Much digital ink has been spilled over the rise of China, the economic tiger that is Singapore and Japan’s love of robots and useless inventions, but if part of what makes America great is our ability to take other nations’ good ideas and make them our own, here are five things found in Asia that the West should jump on.
1. We Should Make Our Machines Sing
The Japanese have perfected the art of singing the body electric. Your elevators purr as you rise through the skyscraper-filled landscape and the roving transportation carts at the airport hum to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
It’s a strangely comforting and soothing experience and has the subtle, but cumulative effect of humanizing all the technology that surrounds you.
So often in the west, machines are frustrating objects, but imagine if when your computer froze it made an adorable R2-D2 chirp. Could you really stay mad at it?
The most impressive implementation of this is Japan’s rail music. As trains arrive and depart from stations, they play unique tunes to identify to passengers where they are. Imagine arriving to the strains of “Give My Regards to Broadway” as you pull into the 34th Street Station.
2. Get Rid of Tipping
You know what’s stupid? Tipping. After getting used to not having to figure out which decimal point to move and whether you should be rounding up or down, coming back to a world of endless gratuities isn’t just a pain in the neck, it’ll seem incredibly unfair.
Do you really need to show your pleasure/displeasure of a waiter by tipping a buck or two less? Isn’t that why we have Yelp? Isn’t it really the establishment’s responsibility to provide good service?
And shouldn’t they be doing that by providing a living wage for their employees, rather than reducing them to hash-slinging panhandlers desperate to up-sell your margarita to “cadillac” status?
Think service requires economic incentive? Tell that to the guy at the 7-11 in Shibuya who treats you like you’re shopping at Harrod’s.
3. Moist Towelettes Before Every Meal
Since we’re doing away with one mealtime cultural custom, let’s replace it with another: The little warm (or cold, depending on the season) towel known as an oshibori that you clean your hands with before eating.
First off, your hands are probably dirty, so washing them before shoving food in your mouth makes a lot of basic common sense. Besides being practical, there’s the little luxury of giving yourself a mini-manicure before eating.
4. The Two-Handed Card Ceremony
Here’s another seemingly superfluous ritual that once you get accustomed to, seems necessary to civilized society.
You may have heard about the various rules concerning exchanging business cards in Japan, but the one that matters is the way cards are exchanged: With two hands, thumb and index finger on each corner, presented to the other person, who does the same. This extends to credit cards, tickets and presumably arrest warrants.
It’s a wonderful pause that somehow manages to convey respect, import and grace in one move, saying to each other “Hi, I acknowledge that this is a transaction, but I actually give care about it and you as well.”
Going back to the way we do it here feels like you’re playing blackjack every time you pull out your Starbucks rewards card and slap it down on the counter.
Remember Capri-Sun drinks, right? Those aluminum pouches filled with something vaguely resembling juice was every kid’s favorite drink? Well, I know what you’re asking, “How could you possibly improve on such perfection?”
Squeeze. Enjoy. Repeat.