Back to the Future in Japan part 1



Even though Japan is famous for embracing the latest high tech gadgets, there are some things which still exist in Japan that have almost entirely disappeared in the US. This is the first installment in a series of posts about things that have survived in Japan long after they disappeared from the US.

Pay phones and phone booths– This is a picture that I took of a payphone on the train platform at Meidiamae station in Tokyo.  Superman would have to search long and hard for a dressing room, since there are not a lot of pay phones in Tokyo but I have seen about seven or eight since I arrived. I even saw someone using one despite the fact that almost everyone appears to have a cell phone. The pay phones are bright green, very sturdy and appear to be designed primarily for emergencies, which is probably a good thing since between the earthquakes and typhoons emergencies are pretty common.

Gas station attendants.  While nearly all US gas stations went self-serve during the last century, stopping in a gas station a few weeks ago took me back to my childhood in the 1970s. When we pulled into the local gas station three attendants in snappy (yes, that IS the only word for it) red uniforms descended on our car and began cleaning it, filling it with gas and even passed out hot towels so we could clean the car’s interior. One of the senior attendants even stood at the exit to the gas station to let us know when it was safe to pull out into traffic.

Record stores-Although Tower Records, one of my favorite youthful hangouts, disappeared from the US a long time ago, there is still a Tower Records in the Hachioji section of Tokyo where I live. In fact Japan still has a lot of record stores. I have yet to find anything rivaling Chicago’s Virgin Megastore which graced the Magnificent Mile in the early 2000s but Japan still has a number of small to mid-sized record stores.  Amazon and its Japanese competitor, Rakuten, have made some inroads into the CD and DVD markets but Japan does not have a lot of streaming services like Pandora or Spotify. Also Japanese CDs have really extensive liner notes which makes Itunes downloads less popular.

Fax Machines-Yes, they still exist in Japan and they still suck as much as you remember them(if you are old enough to remember them.)

Video Rental Stores-Imagine a world in which Netflix never existed. Tokyo is full of cheap DVD rental stores (by cheap I mean 100 yen or about $1.00 per rental) which also offer Blue Ray and CD rentals so you can check out the latest AKB48 release along with your rental of The Wolverine. The big difference between these stores and places like Blockbuster is their incredibly efficient use of space which allows them to cram thousands of DVDs and CDs into a space which is about the size of someone’s living room.  However, I think they may be on their way out since I recently saw that our local store,Tsutaya, was going to offer a rent-by-mail service which is almost identical to Netflix.