Friday, August 10, 2007

Confused in Kyoto

We left Melbourne on the 6th of August and arrived in Kyoto, Japan via Singapore and Osaka. It was a huge travel day, 10 hours of flights, trains and taxis.

It occured to me somewhere in the Singapore Airport that I probably should have the name of our hotel written in Japanese to show the taxi driver. Of course I didn't; so I went on the internet (free at the Singapore Airport) and did my best to copy it. My best isn't good enough.

Once in Osaka we went to the train station to get on a train to Kyoto and it hit me. Full force, like shoving my fork in the outlet, culture shock. I couldn't read the signs, nobody spoke English, I couldn't figure out the bathroom, and I was sweating. A lot.

"Ok Jule, take everything you know about how to function while traveling , (i.e. tell the difference between a food item and, say, a decorative soap, be reasonably sure you will be able to recognize and predict the function of bathroom fixtures) and toss it." I told myself. This is brand new territory.

Luckily the woman in the train ticket office spoke a little English and was able to help us find our train to Kyoto - and also wrote the name of the hotel for me to show the taxi driver (bless you sweet young Japanese woman, bless you.)

I had not anticipated how completely different this would be from everywhere else I have travelled. For example, I don’t read or speak Japanese, but I have travelled lots of places where I don’t speak the language. Usually though, I can recognize a street sign as being a word (Blechdinschlaat is a goofy word, but a word nonetheless).

Here however, most of the signs are written in Japanese characters only. So if I want to identify the street I have to think “Birthday cake symbol, squashy-looking seven with round swishy bottom thingy, Eiffel tower-looking dealy etc.” As most street names have at least seven characters, this is a daunting task.

The food, though mostly wonderful, generally confounds me. It seems you are equally as likely to get one of the main characters from Nemo – in some cases anatomically correct and not overly deceased – as a chicken McNugget. Where I come from those are two completely different types of cuisine.

And the time of day has no bearing on what you are served. Sushi and sashimi for breakfast ladies and gentleman. We were so puzzled by the meal we were served last night that all we could do was photograph it.

But my favorite is the lavatory. I had read about the squatters - Japanese style toilets that are essentially just porcelain basins in the floor over which you are meant to squat. (And by you I mean people with stronger thighs and more balance than me). But the only place I have seen them so far is a public restroom which also had regular or European-style toilets.

What continues to surprise and confuse me are all the functions available on a standard toilet. We are staying in a modest hotel with a very small bathroom, and our toilet has nine function buttons. A toilet needs to do nine different things?

I understand that these are probably a seat warmer, a bidet, a deodorizer, etc., but I haven’t gotten brave enough to go pushing any of those buttons. I’ll let you know when I do. But it won’t be any time soon, and it definitely won’t be that Eiffel Tower looking dealy.

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