Japan is without a doubt the most awesome place for public transit in the world. There are few if any places that you can't go on public transit. The prices are reasonable (even on par with what I was paying in Canada), and, even at it's worse, the service is excellent. I think the reason is that it is running as a stream-lined business. All the systems (from the big to the small), have schedules that are strictly adhered to. In addition, they use some common time system that goes a long way to eliminating 'disappointments'. In many cases there are even many ways to get to the same location. Although some may be quick to point out that the highest class of cars (ShinKanSen Green Cars) do not have power outlets or internet outlets for laptops, it does not really matter: The laptops sold here have batteries which will easily last for 8 hours or so, and for many, wireless access to the internet is relatively commonplace. There are a variety of payment options also: single tickets, multiple tickets, free-period-passes, cards (optical, RF). It is really amazing. Many in the East (Kanto) rail against JR (the biggest public transit corporation). I am more forgiving because I have had to live with much worse: The Toronto Transit Commission.
One place where the media pulls no punches is in political commentary, it is really remarkable how much fun they have with politics. There are quite a few shows that actually dedicate themselves to political analysis. By Canadian standards, that does not sound so remarkable --after all, we have political discussion shows on the television in Canada also. What makes the Japanese shows different is that they do a really entertaining job: They will borrow snippets of music from every source imaginable, they will use computer graphics and other techniques to achieve the 'right atmosphere'. Seems as if every night there is another show dedicated to the actions and mistakes made by the politicians earlier in the day. It is largely filler, and 'making news', but it is never-the-less quite entertaining.
Special Interest Groups Anonymous
After witnessing the continuing totalitarian practises of the West, it is actually a relief that special interest groups get nowhere here. They can complain and protest and rant and rave as much as they want to. But it seems to no avail. They cannot compare with companies for lining the bureaucrats and politicans pockets, and people in general have their own pressing problems. As a result, the absurd measures so often seen in the West (eg. discrimination for equality) do not come to pass.
Hogging the Lime-Light
Based on what I have seen, the chief purpose of a politician is to publicly get a lot of attention, and privately broker lucrative business deals. In Canada and America, the politicians seem extremely busy acting on behalf of some bleeding-heart special interest group to draft and get some law passed in the SIG's favour. In that way, the Japanese politicians are certainly more useful that in North America: Because wasting money is one matter, wasting money and creating hardships for the majority who elected them is another.
Of all the places I have shopped in the world, Japan has to be one of the best --with few exceptions. In the West you would be hard-pressed to find such selection and such courteous service --consistently. It is one thing that all my friends who came to visit remarked upon. It is the only place that I have gone to buy a sandwich for lunch, only to have it quickly replaced by the clerk with a newer, fresher one (she was flagged by the computer in her till). The counterpoint is that there is typically no flexibility or room to negotiate --you always get exactly what you pay for. There are no 'factory outlet' stores as there are in the USA or Canada.
The subject of art is always a touchy one. That is likely because what could move one person to profound insight could move another to vomit. This is certainly true in Canada, where a very large sum of money was spent by the National Gallery of Ottawa to procure a metal sculpture that is only part of the exhibit (the other part is raw meat hanging from it). Japan, by contrast, has some artwork, while not that startling or 'challenging' is, at least sensible, if not conservative. The Japanese have a long history to draw upon also for artistic sources.
Obsessive and Compulsive
The Japanese have some great preoccupation with elegance. This is simply everywhere in their society. You have incredible selection of every designer brand in the world; and incredible selection. I have one friend who always wears custom-tailored Burberry suits. Another might have Armani. It is really incredible. Japanese women have more selection than their non-Japanese counterparts can dream of. There are about 500 cosmetics companies here in Japan. And there are quite a few medicine companies. Most of the stuff is for thwarting the effects of over-work, but it is still quite awesome. Every department store offers complimentary gift-wrapping for purchases. Just last year, when I was shopping for Christmas gifts to send home, I mentioned it at the register. The clerk took about 15 minutes to very carefully wrap the entire selection of dishes for me to post. Even if available, there would typically be some service-charge in the West. But, even for those of us who are content with convenience stores and other forms of snacking, it is incredible. There are many varieties of snacks and each one is incredibly packaged. The attention to detail, everywhere, is stunning and amazing. And, not only can you get pretty well every brand on the planet here, but also fashion trends change to the effect that, in order to remain with the 'in' crowd, a womans wardrobe may need replacement more than twice a year. In addition, famous brands are relegated to specific age groups. For example for women, in terms of luggage (at the moment) Prada is for the 16-30ish age group; Louis Vuitton is for the 30s, etcetera, until you get Hermes for the over 40s crowd. Unlike other areas in the world, duplicates are frowned upon. Even though many Japanese cannot tell the difference. The idea is that the expense is to get the premium quality of craftsmanship available to you (even if it ends up getting discarded prior to it's useful lifespan).
Resistance is Useless
When you are here for a long while, you can take a bit more time to shop. The interesting thing that I noticed is that shopping around is not so productive. I can hunt like crazy for some bargains, and yet, the best I can hope for is about 10% off (on average). So, when you take transportation costs into account, why shop around for the lowest price? Just buy it closer to your home to save on lugging it around. Many of the stores will offer some sort of delivery service. This is an economical thing within Japan. Outside Japan, it is simply ridiculous: They will only ship courier, you are charged for packing, also. And this is only for some of the big department stores. So, while it is possible to have it shipped, I suggest you do it yourself.
The most interesting and consistant oppinion that I hear about Japan is that it is expensive. I can easily correct such erroneous thinking. Let's look at the West in certain areas. When you dine out at a restaurant, how much does it cost? No, really how much? Are you sure? Most meals in Canada are whatever the listed price is plus another 8~16 percent for taxes plus another 10~20 (or more) percent tips plus (sometimes) gratuity --another 25%. In Japan, the tax is a uniform 5% and there is no tipping. So, yes, the food may cost a bit more in the menu, but it will cost the same or less when you come to pay the bill. The same 5% is uniformly charged on other purchases also. So, people who come here to buy consumer electronics and the like will also pay it. Of course, if you have a foreign passport, it can be waived. But, with many companies having incentive (point) plans, it is often more intelligent to sign up, and get a greater future discount than immediate tax savings.
In Japan in general, and certainly in Tokyo, the range and amount of museums is nothing less than dizzying. They seem to have a museum for everything here. There is a curry museum in Yokohama. A teddy-bear museum in Ito, toy museum in Ginza, and the list goes on. It is just amazing!!! Every imaginable museum seems to exist here. Recently they have even been advertising the opening of a museum for a comic-book hamster, 'Hamtaro'. What is impressive is the density of museums in Tokyo.