The IHT is running a story on the front page about the Japanese obsession with being on time. The recent train accident in Japan that has caused over 50 deaths was probably caused by the train engineer trying to make up for a 90 second delay. (He had recovered 30 seconds so was actually only 60 seconds behind when the train derailed.) The editors at the meeting I attended at the IHT were talking about running a story on the front page about the Japanese train wreck with the punctuality angle so I was thinking about this on my flight returning to Tokyo. I waited to blog the idea because I didn't want to steal their story. ;-)
I definitely enjoy the punctuality in Japan when I'm doing business, although not necessarily when I'm trying to relax. I think it's a generational thing as well. My sister describes the Japanese mobile culture kids not having as much of an obsession with time tending to self-organizing on the go. It reminds me of our previous discussion about p-time. Organized delineation of time and space helps structure things and make things scale, but are not very good at providing context or flexibility. For instance, in my Silicon Valley meetings people tend to allow important meetings to run overtime and eat into the next meeting whereas in Japan, I will often be ushered from a very important meeting to a completely worthless meeting in order to maintain punctuality.
However, as I get ready for my day at this moment, I am very happy to know that I can leave home at 11:10 to catch the 11:27 train and I will arrive at the train station in Tokyo at 12:28. (In 2004, the 40th anniversary of the bullet train, it was announced that the average delay for the train was only 6 seconds.) My 13:00 appointment at Pia will start on time and that I will be able to leave at 13:45 to get to my 14:00 meeting at Neoteny. In Tokyo I schedule meetings in 15 minute increments, some being scheduled for as little as 15 or 30 minutes. This is anecdotal, but I find myself sitting around in conference rooms a lot in Silicon Valley and can never expect a meeting to start on-time. I usually calculate a 30 minute cushion for meetings in Silicon Valley. In Italy... well, I only schedule a few things per day and everything else is coordinated on the fly. I never expect anything to start on time. I recently spoke at a conference in Italy where everything was 1.5-2.5 hours late. As someone who is generally against cultural stereotypes, punctuality is one thing that I believe can often be generalized because one is forced to adapt to a standard level of punctuality for a particular culture. (I'm sure different people and communities in the different countries have their own level of punctuality and that there is some sort of bell-curve-like distribution of people and groups that are more or less punctual than the norm.) For awhile lack of punctuality stressed me out enormously when I was traveling, but now I've gotten used to it. However, I'm happy to be back where the trains run on time...
I'm in a hurry and can't find the IHT article link. If someone has it, I'd appreciate it if you could post it here. Also, apologies to all of the punctual Italians and Americans that I've just offended.
UPDATE: IHT - An obsession with time