Japan, it seems, is a country of contradictions…
Some of the most sexual and violently explicit Manga animations are somewhat at odds with a culture that prides itself on custom, respect and courtesy. We’re all familiar with the Japanese stereotype of incessant bowing and of subservient women who are dedicated to pleasing and satisfying their husbands. And we’re just as familiar with the outward perversity of blow-up, life size sex dolls.
Perhaps it is this extreme contrast of Japan that makes this tiny country such a compelling place; a Yin and Yang of the old versus the new.
While Tokyo represents dancing robots, giant neon screens at Shibuya and cityscapes bordering on science fiction, Kyoto embodies the old Japan – picture blossoming trees, ancient temples, golden shrines and geisha girls. But on to that later… There’s one thing I’m desperate to share and that’s Japan’s Weird and Wonderful…
1. The Electronic Toilet Once upon a time, every electronic item we purchased was ‘Made in Japan’. The Japanese boasts some of the greatest technological advances in our modern world – Sony alone introduced the first pocket calculator in the 70’s, the first compact disc player in the 80’s, and the Playstation in the 90’s… Let’s not forget about other Japanese greats too – Fuji, Mitsubishi, Nikon, Sanyo, Sharp, Canon, but to name a few… Arguably though, one of the most mind-‘bog’gling interventions is the electronic toilet.
The prospect of parking your derrière on a loo that resembles Metal Mickey is a daunting prospect…. There are so many auxiliary functions, buttons and symbols open-to-interpretation that the simple act of doing a number one or two becomes complex. Needless to say, a trip to the toilet will require an IQ of over 100.
The most standard function, aside from the flush, is the bidet… or technically, a nozzle to aim a jet of water wherever your hearts (or butts) desire.
The more complex toilets feature blow dryers – to use after the jet function I’m guessing, and if you’re severely constipated after consuming one too many sashimi, there is an option to listen to the soothing sound of lapping waves to ease you in to emptying last night’s ramen. There’s no need for the burning hot face as you exit the cubicle and face a queue of demure locals either. Offering a deodorisation feature, the unpleasant miasma you’ve just created, will magically dissipate in to thin air.
The best feature of all however is the seat warming function… With temperatures plummeting to below zero in winter, the prospect alone of contact with a cold toilet seat, is enough to make you tense and clench every muscle in your body including, yes, the sphincter. So sitting on a warm, toasty toilet seat is a welcome treat after a long, cold day of exploring.
If you’re thinking of buying one, they don’t come cheap, yet in Japan, they can be found in every household, hotel and public space… Interestingly, it’s been estimated that more than 70 percent of Japanese homes feature these electronic super loos while surprisingly, only 30 percent own a dishwasher. Washing your posterior obviously takes priority over washing your dirty crockery…
2. Behold the just-about-anything-and-everything Vending Machine
Okay, so we’re all familiar with the vending machine and ordinarily they’re nothing to write home about, but it is the sheer number of vending machines that warrants a mention.
According to some sources, there are a staggering 5 million plus vending machines across the country. To put things in perspective, that equates to one vending machine per 25 citizens. Aside from the impressive numbers, most confounding of all is what they sell. Something that takes perversity to an all new high is the Used-Knicker vending machine. Yes, you read correctly – ‘used’ – as in ‘worn’.
3. Capsule hotels With a strange resemblance to a morgue, beds are literally stacked one on top of the other to minimise the footprint of prime real estate in growing cities like Tokyo and Osaka. They made their debut in Osaka in the late 70’s and have only recently appeared in cities all over the world. It’s not for the claustrophobic though, nor a good idea for those who frequent the loo in the middle of the night.
If you’re planning on staying in a capsule hotel, here are some things to be aware of…
– Most capsule hotels are geared towards businessmen who have missed the last train home and are therefore men only. Check there are female only floors first before booking.
– Rates are between US$30 to $50 a night, depending on the hotel.
– The bathing areas are communal so expect to see lots of flesh!
– The walls are thin, so be thoughtful to your neighbours surrounding you.
For a list of good capsule hotels go to – http://www.cheapojapan.com/top-capsule-hotels-in-tokyo/
4. Hanging out with cats at a Cat Café
These are a phenomena that has taken Japan by storm. According to some sources, in the past five years, exactly 79 such cafés have popped up all over Japan. Due to the Japan’s land size and population, many landlords do not allow residents to keep pets. Not for people who have allergies to our feline friends, as the name suggests, these are coffee shops where cat lovers go to sip overpriced lattes while stroking a pussy cat. Cat cafés generally charge a time-based fee though so if you’re planning to stay all day, prepare to pay over $40 to stroke a bit of fur. I think Hello Kitty has got a lot to answer for. For a list of Cat Cafes in Tokyo visit -http://en.rocketnews24.com/2014/02/22/a-guide-to-tokyos-best-cat-cafes/
5. Bathing naked with a stranger at an Onsen
Read my blog ‘Onsen – A Guide to Getting Naked’
6. Finally Japanese Fashion Think Japanese clothing and we usually visualise the traditional kimono. In modern day Japan though, the Japanese are known for their radical, pushing-the-boundary fashion with creative designers like Issey Miyake and Takada Kenzo ruling the catwalks.
From the school girl look to glam rock or punk girl, these farfetched statements are a depiction of the Japanese’s need for individuality; a yearning to break out of the expected mould of being pretty and demure.
The Black Diamond phase for example began in the 1990s, an attempt to go against the grain of the stereotypically Japanese beauty. To sport the Black Diamond look, plenty of coloured hair dye is obligatory (the louder the better) along with the characteristic fake tan. I blame the scary girl power look on the Spice Girls… Zigazig ah!