Tokyo – Part 1

I walked into the toilet, and didn’t know where to look. There was a remote control attached to the bowl, with three main buttons, and seven more smaller ones, each with hieroglyphs either side.

This is the first time I have ever had to read the instructions to use the dunny.

After a moment of hesitation I decided to sit down, and was shocked to feel that the seat was in fact hot. I looked at the instruction sheet on the wall, to learn that the three main buttons controlled the electronic bidet.   It had associated male and female settings, as well as power, angle and heat settings. There was an associated deodorizer – although I’m not even sure what this is. Even better, there was a ‘power boost deodorizing function’, in case this unknown function needed a bit of extra oomph.

An occupied seat sensor prevents accidental spraying. There is a timer setting – in case you like to delay having hot water sprayed up your arse until the four minute mark – and accompanying this, logically, there is a drying mode. It has power saving, although I’m pretty sure my toilet at home uses less energy. There is a clean function, which seems quite logical, given this was, until today, my understanding of the primary function of a toilet. And once you finally stand up, the toilet bowl lights up, there is automatic flushing, automatic taps at the sink, and automatic hand dryers. My personal favourite setting was “strength of a river current”, only bettered by the “breakfast – on/off” button.

Seriously, I have no absolutely no idea. I’m yet to press it, in case a bowl of corn flakes suddenly appears.

* * * * *

Toto Limited is the world’s largest toilet company. With a 65% market share in Japan, they have the market cornered on electric toilets – and in this country there is a market to cornered for anything that can be bought and sold. Vending machines occupy every square metre of unused path, selling everything from manga, to fishing bait, to umbrellas, to canned bread.

Yes, canned bread.

Given that space is at premium, we found ourselves in one of the few central hotels in Tokyo that even have a quad-share room. As Asher noted:

‘We’re all sleeping in the lounge room!” And sleep we did, in the lounge room, all together, without being disturbed by each others plane-snotted noses. At that stage, we would have happily slept in a can of bread.

The following day was our only full day in Tokyo before heading to Kyoto, so we decided to spend it being driven around on a big yellow tour bus. Firstly, we visited the Tokyo tower, a large orange and white structure modeled on the Eiffel Tower, and at 332 metres, just eight metres taller than its inspiration. We took the lift to the first floor, where our guide gave an interesting history of the tower, while we walked through the gift shop looking at stuffed toys and sparkly things. The group then made their way downstairs, while Suse and I scrambled to follow them, dragging two children away from the stuffed, sparkly things.

Next, we drove to the Imperial palace, and like most things of significance in Japan, saw it from the plaza in the distance. I believe it is possible to buy tickets to view inside, but that would require a level of planning, decorum, and volume-control that dictated that the Nethercotes remain at least one kilometre away.

From here we travelled to Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest, and dating from 645AD. Its entrance is guarded by Kaminarimon, a massive gate with lanterns and statues, added on in 941AD. It is otherwise known as ‘Thunder Gate’, which, I was surprised to learn, is not the third in a waning series featuring Tina Turner and Mel Gibson. Again, as we headed to inhale from the massive incense bong, we focused on not tripping over or breaking world heritage listed thousand-year-old relics. I understand that the gate has been destroyed many times throughout the ages, but to my understanding, never before by two preschoolers.

* * * * *

Three and a half hours after starting the tour, we departed, apologizing for the noise of our children in this most serene of countries. Again, we managed to talk our way out of being deported, and celebrated by buying our first Bento Box. Sold in many convenience stores, these are take aways containers, filled with complete meals of rice, noodles, sauces, and not a single French fry. Like all things Japanese, this has a long tradition, originating in the Kamakura period, in the 12th century. We hear that the pace of life is increasing – and yet it seems that people have had need for fast food for nearly a millennia.

We apologized once more as Harper bumped into the men in 7-Eleven staring at the pornographic magazines, and then quickly made our way to the toilet, where Asher knocked over the water basin of the woman scrubbing the urinal. In Japanese, there are at least twenty different ways to say sorry, and by day two of our trip, we had perfected most of them.

There are phrases for all levels of sorrow, from ‘my bad’ (warui warui) or ‘whoops’ (gomen-ne), to ‘I apologise formally’ (moushiwake nai or shazai), to ‘I’m reconsidering the past’ (hansei), to ‘I’m really sorry about World War II’ (owabi).  And before you think this is a culturally insensitive thing to say, in 2005, the then-Prime Minister broke ground using this exact word, on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, by using this phrase of mega-remorse.

Myth has it that Inuit have 200 hundred words for snow, and as such, English speakers are limited in their description; the same extrapolation could be made for apologies in Japanese.  But after three hours of my kids yelling on the bus, spilling the water of the woman who was scrubbing the toilet and stubbing the toes of porno-man, I also felt like apologising for the past.

* * * * *

Hanging our heads, we elected to make ourselves feel better by getting a treat. We bought ourselves an ice cream each, and went outside, and sat down on the edge of the curb and ate.

And there, four westerners began to get more and more looks.

‘They just love looking at these kids, don’t they?

“Everywhere we go.” I licked at my soft serve ice cream.

“Even that security guard.”

“He hasn’t stopped staring at us.”

We returned to our ice creams.

“We’re not sitting at the front of a bank, are we?”

I Google translated the sign. “No, it’s a hotel. We’re good.

“But he just keeps looking.”

We continued licking.

“It’s not rude to eat in the street is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you don’t see anyone doing it, do you?”

“It’s perfectly fine to huck a loogie into the gutter, or stand all day looking at stick mags in 7-Eleven.”

“I don’t think it’s okay to look at pornography in Japan, Mark.”

“Those guys looked far less embarrassed than anyone I’ve ever seen in an Australian newsagent. Far less embarrassed than we were for stubbing their toes.”

We sat some more.

“Can you look it up, please?”

Sure enough.

For the hundredth time today, we had managed to offend the locals.

Shazai.

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