Reflections from Japan

Nov 13, 2017 | Innovation, Multifamily, Technology

As I write this, I’m on my flight back from an incredible two-week trip around Japan. We spent our first day in Osaka before embarking on a three-day hike of the Kumano Kodo trail. From there, we spent a few nights exploring Kyoto and Hiroshima with day-trips to Wiyajima, Naoshima, and Takamatsu. We wrapped it up with three nights in Tokyo before flying back to NYC. It was a trip of a lifetime, filled with many eye-opening cultural experiences. Here are just a few of my many reflections from the visit.


Omotenashi is the spirt of Japanese hospitality. Translated simply, Omotenashi is the Japanese way of treating a guest. Throughout our trip we were privileged to stay at 3 ryokans, traditional Japanese inns, spend a night with a family-friend in their home, and do an in-home private cooking class. The welcoming spirit, warmth, and generosity was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. They embraced us, cooked us authentic meals, served traditional drinks, and shared stories of their families and towns. Our host even gave us a gift, a gorgeous hand-made dog leash from his company, Goto tomorrow.

When traveling, it’s easy to visit the touristy sites, read the guidebook, pick up a few souvenirs, and eat at the most popular restaurants. However, by spending time with Japanese people in their homes, we developed a deeper appreciation for their culture, history, way of life, and unmatched hospitality.

The Japanese Train System  

No write-up of Japan would be complete without mentioning the efficiency and simplicity of the railway. Prior to our trip, we purchased a two-week JR pass, which provides unlimited access to many of Japan’s rail lines. Over the course of our stay, we took a dozen different trains in addition to subways, buses, and ferry’s. Navigating the country was a breeze. The high-speed rail (Shinkansen) is particularly impressive. It opened in 1964 and is used by 123 million passengers each year.

The train system in Japan is uniquely successful for several reasons; Japan’s 128M people live primarily in densely populated areas, making it easy to connect each city by rail. The train lines are also privately run, and typically the companies own the stations, tracks, and even the real estate along the route.  A significant portion of their revenue comes from the shopping centers, offices, and housing developed near the stations.

Trains symbolize modernity in Japan and the Japanese bullet line made the trip easy and convenient.

Japanese Cities are Spotless

Coming from New York City, one of the most glaring differences was the cleanliness of the Japanese cities.  Over the course of our trip we learned that many of our questions about Japan could be explained by understanding their way of life. In Japan, there is a prevailing sentiment that ‘clean is good’. The Japanese take their shoes off before entering a building, utilize high-tech toilets, and school children even clean their own schools! This way of life has translated into the way they treat their public space.

There is no need for public trashcans. Instead, the Japanese are taught to clean up after themselves, so they take their trash home with them. You’ll also notice that you get a bag every time you purchase something, even if it’s a single item. The bag is to be used for your trash.

We also learned that the Japanese meticulously separate their own trash and make sure their neighbors do too. They have (mandatory) neighborhood clean-ups on a regular basis. On top of all that, there are several volunteer groups that invite citizens to regularly clean high traffic areas of the city.

When spending a lot of time meandering through cities, we came to appreciate clean and litter-free streets.

Efficient Space Use

Japanese homes, retail, and restaurants consist of very small floorplates, utilizing every inch of the space. The American house is on average twice the size of a Japanese one. The traditional Japanese house is adaptable. Floors are covered with tatami mats and separated by wooden doors called fusama. It’s typical for a single room to be a study, living room, and bedroom all in one.  Additionally, capsule hotels and ‘Net cafes’ allow users to pay for exactly what they need.

All real estate is designed specifically for its intended use and enable users to get exactly what they pay for.

Japan is at the Forefront of the Real Estate Industry Trends

Dror Poleg has a fantastic post detailing the Japanese real estate trends which are just taking hold in the west; renting over owning, co-living, and modular construction are typical in Japan and have been for some time.

In Japan, a staggering 94% of residents live in cities and many them are single. The country also has the highest concentration of population over 65, highest life expectancy, and lowest fertility rates.

As a result of the large number of unmarried singles, many opt to live in cities. Furthermore, as they age, they seek a sense of community which has given way to co-living or “share houses”.

For a glimpse of what the U.S. could look like in the future, look no further than Japan.

Japan is a beautiful country, rich with history and culture, yet set in a modern landscape. Our trip took us from remote countryside to bustling cities, yet not matter where we traveled, we found amazing food, boundless hospitality, and a sense of national pride.

If you’re seeking an adventure, I’d put Japan on the top of your list.