Japanese take fast track to madness

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The Independent Online
WHAT are the things that really annoy you? A Japanese magazine, Views, last week compiled a list of things that make people mad, or 'mukamuka' - literally, nauseated. Some of the 'reasons to get mad' will strike a chord with British citizens, while others seem a unique form of Oriental torture.

Pity the overworked salaryman, for example, who cannot get to his bank's cash dispenser during working hours. If he chooses to withdraw money from the dispenser after 6pm on weekdays, or at any time during weekends, the bank arbitrarily subtracts 103 yen (50 pence) for the transaction. This con alone nets Japanese user-unfriendly banks some Y9bn ( pounds 45m) per year, according to the outraged magazine.

And what about people who stand on both sides of escalators, stopping anyone in a hurry who wants to walk past: these are regular urban scarecrows, says Views, and should learn that the right-hand side should be kept open for those with a more pressing mission in life (contrary to British practice, where the left- hand side is for through-traffic).

Even more infuriating for those who hate wasting time is the ill- named Shuto expressway - an elevated highway that is supposed to help drivers avoid Tokyo's traffic jams, but is almost constantly congested. Some 100,000 cars a day get clogged around the Hakozaki intersection just north of Tokyo Station. The average speed on the 'expressway' is 10 miles an hour, and, worst of all, each driver has to pay Y600 for the privilege - enough to make anyone mukamuka.

For those who cannot face driving to work, there is always the train - but that means facing 'commuter hell' every morning, being crushed sardine-like into a carriage that even Japan Railways admits can be crammed to three times normal capacity at rush hour. And then, says Views, just when you thought the worst was over, you seek refuge in the station lavatory and find there is no lavatory paper (it is a measure of Japan's level of hygienic expectations that this should come as a shock - far worse complaints spring to mind about the lavatories of London Underground).

Sex has always offered countless possibilities for exploitaiton, but what can be more infuriating, in these days of safe sex, than to find that condoms in vending machines are overpriced - Y1,000 for six rubber sheaths, about twice the price charged in a shop. But when it is that time of day, and that kind of situation, what choice do you have?

Then there are the car-freaks who turn on the fog lamps on their four-wheel-drive vehicles even when there is no fog, dazzling everyone else on the road. There is the outrageous system of key money, a non-refundable deposit of usually two months' rent paid to the landlord when a lease is signed for an apartment.

There is the maddening habit of traditional Japanese inns of serving breakfast, in your room, at unearthly hours of the morning - like 8am. And, to cap everything, the ice-cream served on the famous shinkansen, or bullet trains - it is always frozen so hard that it breaks the accompanying plastic spoons. If that doesn't drive you mad . . .

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