms that only open when a train has arrived and are available to a full stop. I vaguely recall this being the case at plenty of particularly busy stations during my last visit (and definitely not where I had lived within the north in any respect), but now these gates seem way more common. In keeping with official sources, the variety of stations with gates within the Tokyo metropolitan area has rapidly increased since 2010, and records show that as of February 2022, 28 out of 30 stations on the favored Yamanote Line have gates. Moreover, East Japan Rail announced in 2018 that its goal is to put in gates at 330 train stations within the Tokyo metropolitan area by 2032, so that they really have gotten more commonplace. They’re definitely a welcome development to forestall all types of accidents and other unlucky euphemistic-sounding delay notices that you just might encounter around town.

▼ The gates on a JR Yamanote Line platform

Despite all of those little differences that I’ve observed for myself, I’ve found an equal variety of things about day by day life in Japan to be comfortingly familiar. Certain store jingles are still the exact same (“For those who’re selling books, it’s Book-Off ♪”). I still wish to bring ALL of the lovable stationery at Loft home with me. Starbucks Japan’s limited-time seasonal drinks are still delicious. French fry portions are still way too small for my potato-loving comfort (unfortunately I missed Freshness Burger’s 25 percent portion increase at no cost earlier this 12 months). My 12-year old Suica transportation card still works like a charm. Japanese persons are still pros at courteously lining up for anything. Elementary school students still walk themselves to and from school day by day. I can still go through a city block only to find a tranquil Shinto shrine sandwiched between two high-rises. It makes me think, “Oh yes, this is Japan–and that can never change.”

Reference: Reports for the Future–About Railway and Infrastructure
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