December 05, 2003

Japan 2: A gaijin arrives

Well, here I am. A few fumbled "konichiwa"s and "arigato"s later, I am sitting in Terminal 2 at Tokyo Narita airport waiting for my connecting flight to Fukuoka. I've safely navigated landing in a country that I speak not a single word of. I've come through customs, immigration, and a quick transfer of terminals on a bus, and most harrowing of all, my first encounter with the Japanese public lavatory system. I have a feeling it will not be my last.

My first impressions of Japan have been as might have been expected, of a clean, well-ordered, and well run operation. The grass between the airport runways was neatly trimmed. The moving walkways were all clearly marked with LED posts showing the way with flashing green arrows, and pairs of green feet place together on the left hand side indicated precisely and concisely that this was the side to stand on and allow walkers to move calmly past you.

As I say, everything was well laid out - even down to the baggage claim clerk who had a laminated, typed sheet in Japanese and English so that he could communicate with me perfectly about how my bags would be transferred to the next terminal by simply pointing to the words on the sheet. But the toilet. Jeez. Had me totally stumped. I'd gone in with the intention of performing numbers one and two, but was so overwhelmed (or rather, underwhelmed) at what I was faced with that I spent five minutes trying out various plans of attack, but in the end was only able to manage a tinkle. I mean, it's not like I've never encountered anything like it before (France, circa 1985), but it was just so.... unexpected. Like the Spanish Inquisition. Urinals were fine, bathroom was clean, but when I opened the cubicle, I discovered that someone had removed the toilet, and instead left only a channel of porcelain about a foot long which terminated by dropping into a lower basin, and had a low half-dome partially covering said basin. The flush handle was on the wall, looking distinctly lonely. Nothing else. Apart from the discreet toilet roll dispenser. What I spent a couple of minutes trying to work out was exactly how I was meant to squat down, with my trousers rolled around my ankles , and not soil myself or fall over in the process. And I couldn't imagine I was meant to stand up. I mean, I realize that I'm a head taller than the average Japanese man, but standing up, there was no way my piss could be relied upon to find its target consistently. And that's not even to begin talking about the possibility of projectile defecation. In the end, I surrendered in defeat, went for an ungainly squat, a quick piss, and a prayer that my balance held. It did. I shall have to ask Jon what the correct technique is in such circumstances.

Other first impressions. Lots of allotments, trees in nicer areas with some Autumn/Fall colours, and more golf courses than I'd expected. Funny to think of that very Scottish pursuit being such a global phenonmenon as to have made it to (literally) the other side of the world.

Posted by mthaddon at December 5, 2003 08:52 PM