No, not a Fast Food Flush. Which would have to be the horrible reverse of a cleansing diet. Instead, I’m referring to our first full day in Japan which was largely a jumble of planes, trains and automobiles. And food. And toilets. Let me explain. The first hurdle was finding each other as Andy was flying in from Taiwan and I was coming direct from San Francisco and landing at a different terminal. We had timed out the logistics and realized we had about twenty minutes to rendezvous at a central meeting point, find the express train, and buy tickets that would get us to the bullet train which would whisk us into Kyoto in time for the last sitting of the traditional Japanese dinner offered at our guest house. Amazingly, we managed to pull it off, which is less a tribute to our efforts than it is to the wonderful and clear English signage throughout Japan’s transportation systems. Good thing, too, because fewer people than you would think speak English.
Allow me to skip right ahead to the bullet train. Yes, it’s fast. Damn fast. As in 200 MPH fast. That’s a blessing and a curse. You get places in a flash. But don’t expect to see much out the window and you certainly won’t get any good pictures. Also when one bullet train passes another moving in the opposite direction, you’ll experience some sort of rapid transit vortex as each train sucks the other into its slipstream. As I said, there aren’t many photo opportunities. But I did gather some impressions that I can’t back up with any facts or research because I haven’t done any. That won’t stop me from expounding anyway.
One of the most interesting impressions was the amount of farmland that seems to be interspersed even in particularly built up areas. You’d see fairly dense housing, what looked like a commercial zone, and in between them, rice paddies and/or greenhouses. In addition, even in tiny townhouses and apartment complexes with postage stamp front yards or only balconies, nearly every resident seemed to be growing some food stuff, even if only in pots. I’m guessing, the Japanese are some pretty dedicated locavores and they aren’t leaving all the farming to the farmers.
It was that local food we were rushing for. We had booked a traditional ryokan or guesthouse and one of their offerings is a twelve course seasonal meal highlighting local fish, meat and produce. Before you think we are eating to reach sumo size, let me assure you that a “course” was usually a small bite or two.
Let me just pause here in praise of Japanese tofu. First, tofu has to be one of my least favorite foods — everything from the taste to the texture is repellant to me. In most of the Asian countries I’ve visited, the predeliction for what they call “Stinky Tofu” has moved tofu even further up my “Will Not Eat” list. This is not your Malaysian tofu. Or even your California tofu. Japanese tofu is delicate and perfumed with a silken and buttery mouth feel. Absolutely gorgeous.
Oh, I could go on and on — as dinner did — but I promised you toilets. You see, I’m a great investigator of toilets when I travel. I believe you can tell a lot about a culture by its toilet facilities. My one previous encounter with Japan was just a night stay in Narita airport between flights. But I had time to discover that the Japanese have elevated the toilet to the very limits of Art and Science. We may be staying in a traditional guesthouse, furnished much as it was when it was founded 200 years ago, but for the owners, this was no excuse not to splash out, as it were, on the very latest toilet technology.
Somehow, this toilet senses when you are seated and starts a series of flushing sounds — just sounds, mind you — to, well shall we say, mask any other sounds you might not want to be heard. And it knows when you are finished and commences the real flush.
All I can say is: “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto!”