Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Merlotmom Does Japan: Part 4, The Bullet Train, Sad Excuse For A Tour Guide, and The Pee Story!

MM:  Hello? Yes, I'm back with another installment of MM Does Japan.
Readers: Finally, we've been waiting like for-ev-ah.
MM:  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Quit giving me grief I get enough of that at home.
Readers:  Later girlfriend!
MM:  Wait, wait!  Come back.
Readers(chirp, chirp).
MM:  Shoot.  Now I've burned the blogger bridge, too.  (sniff, sniff) Who else is left?    LinkedIn.  I'll try LinkedIn. No one knows me there.

Hi, All!
Yes, it's been awhile, so if you need a Japanese refresher go here , here, and here.

I'll begin Part 4 as we bid goodbye to the big city in search of a more traditional Japan.

Just as we got the hang of navigating Tokyo's Metro system and communicating with the natives (in spite of knowing only six Japanese words), it was time to leave the big city for Kyoto.

We were sad to leave the omnipresent masses behind:

masses of people

masses of neon
and masses of way-cool technology NOT compatible outside of Japan
(what's up with that?)
 The above three photos are of Akibahara aka "Electric City"
(these are courtesy of google images)
But we looked forward to seeing Kyoto which is an older Japanese city loaded with temples, shrines, castles, and palaces made of gold and silver.

To get there from Tokyo we took the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train)
(photo courtesy of
The bullet train was inaugurated in 1964 as the world's first high-speed train. It travels at 300 km/h, which for number-challenged Americans like me, translates to 186 mph.
We got to Tokyo Station in time for our 12:32pm departure
At precisely 12:25pm the train arrived
 Female member of cleaning crew

At which point a gender-specific dressed cleaning crew descended upon the train like swarms of ants in search of a candy bar.  In uniforms of pink and blue they carried their neatly packed plastic supply totes and swiftly made their way through the cars.

At 12:30pm the crew departed and we were instructed to board. Not even during NYC rush hour have I seen people move so fast.  In an orderly and efficient fashion, commuters carrying briefcases and bento boxes stashed their totes in the rack above, hung their suit jackets on hooks, and settled into their assigned seats.

At 12:32pm EXACTLY the train pulled out of the station as businessmen pulled pork cutlet sandwiches and sushi rolls from their cozy packages. It was like watching a perfectly choreographed ballet.

Not to be made to feel like tourists, though "DUH" just look at us,

we pulled out our own array of Japanese munchies: chicken teriyaki, chicken meatballs on a skewer, shrimp tempura, sushi rolls, noodles, seaweed and sprouts (the latter were mine).

Where did we get all these goodies?   Glad you asked.
Why, in our favorite place to eat in all of Tokyo - the department store - of course.

Yes, the department stores in Tokyo all have huge, glorious gourmet food markets on the bottom floors. This ain't your typical California mall food court, this is epicurian HEAVEN. Chocolates, pastries, cakes, fresh breads, bread rolls shaped like rabbits and turtles, gigantic fresh produce, prepared lunches, salads, meats.  It sounds tacky but, more than once, we purchased a customized smorgasbord for four and brought it back to our hotel to eat (no seating areas in the store - probably too messy).

Arriving at the Hyatt Kyoto, my kids were thrilled to see a modern hotel lobby with a choice of three restaurants: American, Italian and Japanese. Hamburger, anyone?
They LOVED the Japanese influenced room complete with the comforts of home.
That evening, we ventured out to the Gion District, an area of backstreets filled with traditional tea houses and antique shops.  We had hoped to run into some real life geishas. But actual sightings in the street are rare, and as far as I know, my husband is not a regular client, so no geisha girls for us!
We still had a great time shopping and people watching.  And we did see plenty of these:

Japanese rickshaw driver
The next day we visited the Imperial Palace. The Emperor moved from here to Tokyo (which became the capital of Japan in the late 1800s). This palace is now open to the public. We were looking forward to our guided tour until I was introduced to our tour guide.

 She seemed unsure of herself, nervous. Turns out she had reason to be, we were popping her tour-guide cherry.
 Lucky us.

The kids picked up on her anxiety right away and being that we were touring yet another palace, the whines and groans started immediately. She did manage to read off her notes in very bad English explain the history of the building to us but her voice was so quiet and her sentences so broken it was difficult to garner any real information from her.   So I took pictures instead...

It started to pour which made it harder to hear what our tour guide was saying but I did manage to catch this brilliant suggestion when we reached the Japanese gardens:

"This is a bridge.  Take picture now, please." 

So I did.


On our way out of the Imperial Palace, I could no longer avoid what I had been dreading for weeks:

I had to pee.

I could tell from the restroom's exterior that I had reason to fret.  The moment of truth had arrived.

I opened the stall door and was faced with my nightmare:

A Japanese-style toilet
In case your perspective is off (or my photo is bad) the toilet is built into the floor.  I am standing above it, those are my feet on either side of it. 
As much as I feared this moment, I was ready.  I had prepared myself for battle by wearing a dress and mentally mapping out my strategy. 
Dress up.
Underwear off.
Center body directly over toilet.
Problem was, it had been a while since my last yoga class and my squatting had seen better days.  I released into the porcelain basket.  All went well.  I started to relax, and then, big mistake - I shouldn't have relaxed!  Suddenly without the tension to guide it, my stream went astray, missing the target and landing squarely on my left white shoe.
Now, I know I've mentioned in this blog before about the dozen or more supplements I swallow every day.  Do you know what happens to your pee when it's on vitamins?  It turns bright yellow; like radiating special powers yellow; like never cough or sneeze while wearing white pants yellow; like there's no getting away with having peed on your foot yellow.
Shit.  I put my underwear back on and as I left the stall to head toward the sink a woman exited the stall across from me. I caught a quick glimpse behind her and you know what I saw?  A western-style toilet.  The only one in the place.  Shit.  Shit.  I learned my lesson for next time:  check ALL stalls before doing the squat.
I went to the sink and did my best to destroy the evidence which wasn't easy considering the lack of paper goods in public Japanese bathrooms.  Luckily the pee hit the leather of my shoe rather than the suede so whatever was left of the stain I quickly covered with dirt before returning to the group.    I managed to save myself public humiliation but, of course, quickly shared the story with my family.  Hey, I had to share it with someone!  In hindsight, I suppose I could have twittered.  Oh well.
I have no pictures of the pee on my shoe (I'm not sure whether that upsets you or makes you want to kiss me.)  Truth is, it didn't occur to me at the time. Whatever brain cells I have left were occupied with the shame of the moment and couldn't see it for the humor it would bring you me us no one later.
Next time on Merlotmom Does Japan we see more of Kyoto, the beautiful city of Nara - where the largest Buddha in the world resides, and, yes, the inside of a Japanese ER where you get to see Merlotmom sans makeup.  Prepare yourselves.
Before I go, I'll leave you with an old Japanese proverb:
Man who pees on his shoe...has dirty shoes.

See you next time!


Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to the squat toilet. We were in China a year ago and I would hold for hours if there wasn't a Western toilet—and, yes, there was usually only one in any given public restroom. One day I just couldn't wait any longer and had to use the squat. I almost fell over. I couldn't balance myself well enough to push my jeans down (Mistake Number 1: Jeans), squat and then stand back up without falling in. But I was prepared for one thing—I brought my own T/P. Our friends totally mocked us on the plane but once we were in China? It was like gold!!

Looks like you had an amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip! I hope the kids appreciate it some day.

Connie said...

Well, thanks to this post my kids' know the F word. My exact words when I saw the picture of the toilet where....are you Fing kidding me? I would have landed on my butt for sure!

Then I laughed myself silly when you peed on your shoe.

Can't wait for the next installment!

InTheFastLane said...

I thought there was going to be a pee stained show pic :) Seriously, I am still so much impressed that you managed that trip with kids. Glad you followed instructions and took pictures.

ByJane said...

This, Ms M.Mom, was SO worth waiting for.

Headless Mom said...

Squatty potties scare me. Granted I did it plenty when I was in high school, partying in the woods, but that was over 20 years ago and who looks at your shoes when you're in the woods, drunk?

JCK said...

I released into the porcelain basket.

Best line EVAH!

I'm so glad your telling these stories. Those department store grocery levels sound yummy!

Robin said...

It may have been pouring but the light you captured in those bridge photos is glorious, practically ethereal.

As for the point and shoots - after living in Turkey for nearly a year I no longer break out in a sweat if I see one (for some reason many westernized places in Turkey also had regular toilets, but movie theaters never did, at least not in Ankara. No idea why.) It will definitely never be my ideal choice of home sanitary decor though. Much too hard on the knees - and the shoes!

Magpie said...

At least it was a clean "toilet". I remember really scary ones in France. Really scary and disgusting.

I love the wallpaper frieze behind the hotel bed.

just a girl... said...

I learn something new every day and this post cracked me the hell up. I like to my pee, red bull pee which does the exact same thing to ya as vitamins

Twenty Four At Heart said...

Thanks for sharing your trip! I'm jealous ... I've always wanted to go to Japan!

Bobbi said...

Your pictures are amazing! I'm glad you took pictures of the bridge as instructed by your "tour guide".

I think we've all peed on our shoes at one time or another!

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