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Though Tokyo is not as severely conformist as when I first saw it almost 30 years ago, some things have not changed.

Men still see too little of their children because of ferocious work pressure.

This is a country where everyone is accustomed to the idea of sudden, irresistible disaster.

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Japan must be the only place in the world where you can learn how to behave in an earthquake, by undergoing a remarkably realistic simulation.

Anyone in Tokyo can undergo this rather odd experience, provided by the capital's fire brigade at several special 'safety learning centres', along with an unsettling instructional film on how to survive when the Big One strikes, as it is bound to do sooner or later.

I am greeted as Hitchens-San, the equivalent of Mr Hitchens, wherever I go. Outbreaks of temper are hugely frowned on and quelled with a cold stare or a single word of rebuke.

Schoolchildren in their early teens sit quietly as they wait for trains, quite unlike the noisy and menacing gaggles you so often see in Britain.

They needed workers to do the jobs known as the Three Ks - kitsui, kitanai, kiken, or hard, dirty and dangerous.

The authorities decided to encourage immigration from Brazil, where many Japanese families had emigrated about a century before and where there are now more than a million ethnic Japanese. Many of them ended up in Hamamatsu, a neat if dreary industrial city, making TV sets and cars, two hours south of Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train.

Karoshi, or death from overwork, is still common - often happening on crammed commuter trains after an over-long day of stress and smoking.

The regiments of salary-men with identical suits and hairstyles, all spookily opening their identical umbrellas in unison at the first sign of rain, have been replaced by a much more varied people, as adventurous with their hair and clothes as most Westerners (though in a fundamentally tasteful and orderly way).

They did what Britain and America ought to do, and redoubled their efforts to make things the world wants, at prices it can afford.

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