Saturday, April 6, 2013

Japanese Public Restrooms - A love hate relationship

Sooner or later everyone's got to go. In a number of cases, especially if you're traveling through Japan, this means finding the closest public restroom. Public Restrooms or Public Toilets are one of the many things here in Japan that I have a love hate relationship with and so I thought that today I would share with you some of the good, bad and otherwise about Public Restrooms here in Japan.

What you probably already know: 

If you've found yourself researching Japanese toilets you've probably become familiar with two types of toilets the first being the squat toilet and the second being the electric toilet. First and foremost let's take a moment to talk about the squat toilet . The squat toilet is something which could be considered "traditional" or "old fashioned" by some but is still very common today throughout Japan in modern buildings to include tourist attractions and shopping centers. This type of toilet is used by squatting over it which can be great because no contact is made with the actual toilet itself, however, if you have any sort of trouble squatting or suffer from any type of injuries to your hips of knees (like I do) then this toilet can be a nightmare. They are also not often as clean as other toilets because despite being "traditional" in nature I am not convinced that Japanese people actually know how to properly use these squat toilets or prefer to use them. This could honestly be one of those things they keep around to see how tourist react as far as I am concerned because to this day I have never seen a Japanese person actually go into one of these stalls willingly.

The second type of toilet which is known for being popular in Japan is the electric toilet. This is easily identifiable by the 10 to 30 buttons available both on the toilet seat and sometimes on the wall. These toilets will spray, mist, air dry and even sing while you do what you have to do. They can be found in a number of places as well. Although there isn't really anything scary about these electric toilets they can be a bit of a challenge for parents with young children who are now using the "big girl/boy potty" and like to push buttons. I say this because little bums don't cover the area which would normally be covered by big bums and sometimes this can result in mommy coming out of the bathroom covered with water.

The awesome stuff you probably don't know: 

So we know about the toilets but there are also some other pretty awesome things about Japanese public restrooms that you probably didn't know. First and foremost the cleanliness needs to be mentioned. It's safe to say that most public restrooms you visit in Japan will be the cleanest that you have ever been to. The floor is usually dry, it doesn't stink to high heavens and you're not going to look like you spilled water on your lap if you accidentally bump into the sink. For me this is one of the things that I absolutely love about Japanese public restrooms.

For the fashionistas out there you might even find that in public restrooms located in large shopping complexes the stalls are outfitted with changing stations. This is a small fold down platform which you can stand on while changing outfits. I first saw this in Tokyo while in Sunshine City but then a few years later its way down to shopping centers here in Okinawa.

Parent's also have some special features they can take advantage of in public restrooms for when nature calls. One that I imagine would be most useful is a child seat which is located in the corner of the bathroom stall. This small seat unfolds offering you a safe place for you to set your child while you take care of yourself. At least one of these stalls can be found in almost every public restroom. Potty training children or those who are trained but have small bums don't have to worry about falling in as they have a special seat which is child size and can be folded down over the adult size toilet seat. You might even find a child size urinal in the restroom (both mens and women's).

Something else that is pretty awesome, at least I think so, is the use of co-ed bathrooms. These can usually be found at convenience stores where there is a women's restroom as well as a men and woman's restroom. This give women the option of using either of the toilets but unfortunately doesn't offer much for men. . . sorry guys. This is great for cutting down wait time for the restroom when 3 or 4 women are in line but don't want to use a toilet because men happen to go in there. I on the other hand could care less.

Some not so great stuff you probably don't know: 

Like everything else in life public restrooms in Japan have their negatives. One of the things that I find not so great about public restrooms in Japan is the size of the stalls. Although some stalls are large like you might find in the US it is not uncommon to see stalls which are smaller than your average airplane bathroom. What do I mean by small? So small that you have to stand on one side of the stall just to get the door open because there is only about an inch or two of clearance between the door and the toilet bowl. The worst part about these small stalls in my opinion is because there is just no room. It's like all you can do is stand up and turn around.

Another thing that is not so great about public restrooms here in Japan is the lack of paper towels. Don't get me wrong it's true that there are hand dryer machines in some bathrooms around Japan but there are also some without hand dryer machines or paper towels. This usually leaves you with your wet dripping hands wondering what to do next. Do I wipe them on my pants and look like a mess or just walk out of here hands dripping? At times like these I usually find it helpful to bring along a towel of my own. Not only is it something I have on hand during the summertime for various reasons but as a last resort it can be helpful in this type of situation as well.

Finally is the toilet paper. For some reason public restrooms in Japan like to stock up on one ply toilet paper which can make life. . . unpleasant. This is one of the reasons that if I am out for a long day of exploring or traveling I like to bring some toilet paper of my own. Now I realize that this might sound crazy to some of you out there trust me it makes long trips out and about much more enjoyable and worry free especially if you're going to less traveled places where toilet paper might not be accessible.


The Love Hate Relationship 

When all is said and done I have a love hate relationship with Japanese public restrooms. There are some really good things about them and then some not so good things. At the end of the day when you gotta go. . . you gotta go!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The name "pineapple" comes from the words "pine" and "apple" - Pineapple Park

Chances are if you've done any type of research on travel through Okinawa you've seen something about Pineapple Park. This small but popular attraction seems to weasel it's way onto a number of tourist "Top 10" lists and so despite what I had read and learned from friends who had visited the attraction I, after 7 years, made the trip.



Even after having written about such topics as controversial military related issues and Okinawa's unique history I can't seem to find a place to start with Pineapple Park so I suppose that the cost of admission will have to do. It's going to cost you ¥600 for admission if you're an adult and as often is the case children are less. Once you have paid your admission then it's through the entrance and off to the right where you will wait in line.



What's at the end of this line? Well you're opportunity to pay anywhere from ¥600 to ¥1200 on a picture of your family with a pineapple character of course! Say "cheezu" for the camera and then it's off to another line. This line, slightly less anticlimactic than the last, leads you to the infamous pineapple go-cart. This is a standard golf cart which is outfitted with a giant pineapple on the top.


Once boarding your go-cart you will be given the language option (English, Japanese, Chinese or Korean) and off you go in your self driven go-cart. During your journey your virtual tour guide will in your language of choice give you riveting facts like "The name pineapple comes from the words pine and apple". . . . . There was also something about ferns which were similar to those featured in the movie Jurassic Park.





The ride continued on through a variety of different areas all featuring flowers and other jungle type growth which can be found around Okinawa. One nice little area also included a shisa which was standing just before a camera was set up to yet again take a picture of you and your family this time while riding inside the go-cart. You don't know it yet but this one will also cost you  ¥600.


Finally we turned a corner and reached the climax of the ride. . . . the king of the pine. . . at least it's one giant fiberglass pineapple in a field of what seemed to be recently picked or underdeveloped pineapples. I imagine that this would be a site to be seen if you have never been to any of the areas of Okinawa where these are grown for as far as the eye can see. Then in a blink of an eye it was over and we departed out little pineapple go-cart and entered a small gift shop where you could purchase your photos as well as a variety of other items and chow down on some fresh slices of pineapples.

After this first shop it was off to a room which was filled with shells which have been collected from Okinawa as well as other parts of the world. They were quite beautiful and certainly interesting. Personally this could be considered one of the most interesting parts of the entire experience although it has nothing to do with pineapples.From there it's off to another gift shop where you can purchase a variety of shell related goods as well as the standard tourist type things which you can find in shops all around Okinawa.

The next stop is the part where they make pineapple wine. A small series of cartoon images on the wall illustrate the process (no english here though sorry) and then you can take a sneak peak inside the factory itself. A few more steps and you're reached the final stretch of shops. In here you'll see a variety of pineapple related items as well as again your typical items which can be found at other locations around Okinawa. There were cakes and wines which for me did not seem very interesting as they can be purchased elsewhere on island but one thing I did find interesting were the pineapple charcoal facial scrubs and other cosmetic type items. If nothing else they were interesting.

Once you've reached the end of these shops you're done.

Overall I think I can say that this "attraction" is everything I expected: a typical tourist trap. To put it as simply as possible you're basically paying to enter a series of gift shops featuring items which are available at other main attractions throughout Okinawa such as Kokusai Street. I have skipped Pineapple Park for the entire 7 years I have been here and can honestly say that I wasn't missing anything.

TYPHOON SEASON PREP: Stocking Up On Supplies

During a storm it doesn't really matter where you live on Okinawa you are undoubtably going to experience high winds and are at risk for losing power. This of course means that there are some supplies that you should have in your house during typhoon season. Here is a bare minimum list of the things that I personally keep in my house at all times:

- Flashlights 

- Spare batteries 

- Groceries plus 4 days (More info on this below)

- Radio 

- Bottled water

-  Bungie cords and/or tie down material

The list is not long or extensive because it honestly doesn't have to be. There are really only a few things which are very necessary to ensure that you can get through a less than desirable typhoon situation. Before we move on let's talk a little about these things because I am sure that there might be some readers who have questions.

Flashlights are pretty self explanatory. They can be very useful when the power goes out especially at night or if you happen to live in a house which does not have access to natural light. I recommend having one flashlight per family member as well as an extra one. It's also very helpful to ensure that when you hear a typhoon is on the way you take the flashlights and put them in a place which is easily accessible by any and all family members before you lost power. This will ensure that if and when the power goes out you do not find yourself trying to find flashlights or other items in the dark.

As important as having a flashlight may be it is also important to ensure that you have spare batteries so that you can actually use your flashlights. As simple as this might sound I find it important to ensure that you are taking the batteries into consideration when purchasing your flashlights. I recommend getting something which can use standard batteries rather than purchasing some of those big bulky lights which require that huge square battery which no one ever sells or if they do it is very expensive. Personally we have a Maglite which takes D batteries and everything else takes AA so it's pretty easy to stock up on spare batteries and you can always find what you are looking for.

Now let's talk about food, the most misunderstood area of typhoon preparation. There are two main reasons that you need to put food at the top of your typhoon prep list. The first is because in some cases a storm can last for a few days which can mean you really can't head out to the local store and get something to eat. The second is because depending on the severity of the storm food shipments (be they from local farmers or from somewhere else off island) may not make it to the grocery stores. Of course it is also good to have food that won't spoil and doesn't need to be cooked if the power goes out but that's just part of why this area of typhoon prep is important.

So what type of food should you have on hand if a storm is on the way. I strongly recommend 4 days of food (for each family member) which does not require cooking and has a long shelf life. This could be anything from canned foods to granola bars as long as it can be purchased and kept on hand for at least the duration of typhoon season. These items should not be eaten unless absolutely necessary.

You should also ensure that you have enough groceries in your house to get you through the typhoon itself as it has been forecast. This is something that can be done at the first signs of a typhoon in the area and does NOT need to be completed last minute. One thing I like to do is go to the grocery store and purchase items which are easy to make ahead of time and require little clean-up. An example of this would be sandwiches, hotdogs and pasta. I can then prepare them ahead of time and individually wrap them so that I do not have to worry about cooking when the rest of the storm preparations need to take place.

radio is also a helpful tool to have around as it ensures that you can get updates on what is happening with the storm. Here in Okinawa there is an Armed Forces Network here which is in English and can give updates that those who either don't speak Japanese or might want the comfort of Ensligh updates the information they need throughout the storm. This is something I find moderately useful because most of the updates are TCCOR conditions (which I will discuss in a later post) but it is better than nothing.

Bottled water is also important to have on hand as it is during any storm for a number of reasons. You can choose to go out and purchase bottles of water or do things like fill your bathtub. I prefer to do the bottled water and fill my bathtub only if absolutely necessary.

Finally another item which is often forgotten is the bungie cord and/or tie down material. If you're living in a house where you've got stuff which might go flying through the air with the greatest of ease during a storm then it's important to have the materials to tie it down. When you actually purchase as tie down material will vary based on what it is that you have around the house. In my case I do not purchase any type of tie down material because I have the ability to bring everything inside the house during a storm but for those of you who have things like trampolines or even the play houses that your kids can't get enough of out in the yard it is important to ensure that you can get them secured so that they do not cause damage to your property or your neighbor's property.

As I said this is a short list, simple and to the point but it can only be truly useful if you use it the right way DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE FIRST TYPHOON OF THE SEASON TO GO OUT AND PURCHASE THESE ITEMS!!! I am sorry for the yelling there but it's really the best tip that I can give any of you who are proactive enough to be reading this. Most people who get here wait until last minute to run out and pick up these things which often leads to last minute panic buying and of course stores running out of necessary items. Last year, for example, there were reports of items no longer being available to those liv ing off base and then shortly there after other stores ran out of stock as well because they could not keep up with the last minute demand. This can all be avoided by getting things early. It is also a good way to not find yourself spending money on things you didn't need but purchased because you were in that "last minute shopping" frame of mind. I can't say it enough, all this can be avoided by doing this shopping now. 

What are some things you consider "must have's" for typhoon season?

Let us know in the comments below.