The Ups and Downs of Travelling

We only spent a few hours in Osaka, but it started off super-relaxed: Sitting in a Ramen bar, taking a few minutes to pick a cheap hotel in Bangkok to stay at, and then book it with a few taps from your iPhone, using the inexpensive Japanese SIM card that gives you high-speed Internet wherever you are. Life is simple!

Intermission: About Japanese High-Tech Toilets

Japan goes crazy about toilets. As soon as you’re getting off a plane at an international airport, you’re greeted by masses of print ads for Toto, one of the two companies who own the toilet market in Japan. And when entering a toilet stall, you’re greeted by a lid that opens automatically for you.

Literally all the toilets I’ve seen in the 10 days in Japan were high-tech. No exceptions. A small, smoky bar at the basement of a raunchy district? You bet your toilet seat will be heated and you’ll get to play around with at least 12 different buttons. On the train? You won’t be disappointed.

Just make sure not to confuse the cleaning button with the enema button if you’re not into this sort of thing. But no worries, all the buttons are labeled in clear Japanese.

You might be used to one or two levers on a Western toilet. Here, toilets do more than flushing:

  • The lid opens automatically.
  • The seat hinges up with the touch of a button.
  • The seat is warmed and the temperature can be regulated. And there’s a timer switch, of course.
  • You can turn on masking sounds, usually of water running down a river. In many public places, it turns on by default.
  • There’s a cleaning nozzle that sprays water at your bum. You can… of course… regulate temperature, position and strength with a few buttons. And the water is always pre-heated.
  • There’s a bidet function, usually symbolized by a female icon. You can also play with all the settings here, obviously. Yes, I’ve tried.
  • Sometimes there’s an enema function.
  • There’s LED light inside the bowl, because who doesn’t like LEDs?
  • There’s ventilation inside the bowl.
  • Sometimes there’s a hot air dryer built into the toilet.
  • Flushing is done with digital buttons, of course.
  • … but it flushes automatically anyway.
  • And at some of the more complex ones you can even run a whole pre-programmed sequence of steps.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t surprised that this stuff existed. I was surprised that it has completely replaced every archaic facility that would just be normal to any us. “Us” referring to us non-Japanese people all around the world. What must they think of us underdeveloped dirty bums?

And now that we’re in the restrooms subject area, one more notion: Proximity sensors for taps, automatic soap dispensers and hand dryers just work here without you having to wave your hands in front of them like an idiot. Very satisfying.

A few hours later

We’re seriously pissed at Japan! We’re in a hurry and need some cash. ATMs are so hard to track down in Japan! In some areas, most of them reply with “Japan issued cards only” when you push your card in. It’s something you wouldn’t expect in a country that’s crazy about tech. In combination with the constant and unsuccessful hunt for a working WiFi, after my SIM card’s data had been depleted from the cumbersome and endless researching of alternatives to our canceled flights, it was more frustration than we could take. We just didn’t want to keep going with this shit.

Talking to airlines on the phone during a complete shut-down of a major international airport can be fun (“Yes, Mr. David. Will you please hold the line, Mr. David?”) but also exhausting. Oh yeah, our flight was canceled because the entire Kansai airport is basically on lockdown after the typhoon has flooded the runways and terminals, and a tank-ship had crashed into the only bridge that connects the artificial island the airport was built on to the mainland.

There was so much to do and talk about that Tessa and I didn’t bother to check if the airport was alright. Google your flight number and Google will show you current information like delays and other issues, correct? Wrong! At least in our case, something must have gone wrong. According to Google, our flight was on time… so we were on the way to the airport and had no idea it had been closed for a day already. I blame Google. (… That, plus we were on a train to the wrong of the two large airports in Osaka, but that’s not the point here.)

Our last half-day in Japan consisted of the most intense travel run of our entire lives. We left a bit late from our hostel in Kyoto – because why make it too easy – and had to get to Narita Airport in Tokyo in the afternoon. Tokyo is not around the corner, so we had to take a Shinkansen fast train as well as some other subway, metro and express trains and change a few times on the way. During this 5-hour trip, we also had to queue up for (the limited!) Shinkansen tickets and also discuss with the metro people because we hadn’t checked out correctly from the Kyoto metro system. We knew that we couldn’t miss one single connection without missing our new flight we had just booked a few hours earlier. Erm, sorry, I mean flights, with an s, because we were on different flights, with different airlines, from different terminals. And did I mention that we couldn’t check in online since we hadn’t received any flight confirmation numbers yet and our flight was massively overbooked? And that we had to get cash on the way to pay for the tickets, even though ATMs are so hard to find here? And that Tessa‘s flight home from Bangkok was only a day later, so if we would miss our flights, she‘d have to buy a new expensive ticket home? And that we would arrive at the crowded airport only 60 minutes before departure, still with our luggage to check in, even if we made every single connection? Long story short – we were running the entire time. Japanese people do not run. It’s impolite, rude even, to run in public spaces. We were running like idiots through the stations with our backpacks, up and down stairs and escalators, cutting queues, taking shortcuts, like our life depended on it. And the run didn’t end at the airport but at the gate. Do you know what a speed run looks like? It’s when a hardcore gamer just runs through a video game like Super Mario Bros. as fast as possible, ignoring everything but the goal, taking damage just to save a second of time. This is precisely what running slalom around people at the stations felt like to us. The only thing that could have made us even faster would have been a Super Soaker to make people move out of the way.

But don’t pity us, we made it to Bangkok and couldn’t be more proud. Not of our planning skills, but with our dealing-with-unplanned-shit skills.



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