Our Japanese Experience Day#1

As we return home from our trip to Japan and contemplate all we saw and did, we want to share our experiences. Our trip was truly wonderful! The Japanese people are the most gracious and respectful people anywhere. We took many notes along the way and now are trying to formulate them into blog posts. Marty and I wrote this blog post together on my phone.  We apologize for the lack of good grammar.  The notes written in italics are Marty’s perspective and I am in regular font. Because I am special.
We arrived into Japan; Hanaeda airport at 2215, Thursday February 19. We lost a day as we crossed the timeline in the Pacific ocean. We started our journey in Spokane Wednesday morning, heading to Denver and then onto San Francisco because SFO had the best stand by options. It was a very pleasant flight. June was our flight attendant for the flight. We were blessed to sit in economy plus seating; sitting next to each other and having the row behind us open as well. We watched a movie together and then we each took a row and laid down to sleep for a while. The movie we watched was, “This is where I leave you” and really enjoyed our first meal. I had pasta, salad, bread and a bottle of wine. Marty had a spiced chicken and noodle dish, salad, bread and wine.  I have to say, airline food has come a long way, the first International flight we ever took was to Frankfurt, Germany and that food was a cross between cardboard and a mystery meat of some sort. While no one was going to struggle to finish their meal due to large mass quantities of the food, the taste was much improved. I suggest the airlines could teach some Wisconsin hotel and convention centers a thing or two about making chicken taste good. The meal was included in our seat assignment. I slept for a good four hours and so did Marty. Our flight was in complete darkness, as the sun set happened just prior to boarding the plane; and it remained dark the whole way, 10 hours long.  I woke and watched another movie. It did not feel like ten hours honestly.  They fed us again and did at least three beverage services. The flight attendants were very attentive, Japanese ladies. All announcements were made in English first and Japanese second.

It took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get thru customs; winding thru long lines. Customs officials seemed very pleasant; better than I experienced in Canada and definitely better than US customs. The airport was nice; not very fancy.  We went to a tourism kiosk and bought our subway passes. We then got to use the bathrooms in Japan for the first time.

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What a joy! We have used Japanese style toilets before in the hibachi restaurant we love in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  So, they weren’t a complete surprise. Heated seats, bidet water rinsing and drying. Lovely! We need one in our house.

A word about Japanese toilets from a male perspective, in Wisconsin we do not have the aforementioned types of toilets for men. We have basic cold as an igloo ceramic white, or we have basic cold as an igloo stainless steel. So when I encountered these for the first time, there is an uneasyness with pushing buttons and turning up controls when you can’t read the directions and every push of a button contains a new surprise! You seriously need a degree in astrophysics to operate one of those things properly in the first try. Also a word of warning, do not stand in front of a new toilet location and push any buttons just to see what happens. You will end up with pants that look suspiciously like you have peed your pants if you push the wrong button, or so I have heard.

We finally headed towards the subway and unfortunately found out that the train was no longer running for the day; it was midnight. We are used to trains running later than midnight; (in Seattle they run until at least two) some places, they run 24 hours a day (like Chicago and Washington dc). So, that led to an issue with getting to our capsule hotel. We went back to the tourism office because that was where English speaking help was. They told us that subway was done for the night and we would have to take a taxi. We inquired about buses but nothing could get us to our hotel easily. Taxi ride was quoted to be $80US and our actual cost $74US. A word of encouragement here, the Japanese people, to an individual, are the nicest people I have ever met. They want to help so badly, they try so hard, and they never lose patience with the fact that the only Japanese I know is courtesy of the band Styx from 1983.

Our first night was spent in a capsule hotel. It was nothing fancy but it was clean and very reasonably priced.  $42US total with taxes. Hotel rooms are very expensive in Japan and I had heard about capsule hotels on a national geographic program and really wanted to try one. We found one in the Kiba area that allowed mixed couples. Most only take single men.  It was kinda like tent camping and dorm life.  We had to store our luggage in a room by the lobby.  We had a locker to put our valuables and purses/back pack in for safe keeping.

We were hungry at this point (0115 Japanese time) and walked next door to a Lawsons’.  A Lawsons’ is a local convenience store.  We saw they also have 7/11 stores.  There was all kinds of convenient, crappy choices. We bought some simple, ramen noodle cups, ice cream sandwich and drinks. The ice cream sandwich was delish.

Food does seem to be very reasonably priced. Bottle water is usually $1 to $2US. We went back to hotel and got dressed in our robes and slippers provided by the front desk. Everyone walked around the hotel lobby, capsule room and bathrooms in the same “one size fits all (Japanese)” PJ/robe outfits. They were very comfortable actually.

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We climbed into our capsule; luckily it was on the ground level. They had ones with ladders to climb up into.  The mattress was quite firm and the pillows felt like they were made of a bead type substance, (felt like the size of barley) and not very soft. I have gotten so spoiled with good beds, pillows and linen! We had a duvet type cover as a blanket. The tv was available but cost a fee and by this point, we were tired.  We slept until 0600, waking up kinda sweaty. We couldn’t figure out the air venting system. They weren’t the most comfortable but I was really glad to have the experience! Just a word of warning here, it is apparent to me that “capsule hotel” may also mean, “resting place Japanese wife sends snoring husband for the night”. This is not an exaggeration, no fewer than 5 of our neighboring capsule dwellers had serious sleep apnea/snoring issues. It was loud outside the capsule, the good news, once inside your fiberglass pod you couldn’t really hear it but you felt it, seriously. I just thought of it as the old “Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed” without having to pay the quarter.

The bathing rooms for men and women were on third floor. I came into a room with a large mirror and counter with sinks. Luckily, only one other woman there. The shower/bathing room was a separate room with a sliding glass door.  I showered off and then climbed into hot tub for a few minutes. I had the shower room to myself. There appeared that there only a few women present at hotel.

My first time bathing with dudes

  1. Men’s bathing in a Japanese capsule hotel is kind of like two Baptists going into a liquor store. You both know you are each there but you don’t ever look at each other and you sure as heck don’t talk to, or acknowledge each other. 
  2. The first room was a mirrored counter, multiple sink, vanity area, with chairs, in a horseshoe shape. No words were spoken, none, no acknowledging looks are given, just 10 to 12 guys, in various stages of dress, underwear, pajamas, to full suits, getting ready for the business work day. But I need to shower first, so I follow the short hallway to some lockers and a door to an obvious  sauna, whirlpool, shower area. Fortunately there are instructions, in Japanese, on the door. Even more fortuitously there are cartoon pictures that, from my interpretation, are telling me, in summation, take all your clothes off, sit in a bowl, put bubbles on yourself, THEN go in the spa/whirlpool. It wasnt clear after that what is reasonable and accepted.practice but it appeared it was kind of lather, rinse, repeat thing. What the cartoon instructions were not clear about was that there would be 5-6 other guys doing the same thing, at the same time in nothing but the suit God gave them when they came into this world.
  3. Probably the strangest part of this process is thee stool you sit on, while showering, while there are 5-6 other dudes squatting on their stools, showering. First issue, just how many guys before me have planted their buttcracks on this same plastic stool and secondly, the stool is about 6″ off the floor and I am as flexible as a steel beam in the Chrysler Building in Chicago. Somehow I am able to get down, and more importantly, back up off the stool after the shower. The process works fine, although uncomfortably for several reasons, but I get it done. along with a trip with my same 5 bathing partners, into the bathtub of tepid filth, which some affectionately refer to as a hot tub, for several minutes, in our birthday suits.
  4. It all works well, although it wasnt as fun as the cartoon instructions indicated it would be, (those characters were having a blast,.apparently my buddies and I were not doing it quite right?) perhaps it was because not once did I hear a word spoken, or even a visual acknowledgement that one another were occupying almost the same space clothed or not.
We checked out of the hotel and walked a few blocks to local subway station. Everyone was commuting to work in their suits. Coming and going, some on bicycles, some walking, cars speeding by. When the Japanese commute, there is no talking, no smiles; just focused and driven expressions.  We were trying to walk with our bags and our vending machine coffee cups with no lids.  Funny, the Japanese do not appear to carry coffee cups around like we do in America.  There are proper lanes to walk in, opposite of our “walk right” but they also drive on the opposite side of the car.  Everyone knew where they were going except us.

We got into the subway, headed down a few escalators and a subway security/guide lady came up to us and asked us if we needed help. Her English was minimal but she could see on Marty’s phone our direction list. Every time, we try to pronounce locations, most look at us with complete bewilderment on their faces but we show them our train stops/destinations on our smart phone and they’d give us directions. Probably, because our Japanese is horrible. She helped to literally push us onto the subway car because it was standing room only and rush hour.

We got off at Tokyo station (main train/subway station) and then found ticketing station for the Shinkansen train (bullet train).

The Shinkansen was very pleasant to ride. We were given assigned seats. When the train pulled up; a cleaning crew got on board the train and quickly cleaned the train cars. We watched them; it looked like a well-coordinated dance, flitting from one set of seats to the next set. All surfaces were cleaned. They were all dressed in red uniforms, with rags, buckets and other cleaning items attached to they belts. When they were done, they came out of the train, lined up on the platform and stood in front of us passengers standing in que to board the train. The head supervisor swept his hand out and presented the cleaners to us and then all ten cleaners took a bow in front of us. It happened so quickly; I wished we could have taken a video of it, it was so amazing to see their pride. This moment still has impacted my thoughts to this day. I long for a society that has such reverence for hard work and service. The pride in their jobs; the cleanliness of the Shinkansen trains was a sight to behold.

I feel, after watching the people of Japan, that Americans are Neanderthals, we are pushy, loud, obnoxious, we do not have half the pride of accomplishment, or the fear of shame if a job is not well done. I am so impressed by their pride in standing in front of us, after cleaning the train we are about to ride on, and bowing to us, indicating “Good Afternoon Sir, we just cleaned this train for you. We have put much energy and pride into the effort and we pray that you will find it comfortable and to your liking.” There was no mumbling under their breath about not making enough money, a menial job that they didn’t enjoy, a boss that they hated. They were full of pride that they had just completed their task to the best of their ability and they put their name on it and handed it off to us to enjoy with smiles on their faces. The people of the United States, as a group, are very much at least in second place when it comes to providing excellent customer service and showing pride in accomplishment of a job extremely well done.

Seriously, can you think of the last time you saw a cleaning crew in an airport, train station, hotel, etc… smile all the time while cleaning, then look you in the eyes when they were done and say to you, “I have done my best to clean  your room and hope it is to your liking” and that room was immaculate.

Coming Next….Marty informs the Pacific Fleet how wonderful the Badgers and Packers are via Armed Forces Radio Network and Laurel shows us all that is Misawa, of course including Karaoke.

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