Daily Life

She’s in New York. By HERSELF.

Karis with potential costumed pickpockets in NYC.

Karis with potential costumed pickpockets in NYC.

Though I’m not in Tokyo anymore, as evidenced by my earlier posts, I still have lots to say about mothering a teenager—much to her dismay. I’ll have to keep it somewhat impersonal as she will exact hideous revenge if she feels her privacy has been thwarted. She has been known to Tweet things hashtagged with #shitAndreasays or post screenshots of my texts on Instagram.

So…she left for NY on Saturday night despite desperate measures by the gods, the whims of fate or whomever or whatever is in charge of this life we live, to make sure she stayed home. She’s been feeling a tad under the weather and not overly energetic. As have many of her friends. After several doctor visits and one extremely heated exchange with the medical receptionist (Yes, I understand you don’t give test results out over the phone but can you please have a doctor, ANY doctor, call me ASAP!) and two blood tests, we find out—from the lab, not the doctor—that she has mono. (FYI when you get any lab tests you can ask them for an e-health number which allows you to access your results online as soon as they’re processed and not wait until your doctor’s office finds it in their hearts to let you know.) I immediately go into overdrive, researching natural remedies for mono. Karis, somewhat grudgingly, took various nasty supplements; two teaspoons of coconut oil per day; two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar and lots of Vitamin C to help shorten the cycle of the virus. She was back at her exercise routine in two days, though I did allow her to skip the last two days of school seeing as the majority of her classmates had left on the rugby trip or their family vacations. So she’s OK, a little more tired, but managing.

Next hurdle. Weird redness and rashes on her face. That’s a problem if you’re a model. We didn’t know if it was an allergic reaction to food, to supplements or a mono thing. By a process of elimination, we came up with mangoes. I’d been feeding her mangoes for breakfast as a treat since she was taking all these nasty supplements. We still don’t really know, but what are the chances…I mean really? The child has been eating mangoes forever. Her skin has always been amazing and clear. The week before NY she’s got redness and rashes.

Friday. One day before NY. She goes to Boxfit as she has been doing for over 6 weeks. Wraps her wrists as usual. BUT as of March 9th you need your own gloves for the class, which we of course, don’t have because I’m not quite that organized right now. She is kindly lent a pair but they’re not the puffy kind she’s used to and she obviously overdoes it somehow. She takes off her wraps in the car and can’t move her wrist. Seriously. It’s getting more swollen and sore as the day goes on so we head to Lions Gate ER at 8:30pm. I’m prepared to wait as I’ve checked the website and it says that the wait will be between 2-3 hours. Probably a good idea as I would likely have been sitting there getting angry as it didn’t seem that busy. I have to say…the ER is highly entertaining on a Friday night. They lost a man named Victor who left his gown and all his clothes on the bed. They paged him for a while. He never came back. A few drunks. One of them quite snappily dressed with very expensive shoes (businessman not a gang banger) who refused to tell the nurse how he mangled his hand…despite her assurances that she didn’t actually care and it wouldn’t be recorded. He refused to tell and she refused to treat him (hospital policy). He left with his mangled hand, slurring about how he was going to his family doctor. At 10:30pm. An older man who approached the desk to tell the nurses, in great detail, that he’d had a bowel movement. The nurses gave him a bag (?) for the next one. Don’t even want to know. I could go on. Anyway, the upshot of the three-hour experience was that her hand is likely not broken, though they can’t say for sure because of her age (growth plates). We’re to come back if it still hurts next week. I will make her a cast from her Hello Kitty duct tape if it still hurts.

Despite ALL of this, we managed to pack on Saturday. Clean clothes. A variety of shoes and boots. A towel (that she didn’t need because it’s a swanky serviced penthouse). A warm coat. Her phone charger. Money. A notarized permission letter. Copies of important documents. Some tea and snacks. We headed out to the airport and made it in record time. I was just asking at the Information Desk where the Cathay check-in was located. It was NOT obvious, as you’d think a flight from YVR-JFK would be in the USA departures. Nope. Every counter was closed. It was in the International section as the flight originates in Hong Kong and just stops in Vancouver. Maybe they could put that on the boarding pass or something next time…as a reminder. I did actually know this in the deep recesses of my mind, as I took this very flight home from Tokyo but I just didn’t think that hard about it. Anyway, Karis’s agent Liz whom she was travelling with, rescued us at the  Information Desk and she and Karis went on their way to their very turbulent flight where no one got any sleep. But they made it to NY.

Karis is now roaming around NY without her mother to micromanage her every move. So far, so good, though I would not have let the costumed pickpockets in Times Square touch my phone to ‘take a picture’…as I’ve heard they sometimes run off with them. So many things I haven’t told her…and next time, just to be safe, I will offer up some Hot Tamales (the candy) to the pig shrine as this is how I got through university successfully.

The Pig Shrine

Studying Japanese Style.

610 611 612 613609study aids 

Seeing as school in BC is finally back in session after a lengthy labour dispute, I thought I’d do a ‘back-to-school’ themed post. When I taught in Japan many moons ago, my students ranged in age from 4-84, with about one-third being high school students. The others were housewives, businessmen, the odd senior and a handful of kids under twelve. My classes were privates, shared classes and small groups (never more than four). Most of the high school kids brought in homework and they often studied before class or brought their English homework to class so I could help them. I noticed that they all had clear plastic sheets in red or green or both. They were happy to introduce me their favourite Japanese method of studying—particularly useful in Japan as there is considerable memorization required for an abundance of standardized tests. There are tests to get into elementary school, high school and university. Once you GET to university, apparently it’s not that difficult, it’s the getting in that is the challenge. This system might come in handy for those studying for the SATs? Or memorizing vocabulary?

Anyway, this is their system. It comes in a tidy package (of course) with the deluxe package having both a red and green sheet of plastic (in various sizes) AND a red and green highlighter pen. The highlighters have neutralizing ink on the end so your notes don’t necessarily have to stay marked up with red and green. When studying, if you use the green highlighter and the red plastic, it blocks the word so you can test yourself. The red highlighter and the green plastic work the same way. It’s quite ingenious, particularly if you are studying languages, definitions or trying to memorize lists of facts and formulas. I bought some for Karis and her friends…we’ll see if they find them useful. You could probably get them at Daiso in Richmond if you want to try them out. I was there a couple of weeks ago and noticed that it’s no longer limited to $2 items–they still have the majority of items at $2 but they’ve definitely branched out in their pricing. If you’ve never been, I HIGHLY recommend it! It’s hugely entertaining as well as offering some unique and affordable household and gift items. http://www.daisocanada.com/

Editing from an Anthropological Perspective.

Words of wisdom on writing paper

Words of wisdom on writing paper

An inspirational little quote on the cover of a small notebook/folder

An inspirational little quote on the cover of a small notebook/folder

My eco-bag for groceries...could not resist

My eco-bag for groceries…could not resist

All this in a notebook retailing for 60 yen ;-)

All this in a notebook retailing for 60 yen 😉

Awww...very nice sentiment

Awww…very nice sentiment

A lovely sentiment for a plastic organizer file

A lovely sentiment for a plastic organizer file

One of the best things about Japan is the fact that so many items have these charming English slogans on them. One of the most maddening things is that often there are charming English slogans but no useful information in English such as instructions for use or even a clue to what the product might be. Nevertheless, it makes for an amusing and informative diversion when you are spending time in a society where you are, for the most part, unable to read or understand much of anything. Depending on your personality or even your mood, you may find this incredibly peaceful or maddening. My anonymous friend loves it…he loves being left in peace and being able to focus on his thoughts and pursuits with minimal interruption from society at large. I deeply suspect he understands, and could likely speak, Japanese much better than he lets on. Because I used to be fairly fluent in Japanese, I found it frustrating at first but I eventually relaxed and found the absence of constant messaging to be a good thing. I was less tired and had energy to read and write more, perhaps motivated by a lack of interaction in daily life? I think my experience is a good illustration of the effect of information overload in today’s relentless global 24/7 society. Kind of unexpected to experience being ‘unplugged’ in Tokyo.

Back to the English words and phrases on items ranging from toilet paper (“fresh and heavenly softness with relaxation”) to laundry soap (“lemon for your fresh cloths”) to clothing (“smart baby and stylish”). I often wonder who gets to write these little sayings? Do they have complete editorial freedom? How does one get these jobs? Is the author chosen by default because they are the best/only English speaker in the company? Or is there some sort of computer program or online word bank they use? (“enter product here for a list of suitable English words and phrases”) Are they subtly mocking us? (Unlikely) Where does this fascination with English come from? They could definitely use an editor if I could ever figure out where to apply for the job 😉  I do think the usage and understanding of English has definitely improved as there are far fewer instances of truly butchered syntax and word choice than there were when I first came to Tokyo. Indeed, my favourite experience of the misuse of English happened when I was in Tokyo in the 90s. I saw a expensively-dressed young woman in her twenties wearing a fitted long-sleeved T-shirt with ‘Fucking Shit’ embroidered in an elegant script. Back in the day, there weren’t a lot of non-conformists in this socio-economic bracket particularly shopping the streets of Ginza. I think things are coming full circle now as our society has developed a fascination with characters from other languages and the internet is full of instances of Westerners getting tattoos that they think mean ‘peace’ or ‘love’ that actually mean nothing of the sort.

Whatever the sociological or cultural reasons behind it, I for one, appreciate these little homilies found on countless items in Japan. It gives me something to read that is easy. I can read hiragana (phonetic alphabet for Japanese words) but it is a time-consuming trial and often if I manage to actually decode the word, I rarely can remember the meaning as I’ve forgotten most of my vocabulary. Think back to kindergarten or Grade 1 when you weren’t completely sure which letter made which sound and you’ll have an idea of my reading level in Japanese. It’s hard. No wonder Karis was so tired when she came home from Kindergarten!

Got this for my mum...not that she's 'olb' or anything

Got this for my mum…not that she’s ‘olb’ or anything

I'm not sure I want to know where horse oil comes from...

I’m not sure I want to know where horse oil comes from…

Adjectives were problematic for me when I learned Japanese and French

Adjectives were problematic for me when I learned Japanese and French

A little slice of Tokyo here in Vancity.

Osaka supermarketSo it’s been a week or so since my last post. Had a short family holiday to Whistler where I was happy to hear a fair amount of Japanese spoken and see some Japanese families enjoying beautiful BC but I’m back at it now. I went to the Osaka Supermarket the other day (part of the T&T chain) in search of green tea in bottles for the child. I was most excellently surprised to see a few items that I wasn’t expecting to find in Vancouver, albeit at much higher prices. First of all, Tsubaki/camellia oil. Same packaging as Japan, same stuff BUT it was a little over twice the price. Still good to know that I can get it here as apparently you can’t ship it because it’s an oil and I’m not quite sure if I’ll be back in Japan before I run out. Next, Karis was happy to hear that the magic fat burning detox gel is also available here if she decides that it is worth using at about three and a half times what it costs in Japan. Green tea–the powdered matcha NOT tea bags–is also available which is no surprise; however, the EXACT same bag that I bought in the Japanese dollar store for 100 yen (about $1.03) was seven dollars! Glad I stocked up on those as I use matcha every day. The 1L bottles of green tea that Karis bought daily in Japan are much harder to find. The first bottles I bought had sugar and honey in them which sort of detracts from the idea of ‘health’ and ‘detox’ but I went back and managed to find a couple of unsweetened varieties. Almost ALL of the brands available in Canada, from various Asian countries, are sweetened. The ones that are not sweetened are $7/IL bottle. A little expensive for a daily habit.

Finally, oh happy day, something completely unexpected. They have green tea Popsicles! Same price as Japan. Go figure…

green tea popsicles

Car Elevators and Mini Gas Stations

Garage

There are a lot of people in Tokyo–basically the population of Canada–so traffic can be intense. They drive on the same side of the road as the UK and are a lot more aggressive on the road than you would expect. Though I have to say, there is a lot less honking than I’ve experienced in any other city that has even a fraction of the population.

Gas stations use far less real estate than we do; usually they are on the side of the road in a small pull-out (similar to Europe). Drivers stay in the car and are served by a team of attendants (kind of like a racing pit stop) and most Japanese drivers are not well versed on the basic maintenance needs of their car. In fact, when I was learning Japanese from the Mormon missionaries back in 1990, the Canadian Mormon had partnered with a Japanese businessman who moved his wife and family to Vancouver. They bought a car. He proudly mastered the use of self-serve gas stations; however, no one told him about the importance of oil. He blew the engine. He was quite surprised and said to me, “I guess oil is important for the car’s engine…we don’t learn this information in Japan.”

The customary parking structures we use in North America are not viable in Tokyo due, not only to a lack of space, but to the astronomical cost of that space. When I lived there in 1990-91, many of the executives who were clients had cars and drivers but those who really made it had parking spots in addition to the company car and driver. In Shibuya, one of my local parking garages has a full-time attendant who drives the cars in and out, mostly because it’s a little more complicated than our local EasyPark in Vancouver. In Tokyo, you drive in the parking lot onto the spinning round “automobile lazy Susan” you get out, get your ticket and leave. The attendant then spins the car around, opens the elevator door and backs the car in. Cars are either stacked on a revolving ferris-wheel like structure or the elevator is used to transport cars between levels, eliminating the huge amount of space used for ramps. Many people even have two-layer structures in private homes.

One thing more… Parking has gotten a whole lot cheaper in Tokyo! I noticed on the sign that it’s only about $3/hour…way less than it was back in the day!

Under Wraps.

packaging

The art of wrapping…and if it’s an art, it’s probably because the Japanese made it one. Usually when you buy things that come in a package like cookies, crackers and candy, they will come individually wrapped (cookies) or grouped together in small snack packages. It would be very helpful if you were assembling lunches or snacks for kids. It works well to keep things fresh and also (bug warning ewwww) to keep the cockroaches away. Yes, Tokyo is very hot and humid in the summer so they do suffer with cockroach infestations. Luckily we were on the second floor so we didn’t have many…at least we didn’t when I was there. Fingers crossed for the girls still braving the summer heat.

I have to say, things have become more eco-friendly, in terms of superfluous packaging, since I lived in Tokyo in 1991. I recall buying my daily treat at the bakery outside the station. One item only; a cookie, a cinnamon bun. My one item would be wrapped in waxed/tissue-like paper and secured with a sticker, then put in a small box (even if it was just a cookie), THEN put in a carrier bag. Most department stores followed a similar three-layer protocol. First your purchases would be wrapped in tissue–like with like so the packages would be symmetrical and tidy–and neatly fixed with tape or a sticker, then put in a paper or plastic bag THEN this bag would be placed inside a fancy carrier bag with a logo and handles. As I’ve mentioned before, those who brought their own bags or knapsacks to the grocery store were viewed as potential threats to the social order and often received their food nicely wrapped in plastic and paper to protect the inside of their fabric bags or knapsacks.

A lot has changed now. I didn’t buy too many bakery items but they seem to have it down to 2 layers of packaging: a cellophane bag closed with tape or a sticker, placed inside a paper or plastic bag–no more carrier bags unless you buy something big. The department stores, for the most part, still wrap everything in tissue or place items in a paper bag and then put them in a carrier bag. So they’ve got it down to two layers too. Some of the middle-tier department stores have even (gasp) gone to a one bag only system. Nicely taped closed with logo tape but still, only one bag. Some bags, Shibuya Loft comes to mind, even use plastic bags and not fancy carrier bags with logos and handles. They still bow when they present you with your purchases though.

My grocery store has a small rack at each cashier that holds laminated cards with a picture of a bag in a red circle with a line through it that you place in your basket if you have your own bag. You also get extra points and a discount if you bring your own bags. So times HAVE changed. However, they still bring out the plastic umbrella sleeves every time it rains, even in the most lowly of department and grocery stores. The idea of wrapping packages and gifts and concealing things that are less than aesthetically pleasing will likely be a hard habit to break for the Japanese.

Food Fair 2.0 (ex a diversus terra)

Italian Restaurant in Hikarie Shibuya

Please note that all posts are officially now from Canada (ex a divers us terra= from another country…sadly we’re not in Kansas anymore). Though I still have lots to say 😉

Back to the land of the rising sun (which is actually what the characters mean 日本…”the origin of the sun” or “the place where the sun rises and sets”) where you can find amazing restaurants in department stores. This goes way beyond the diner-like restaurants we used to see in Zellers and is more reminiscent of a cafe you’d find in Saks; however, you can usually find 1-2 floors of restaurants (example 6F and 7F in Hikarie Shibuya) plus 1-2 floors of food items in the basement (example B3F and B2F in Hikarie Shibuya) in most Japanese department stores.

The restaurant offerings are varied and range in price from fairly moderate ($10 pp for a set menu dinner) to really expensive ($80+ pp for dinner). There are usually up to three different Japanese restaurants specializing in various types of Japanese cuisine such as sushi, tempura, noodles, tonkatsu (pork cutlets in a variety of dishes), kaiseki (haute cuisine based on seasonal offerings), barbecue or grilled items, bowls of noodles with a whole egg sitting on top (not my fave), Japanese sweets, plus various places with regional specialities (Okinawa, Kyoto, Kyushu). In terms of other types of cuisine, curries from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are also popular in addition to basic Indian food from India. Italian food is also popular with the Japanese and most department stores have at LEAST one restaurant specializing in Italian food but you will often find restaurants with regional specialities (Milanese, Tuscan or Southern Italian), pasta, or pizza and casual fare. Chinese food is quite common and again, offers a few different types like dim-sum, noodle dishes, or very-high end Cantonese cuisine. Irish pubs abound. I’ve seen quite a few Spanish tapas bars as well.

In the basement you’ll find at least one, but often two floors selling groceries (dry goods), fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, deli items, ready-made meals (worldwide cuisine, not just Japanese food), bakeries, patisseries, wine, beer, spirits, chocolate, candies, boxed gifts of food, custom-order dinners that are made while you wait, vitamins, shakes, specialty coffee and tea…as well as smaller take-out restaurants lining the perimeter of the area selling meals that are much more reminiscent of what we would see in a food fair in the mall.

Our culinary experiences were positive for the most part. We did have department store dinner in Hikarie Shibuya at Capricci which was quite good. We had the set menu and our total bill which included the bread bar, an appetizer and a pasta. Including a ginger ale and a prosecco and the total bill was just under $60 (no tipping). The food was good but you can find a few quirks or questionable attempts at Japanese-Italian fusion…sweet potato buns and spinach buns in the bread bar; sweet butter (caramel flavoured?); and weird fish paste on top of Karis’s pasta. Overall it was very good and a pretty decent price. That being said, I bought some Italian deli items one day for dinner and they were less than fantastic (in terms of preparation, quality of ingredients and odd substations) despite costing close to $50. In my experience, it seems to be best to enjoy the cuisine of the country you are in, especially a place like Japan that offers a variety of delicious options that are usually the most affordable as the ingredients are common. Our favourite was sushi at the places with the conveyor belts (usually cheap and cheerful for people in a hurry on their lunch break or on their way home from work). The food was fresh and delicious and Karis and I could eat our fill for less than $15.

Back in the land of Messy, Grumpy People.

Subway people

I know it’s a bit presumptuous to have reverse culture shock after being away for only 5 and a half weeks but I think you experience things differently when you are living somewhere as opposed to holidaying–i.e. you are staying in an apartment, cleaning it, taking out the garbage, grocery shopping and not just staying in a hotel. Though I would have really liked a pool….

Anyway, it’s been a bit weird being home. I’m sure most of it can be attributed to jet lag but there are some cultural differences that spring to mind. People here seem undisciplined and self-concerned compared to the inherent order of Japanese society. Also messy and grumpy. This isn’t really much of a surprise as culturally we are conditioned to value the individual before considering our impact on society as a whole; the Japanese are conditioned differently, pretty much the exact opposite. They are taught to maintain order, avoid chaos and keep the social order intact. Children are taught from an early age that “the nail that sticks up is hammered down” so the urge to conform is pretty basic. Wherever it comes from, it makes for a more orderly and streamlined society, though I have no idea what people are thinking, they are outwardly polite. People don’t push or shove, they don’t jump the queue, they rarely honk their horns, they wait patiently to board the escalator, they make way on the sidewalk…though I guess this behaviour is partially a survival tactic in a city as large as Tokyo, otherwise chaos and anarchy would reign.

People dress more formally. I saw women in Lululemon-like outfits three times. Two of them were jogging and the other looked like she was on the way home from yoga class–based on the fact that she was carrying a yoga mat. The majority of men wear suits and women wear skirts or dresses or dressy shorts. Many kids wear uniforms and if not, they have the cutest clothes ever. Even the dogs are groomed. I know some of the formality comes from living in a larger urban centre but there is a noticeable difference to North American sartorial habits. It’s almost as if you have a responsibility to not disturb the flow by dressing like a bum. Being odd or alternative is fine (Harajuku girls come to mind) as long as you’re tidy. I noticed a similar scenario in Paris and subsequently read a book by an American living in Paris, married to a Frenchman, who was told by her husband that running to the bakery to get croissants in her sweats with her hair in a ponytail was insulting to society in general. Perhaps they have a similar expectation in Japan? I’ll have to look into it…. Also keep in mind that most households wash their clothes in cold water and dry them on a rack–even our neighbour, whose house was worth approximately $4 million, had laundry hanging daily on the deck.

In shops and restaurants they greet every single person that walks through the door. Always. Irasshaimase (welcome). When you pay for things they bow. In any place except the convenience stores and the grocery store, they walk your purchase around the counter and hand it to you, bowing. In smaller shops they walk you to the door and bow as you leave. If it’s an expensive purchase they bow until you are out of sight. Yes, I actually saw this in the Issey Mikayke boutique in Omotesando (high-end shopping area). Four shop assistants bowed until the woman disappeared around the corner two blocks away. I’m not even kidding. In department stores, they bow before they leave the floor. Bus attendants at airports and hotels bow as the bus appears and again as it drives away. I know this sounds excessive, but it is quite charming and you don’t actually realize how peaceful it is to be away from angst and strife until you are back in it. This is the country that experienced no looting or violence in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident.

I went to the 7-11 on Friday night. I said ‘Konnichiwa‘ to the clerk, mostly because I was so tired and momentarily forgot that I was not in the neighbourhood 7-11 in Tokyo where I visited every day. He looked at me like I was a complete nutter. He didn’t bow when I left….

No secret squirrel stuff here…

Antelope crossing

I have no idea if this was always the case or if it’s a new thing in Japan, but I have to say that I love the information sharing on the train (in ENGLISH) even though it makes no difference to me except to satisfy my inner Gladys Kravitz. I was on the JR train today, the Yamanote Line, heading to Akihabara–the electronics mecca of Japan–when in-between the helpful station notifications and route maps, I noticed the following sign: Train delay on the Tagata Shinkansen (bullet train) due to an antelope collision. There was also another notification for a delay on the Keikyu Line due to a passenger injury. Now knowing about a delay is indeed helpful, knowing why gives you an odd satisfaction or perhaps a little more patience.

When I was in Tokyo before there was no information in English beyond the name of the station. They now have announcements in English, ticket machines in English, as well as route maps, fare calculators and a handy chart that tells you how long it will take to get to your station, all in English. It’s actually quite easy to get around. Also if you are at all confused, if you simply stand there looking confused, a helpful Japanese person will ask if you need help…usually in less than a minute.

I wonder what the impetus was for the information sharing… Was there a study done that found people were more patient if they knew the reason for the delay? Was it something that came up in a corporate brain-storming session? Or indeed is it something altogether more sinister as my conspiracy theorist friend would say–should we be thinking about what they’re NOT telling us? Japan can be quite a paternalistic society in many ways and at times citizens are protected from the truth. Apparently, this happened during the nuclear accident at Fukushima; there was a bit of a news blackout.

The notification on the train got me thinking…the suicide rate in Japan is quite high and many people jump in front of trains, usually on specific routes chosen because your chances at a successful death are higher if you find an express train that goes through an underground station (poor visibility) at top speed. When I lived here in 1990, I lived on one of the “suicide lines” which I would never have known had I not mentioned the number of delays I experienced trying to get home to one of my students who filled me in on the darker side of life in Tokyo. Now I’m wondering if the antelope was really an antelope….

Toire-wa doko ni ari masu-ka?

Amazing toilets

Literal translation is “Where does a toilet exist?” Luckily, in Tokyo, almost everywhere. If you are in need of the facilities, there are decent toilets to be found in many places such as department stores, coffee shops and train stations. The ones in department stores are usually quite lovely, many equipped with a handy baby/toddler chair (also good for umbrellas), baby change table and a fold down platform that provides you with a clean area upon which to stand should you need to change your clothes.

Japanese toilets are probably the best in the world sadly they don’t export the most majestic models but you can find lovely TOTO models in Canada. Even the base models, found in public places like train and bus stations, have automatic flush or an electronic flush activated by movement. Many also have heated seats, a built-in bidet (with controls for temperature, pressure and angle of water), a dryer and a recording to mask any embarrassing sounds you might make. There is also a toilet seat cleaner that automatically dispenses a spray of antiseptic for you to wipe the toilet seat; however, many higher-end toilets clean themselves after each use.

Most restrooms also offer at least one squat style toilet for those traditionalists who say it’s more hygienic as your body isn’t touching anything. Personally, I find it odd to see a squat toilet in a fancy washroom surrounded by marble and mahogany but hey, it’s great to have choices in life. If you’re feeling a little tired and in need of a rest, many restrooms in stores and museums offer sitting areas with comfy couches and make-up areas. Surprisingly there are no refreshments served.

The only thing missing in most train station restrooms is a hand dryer…which is usually a great opportunity to put all those packages of free Kleenex to use.