A former colleague of mine always made it a point to tell people coming to Japan for a visit to bring lots of handkerchiefs because the public restrooms didn't have towel dispensers. I always took a more positive view and emphasized that public restrooms in Japan were everywhere and open to everyone, something I think would be more important to more people, considering how difficult it can be to find one when you need a restroom in other countries.

Nobody who travels with any sort of frequency expects the same things that they have at home. It's the main reason people go abroad. Nevertheless, countries that want to attract visitors do what they can to make the sojourn smooth. Travelers with open minds will accept the lack of familiar comforts as the price they pay for new experiences, but then maybe most people don't have open minds.

Ever since Tokyo was awarded the role of hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, the media has been filled with stories about what the city — and, for that matter, the country — needs to do in order to make all the anticipated foreign tourists welcome. The biggest buzzword to emerge from the bid campaign was omotenashi, a word usually translated as "hospitality," but which Japanese people tend to think has a special meaning that is difficult to translate. On a recent group discussion about the subject on NHK, the general explanation came down to "kindness" and "consideration," but as one hotelier pointed out with a certain measure of condescension, the word comes from the tea ceremony and refers to a "spirit of service" that is unspoken but nonetheless "felt" by the guest. Naturally, this concept is "unique to Japan."