One of the noticeable features of your average Tokyo subway car is the splattering of people wearing white cloth surgical face masks over their mouth and nose. Initially, I put this down to the recent outbreak of swine 'flu, but later discovered that it is considered basic manners to cover your face if you have a cold or cough to prevent it being spread. (Of course, the outbreak of swine 'flu rather extenuated this phenomenon, causing a national shortage of masks for sale).

There is a risk with such masks that you might inadvertently produce a bacteria breeding ground next to your mouth, but with every convenience store in Japan stocking them, switching to a clean one is not a major issue.

A second feature of day-to-day life is the lack of paper napkins, both in restaurants and public restrooms. At restaurants, you are provided with a hot or cold damp towel to clean your hands with before eating, but it is unusual to be given a napkin. Likewise, toilets sometimes have hand driers but never towels. This is because the Japanese carry small wash cloths (flannels) with them to wipe or dry their hands and faces. Because everyone has one, there is a big market in these cloths and you can get all designs and patterns from plain through to your favourite anime characters (I have one with Ghibli's Jiji the cat on it).

It is remarkable useful to have such an item with you. While I still frequently forget to pick one up on my way out, I may try and adopt the habit once I'm back in North America. Oh, by the way, that's Sunday. Man.