The first thing I notice when I got to Japan was how nice everyone on the peak hour Tokyo subway smelled. Like the delicate fragrance of clean hair and freshly washed linen. The second thing I noticed was that the carriage was so quiet I was afraid to blow my nose, and a third of the passengers wore face masks.
“It’s not because they’re afraid of catching your germs, it’s because they’re sick and don’t want anyone else to catch theirs,” my partner explained.
To an Australian used to riding with the great unwashed, negotiating junkies, violent ticket inspectors and clouds of teenage girls’ Impulse, the Japanese are unnervingly respectful of other people’s personal space. Stand still and look confused, and within 30 seconds someone will have either offered you help, or else queued politely behind you (queueing is a phenomenon in Japan) for no apparent reason.
As much as I loved the consideration and the neatness of Japan, the manners and orderliness were so surreal I felt like I was living in some kind of Japanese-themed Disney snow globe the entire time I was there. Here’s what to prepare for: