After a brief view of Japan in a three day unguided tour, I'm now qualified to give a brief summary of the land. Apologies all round.
My first observation is size. Hardly original or groundbreaking, but things are smaller in Japan. Not just doorway altitudes, but cars are smaller (in particular, they are thinner to fit in the thinner streets), the trees are smaller and even the pets are smaller (based on a sample size of one small black cat).
Next there is speed. Things seem more frantic. The bus rushed between stops, the speech seems faster and the music has a jangly edge to it. A very rushed place contrasting sharply with the peace and tranquility of the shrines, the fountains in the gardens and the whole concept behind hot spring spas. I guess you need some relaxation to rewind from a day on fast forward.
Then there is the old and new contrast. Japan, a land of ancient culture and bleeding edge consumer electronics. A room with tatami mats and a remote control split system air conditioner. There are temples hundreds of years old and mobile phones too small for your fingers to press the keys. This is best exemplified with the public toilets: automatic flushing, automatic taps in the hand basin, but the toilet is a hole in the floor.
On a final note: the hem lines are rising amongst the trendy young girls. Something the men would be happy about if not for the fact that the shoe soles are also rising. Why are these girls trying for that extra 15 cm of height even if it cripples them?
Update: March, 2000. The Y2K bug didn't wipe us all out, apocalypses
have not eventuated but the oversize shoe bug is getting serious. There
are reports of knee, hip and back problems, a car crash due to the shoe
getting stuck under the brake pedal, and even a fatality when a girl stumbled
and fell in front of a bus. Well, golly!