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Tea Leaves

Inconvenient truths of Japan's 'combini' culture

From auto-flushing toilets to 24/7 stores, Japan's convenience mentality has downsides

Convenience stores are open all the time, but is this really a good thing? (Photo by Maho Obata)

When I first visited Japan many years ago, I marveled at the automatic taxi doors. I was intrigued by the auto-toilets that not only flushed for you but also offered rinse and dry functions. I was delighted to find that baggage deliveries could whisk your suitcase home from the airport sometimes faster than you could get there. I loved the network of takkyubin door-to-door delivery services that could transport parcels across the country overnight for a miniscule fee. And I became reliant on the ever-present convenience stores, or combini, that ply coffee, hot meals, toiletries and a mind-boggling array of services around the clock.

But there was a downside to this wonderland of convenience.Returning to the West after any Japan visit, I would find myself walking away from cabs leaving the door hanging open. I would forget to flush the toilet. I would fume at having to carry my own bag or grumble about journeying to a post office and queuing to send something that would take many days to arrive. And unless I was somewhere like New York City, I missed the 24-hour stores.

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