Sunday, February 14, 2010

Slipper Hubbub/Toilets of the Future


The other night Kyle and I went out eat with some friends at an izakaya, or the Japanese equivalent of a bar and grill. As most of you probably know from general floating cultural knowledge and my previous blogs, it's customary to take off your shoes and wear slippers at a lot of places here in Japan, and that extends to izakayas. The tables in these places are low the ground on tatami mats, so shoes are a no go. The solution they offer is to give everyone a little locking shoe cubby, and when you have to leave the tatami mat area (to go the bathroom for example), there are slippers available for everyone to use, usually sitting right next to tatami mat.

This is what it looks like in a tatami area, but I didn't take this picture

Usually. So last night after a couple of shared bottles of sake, I naturally had to use the restroom. I walked to the end of the tatami mat, and *gasp* there weren't any slippers. What's a girl to do? I did what I always do in such situations, which is look to the nearest Japanese person with a helpless look on my face for guidance, and hilarity ensued. 2 employees ran off in a mad dash to search for another pair while at the same time a male customer noticed the situation and ran over to offer his slippers by jumping up out of them and on to the tatami mat. The slipper situation resolved itself less than a minute later when 3 pairs of slippers appeared before me at exactly the same time as 2 bowing employees and 1 apologetic restaurant manager. I was then sumimasened all the way to the restroom where I ran into my drunk Japanese girlfriend who didn't get why that would be funny.


I had an idea before I came here that everything in Japan would be a model of efficient modern design. It turns out that Japan actually exists in the real world and so doesn't come close to conforming to my preconceived notions--except when it comes to toilets.

There are a lot of different ways to go to the bathroom. In Cambodia they had gravity flush squatters, in Football stadiums in the US they have endless troughs, and maybe I'll tell you later about the elegant solution to toilet paper they have in the UAE. (Hint: It involves a squirt gun and an extra set of towels that only have one use.) The crapper is the one area, however, where the Japanese truly are way ahead.

Japanese toilets are a marvel of modern technology. Here are a few of the features:

Heated Seat- It was gross in the summer, but when winter hit I finally understood.
Bidet- With warm water and adjustable water pressure.
Special Girl's Bidet- For girl's parts. I tried it out once with predictable results.
Butt Dryer- After the bidet, a refreshing blast of warm air.
Ambient Noise- Nature sounds like birds chirping or a bubbling brook to cover up your smelly sounds.
Auto Air Freshener- A tiny puff of artificially sweetened air after you stand up.
Control Panel- A bunch of buttons on the side of the toilet. If you want to play a joke on somebody, turn the bidet up all the way before you leave.

And at the izakaya last night I discovered yet another feature. When I opened the stall door, the toilet lid automatically rose to greet me. It was an awe inspiring glimpse into the future.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Giving Back

When we were in Cambodia, we stayed for a while in a small town called Kampot. While we were there, we had the chance to work with a local school called Chumkriel School. The teachers and students of Chumkriel warmly welcomed us, and thanks in part to their friendship, we often look back on our travels in SE Asia and remember our time in Kampot as the happiest.

A rice sack race for the school's Khmer New Year celebration

While we were there, we realized how poorly resourced many schools in the world are, and were able to develop a better appreciation for how lucky we were to grow up in a wealthy school district where we not only had the basics like books, pencils, notebooks, indoor plumbing, and paper, but also had all the extras like educational posters, games, art supplies, musical equipment, science labs, sports equipment, and computers. When we started working in Japan, we realized we had an opportunity to give back a little of that good fortune by sending some old textbooks and grammar books to Chumkriel. After gathering the books from our school here in Japan, we managed to raise enough money to send 3 boxes of books to Chumkriel.

Opening the boxes of books and supplies

It felt great to finally get the books to a place where they're needed, and we're really grateful to everyone who helped make it possible: the Horiguchis for donating the books, Yoko Kamo for donating her time to help figure how to get the books over there, Heidi for giving school supplies, and Khris (and her aunt), Kunii, John, Heidi, and the Horiguchis for helping us pay for the shipping.

Receiving the books

If you're interested in donating either money or supplies to Chumkriel, be sure to take a look here. We know the money will be well spent.