Gary in Tokyo
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Gary in Tokyo

It sounds great, Tokyo for five nights, in December when it’s cold, windy and wet in the UK.

In pursuit of export sales we commissioned UKTI to introduce us to potential Japanese distributors. The British Embassy in Tokyo arranged six meetings so after a 12-hour flight, a nine-hour time difference, I had my first meeting early in the afternoon on the day I arrived.

So what was Tokyo like? Flying to Narita (not really Tokyo, a bit like Luton being an airport for London) my first impressions were of organisation and politeness. No tedious American-style welcome where beefy unsmiling officers treat you as if they are bestowing you a great gift in letting you in to the USA to spend money in the American economy. The Japanese system is very efficient and my bags were already gently meandering their way around the carousel by the time I had cleared passport control. After customs, lots of help was on hand to find the best way to get to my hotel.

The next thing that struck me was that the Japanese like bowing. The efficient team loading suitcases on to the fleets of buses available to take passengers to all parts of Tokyo bowed when my bus arrived and again when it departed.  I knew that in business it is customary to bow instead of shaking hands. But there are different types of bows, the intricacies of which I am blissfully unaware.  At the end of one of my meetings, a lady who was seven months pregnant bowed from the middle of her torso as I departed into an elevator. My imagination saw her falling forwards from bowing so deeply as the elevator made its way to the first floor.

Tokyo is expensive, except for the excellent metro system.The Tokyo metro: think of London Underground on speed. There are two subway companies serving Tokyo with thirteen lines and several commuter train lines, both private and public, and the guide book I read said that over a thousand destinations can be reached within Tokyo by using the metro system. Navigating this Byzantine network took a few days to get to grips with, particularly the system of transfer tickets when going from one line to another.  Nevertheless its clean, efficient, has English language sub-titles and is used by businessmen all day long to go to meetings as it is a cheaper and quicker alternative than using taxis.

Finally, it’s clean. Everywhere. Speaking of cleanliness there is one thing that made me laugh out loud. Toilet seats have heat controls on them as well as offering other services (see picture). Yes that’s right, you can set the temperature should you feel that a nocturnal visit could be necessary. My wife would approve.

Time will tell whether one of my meetings results in us getting a Japanese distributor, but we are hopeful.  And what respite did I get from the UK weather?  Yes, you guessed it, Tokyo was cold, windy and wet.

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