Tuesday, June 19, 2012

We weathered Typhoon Guchol...

As a veteran of many a conversation school I'm used to working through typhoons.  Lumbering along beside my bike at 9pm, the streets largely deserted, winds lashing and rain flowing horizontally, turning my umbrella inside-out, soaking me, ruining my shoes.  That's the conversation school way.

Not so with Japanese high schools.  The management called all the teachers to the main office and told us to put the kids on the buses and clear out.  Girls cheered in the hallways as everyone scrambled to evacuate.  There were long lines of students huddled under umbrellas as bus after bus rolled up and loaded them up and shipped them off.  I left about a quarter to three, bought some food and something to drink and spent a dark, noisy night at my apartment with no electricity.  The medical students in the next building threw themselves an impromptu typhoon party on the landing outside and trees danced and unknown things banged and rattled.

In my old town of Toyohashi over 123,000 people had to evacuate because the river levels surged ahead of the typhoon's approach and from the rainfall.  The typhoon came right through here, a mighty guest making its presence known, overturning the household routine.  A great big jerk of a guest, unwanted and barely tolerated.

I watched it for a while until it started to bore me.  The sky had a dark gray luminosity like the fading glow-in-the-dark hands on a bedside clock but I could see the now useless electrical tower looming over our apartment complex like something out of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds after the simple cold virus killed all the Martians.  I fell asleep at some point only to wake up around 2am to a strange calm.  All was quiet.  I stumbled to my window and saw stars with ragged clouds just above the building-rimmed horizon.

The power came on around 7am this morning, and everything returned to whatever it is that passes for normal around here.  A small tree lost a measure of its height, the leafy broken trunk blocking the small parking lot across from my building.  More green leaves, startling against the concrete, choked the gutters along the streets. But once I left the neighborhood and reached the road that runs past the school where I work there were the usual uniformed students hauling ass up and down the hill, threatening pedestrians with injury and death.  Just another day!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Japan really does have the best toilets!

Kristin Wong, writing for the Heart Beat at Living on MSN, reports about some very special toilets in Gunma prefecture.  They're at a temple and you can flush away an unwanted marriage.  Sounds good to me.  It's one of those stereotypically hacky observations, but Japan really does lead the world in toilet technology.  And, apparently, toilet spirituality.

I haven't been to this temple, but now I'm curious enough to start thinking about a trip there.  I think it's hilarious someone has actually intended to use the religious toilets for their more material world function-- dropping off loads.  Or whizzing.  Not out of any disrespect for anyone's belief, but because of a family story, one that gets retold every few years and never fails to generate a few laughs.

Many years ago, my middle brother took a dump in a display toilet at a Sears store.  He'd only recently been potty trained and it seemed to him like a reasonable thing to do.  He probably wasn't the first kid to make that mistake, probably wasn't the last.  You put a toilet on display and sooner or later, someone's going to use it.  It's heartening to know even adults do this occasionally.  That's why you should clearly and carefully mark which toilets are for use, which are for display and which are for filing for divorce or losing weight.  Proper signage helps.

My current toilet isn't as Space Age as some I've experienced here, what with the heated seats and the washlet functions and the flushing sound effects and what have you.  The toilet in my last apartment looked ready to give Captain Kirk's command chair on the old NCC-1701 Enterprise a run for its money in terms of luxurious, highly-functional seating.  I didn't live in that apartment long enough to take advantage of all the buttons, but the heated seat made poop times a lot more comfortable during the winter.  The toilet I'm pooping in now is merely the heated seat kind, with an adjustable on-off knob.  Very simple.  Very boring.

When I first came to Japan with a group of rookie English teachers, the company that hired us put us up in a decent business hotel in Dotonbori, Osaka.  This place had the William Gibson cyber-punk toilets of every Japanophile's dreams.  My fondest memory of that weekend was when this young dude from Arkansas-- who'd recently given up a job as a homicide detective on a small town police force-- came downstairs the next morning and reported his new-found love for bidets.

"I never thought I'd use one of them," he admitted in wonderment, "but now that I have I gotta admit-- I like the bidet function.  Man, I hope they have one of those on the toilet in my apartment.  I'll definitely be using the heck out of that thing."

I'm paraphrasing, but his sentiments gave me new respect for the guy, and he was already a pretty decent person to hang out with.  I wonder whatever happened to him.  I imagine if you've been a police detective you can handle pretty much anything life throws at you, especially English conversation classes, which are some of the easiest things in the world to teach.  Get with the right school and you won't find a cushier job and you end up learning a lot about Japan, too.  It's ridiculously easy, but some do botch it.  A few months later our school hosted a guy who didn't survive the first day on the job-- and so was born a minor legend in our area-- but I'm sure the police detective did just fine.

As for me, I didn't have cause to use the bidet function on a Japanese toilet until a few years later, over a New Year's visit to Tokyo.  Hotel Listel in Shinjuku.  That was the place.  Great little business hotel, just a bit far from the station, which is why I switched to the Sakura Hotel/Hostel chain; the one I usually stay at is a stop or two down from Shinjuku station and about a 2 minute walk from Hatagaya station.

I still recommend Hotel Listel, though.  Clean, efficient rooms and an excellent breakfast buffet.  And incredible toilets.  After doing my business, I remembered my detective friend and his open-minded approach to personal hygiene and gave the bidet a whirl.  I wasn't quite as impressed, but it wasn't what I expected.  Actually, I have no idea what I expected.

Friday, June 8, 2012