Monday, June 29, 2009

Tokyo Toilet Roulette

There are two kinds of toilets in Japan*. There is the ultra-modern, super-powered, western-style version with buttons for two types of sprays of controllable intensities and another one that makes a flushing sound for the modest. (I tried this one. It plays the recorded sound of a toilet flushing until you push the "stop" button**.) And then there's the other type, which is a ditch with a splashguard.

Most public bathrooms offer the visitor a choice: sit or stand. (or squat, or whatever you're supposed to do. Never quite figured that one out.) Which is all well and good, unless there's a line. And if you have any experience with public ladies' rooms, you know there is always a line. Which makes the wait kind of tense, because you don't know what you're going to get. Which door will open when you get to the front? Will it be the safety of modern familiarity, or will it be an experience in traditional Japanese culture that you could have done very well without, thank you very much? And if you lose the toss, then what? It's a bathroom line, you can't not go in. Do you step aside and let the lady behind you take the stall, and hope for better luck on the next throw of the bathroom dice, thus announcing to everyone your toilet preferences? Or do you affect a look of unconcerned calm and stride on in and do your best?

Fortunately, I was never faced with the last question, because my door choice came up lucky each time. (Apparently, in Japan even Fate is polite.) However, I did end up using the "traditional" once, at the park on our first day, and it was not uneventful. Not in the actual use-- I'll spare you the details, but I managed to figure it out. But when I went to flush, I noticed a red button on the wall next to me. The Japanese seem to love buttons (and, really, who doesn't), so I thought "Aha, the flush!" and pushed it.

Did you know that sometimes they put alarms in bathroom stalls? Alarms that you can't turn off by pushing the button again, or anything else in the immediate vicinity? Alarms that make very loud, very alarm-like noises intended to alert anyone within fifty yards that someone has pushed the alarm button in the bathroom?

In situations like this, I find it best to locate the actual flush (handle on the tank), wash one's hands and walk briskly away.

* That I know of.
**Which should serve as sufficient proof that pranks are not common in Japan, since any public toilet here with that feature would have had it running continuously for the last ten years, thanks to kids.

No, They Don't

You see, they have this stuff called fur.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More Park Photos

Courtesy of Cameron, who has a much better camera and the ability to use it:

I swear, the trip gets more exciting when we get out of the green spaces.

A Walk in the Park

On our first full day in Tokyo, we wandered over to a public park in Shinjuku, near where we were staying. It cost about two dollars to get in, which I guess I understand, since someone has to pay for wrapping the trees:

The hydrangeas were in bloom, and there were lots of noisy crows (not pictured):

A large section of the park was given over to a traditional Japanese garden, over which you could still see the tall buildings of the city:

The pond was full of very large carp, who must have been accustomed to being fed, because they swarmed in front of you any time you stepped to the edge of the water, making it possible to stop at just about any point, hold your hand over the water and say "I have the power of carp!" and summon them:

The garden was pretty:

We stopped at a tea house and had " traditional tea with Japanese sweet":

This cost seven dollars:

There were more gardens, which were also pretty:

And a big open area where people came to hang out:

Of course, pictures are nice, but they don't tell all parts of the story, like the humidity or how I set off the alarm in the bathroom*.

But that's another story.

*No, not like that.

Caffinator: Rise of the Machines

One of the things I was particularly curious about seeing in Japan was the vending machines (I know, my life is so thrilling you just can't stand it). I'd heard the rumors about them-- that they were everywhere, and sold everything, you could get breakfast, lunch dinner and beer and a three-piece suit, just by pointing your cell phone at one.

The cell phone part was true, and in limited instance the beer, but that was about it. (The most unusual item we actually saw for sale was umbrellas, which really isn't a bad idea. Dehumidifiers would have been even better.)

Actually, the ubiquity part was true too, vending machines in Tokyo crop up at a rate of about three per block. Right out in the open, even in little back alleys, which would seem like you might as well stick a sign that says "please vandalize me, and by the way there's money in here," but I guess that's less of a concern in civilized countries. But all they sold were beverages. (And cigarettes, but we weren't terribly interested in those, after the initial shock of being in a place where it was still legal to smoke in public.) The machines were maintained by a variety of companies, but they all had about the same selection: soda, water, tea and coffee (both with and without milk and sugar), various drinks with implied health benefits and, occasionally, cocoa. All cold, for the most part, though some machines also had hot offerings, identified by red labels. (Actually, identified by Cameron buying one and saying, "This is hot!" and then our examining the machine and determining that some of the displayed drinks had red labels, while the rest were blue.)

Cameron developed something of an affinity for the vending machine iced coffees and, like the pastries in Strasbourg, determined to try them all, prioritizing by most insane labels.

Here's the thing, though: lots of vending machines, no trash cans. Seriously, none, except right at the vending machines, which of course are all around you when don't need one, but when you're carrying a can you'd really like to throw away there isn't one for miles. Especially inconvenient when you have accidentally purchased a drink with little bits of jello in it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hi, My Name Is. . .


That's right, in accordance with blogging rule 7, section 33a, subsection q, I am posting pictures of my cat. Specifically, of the new kitten captured by a friend of my mom's from a colony of barn cats. Sex unknown, name as yet undetermined*, he or she is currently passing the time by hiding (somewhat ineffectively) behind the toilet in the bathroom at my parents'.



*In keeping with my mystery-character theme, possible choices: Rumpole, Harley Quin, Wimsey

Friday, June 26, 2009

Non-Travel-Related Jewelry Update

This just in: Jewelry designer Maya Brenner is now offering necklaces featuring all fifty states.

I'm thinking of getting Colorado:

Or maybe Wyoming:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lost in Vacation

Of all the great cities in the world, Tokyo, it must be said, is probably among the ugliest. It is fascinating, energetic, odd, charming and exciting even when there is nothing specific going on, but it is not at all beautiful. There is no iconic skyline to wow you on the train ride from the airport, no graceful old (or, for that matter, new) buildings to catch glimpses of, just a fug of square buildings of various sizes and all the power and telephone lines you could want. (Undergrounding of utilities doesn't seem to have caught on here, though the undergrounding of the shopping malls is going quite well.) It really isn't the city's fault-- the place was bombed to oblivion in WWII, which meant it was largely rebuilt in the fifties, sixties and seventies, otherwise known and the "astoundingly ugly" period of international architecture.

None of which made much of an impression on me, since I was so tired after spending the last eighty hours (approx.) getting there that I slept for most of the train trip. When I woke up I saw a sign advertising the BBQ Tanning Salon, so I knew we were in the right place.

There is a downside to arriving in Tokyo massively jet-lagged. (And, barring a lottery win or a lot of frequent flyer miles, that seems like the only way I'm ever likely to arrive there.) The downside is that it is a very busy and confusing place, and while a surprising number of the signs are in English, a key percentage are not. Also, you're too whacked out to properly read your map, and end up determining that the best way to get from where you are in the train station to your hotel is to go through the very fancy department store, dragging your wheelie suitcase and unwashed hair past impeccable ladies shopping for three thousand dollar purses, then down some stairs, then down some more stairs, then around a building, then up a bit, then back to the street and to your hotel, around a corner and about a block and a half away from where you started. Which is the sort of thing that can get you thinking in run-on sentences, if you know what I mean.*

*I don't.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tokyo and Back Again

Or: What I Blogged on My Summer Vacation

Greetings from San Mateo, which is notably Not Tokyo. You may have noticed a lack of blogging over the last week, if you notice that sort of thing. My apologies, but it turned out that free wifi wasn't easy to come by in Tokyo, and I'm too cheap to pay to type on my tiny ipod screen. But I did take notes, and I do intend to tell you all about it, once I recover from yesterday's transit extravaganza. (And watch the last two weeks' worth of "So You Think You Can Dance.") My goal is to have this all written up by the time I leave next month for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, where Mom and I will be selling silk carpets in Turkmenistan. But that's another story.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

By The Way. . .

I seem to be going to Japan tomorrow. I probably could have mentioned this at some point. I'll try to blog while I'm there, depending on internet availability and iPod function, but Twitter may be slightly more reliable. Either way, I should have lots of stories to take far too long to tell when I get back.