Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Of being battered, and of toilets, and the Future

Today was my first day of training in Tadotsu, and indeed the first exercise I've had since last Wednesday, if you exclude walking to the supermarket and purchasing Pringles. For no apparent reason, I couldn't sleep until two this morning, which meant the day was a bit of a struggle, as it started with a couple of hours of being thrown around by Japanese students in the morning, and then being walloped by a chap from Australia, before an afternoon session of wearing sweaty body armour in an overheated room and getting punched and kicked again. By about 4pm I was ready to drop; by half past five, having sat through a lecture delivered in untranslated Japanese I was ready for bed.

As there's only four non-Japanese speakers in attendance, it doesn't make sense to have everything translated, so I can't really complain about that. And it's good to encounter lots of new and differently shaped people to train with, even though they all seem to encapsulate a sort of over-enthusiastic mentalness, constantly trying to hit you or throw you even when it's unclear that this will ever meet with success.

Or maybe I'm bitter for walking straight into a couple of punches I really should have avoided.

Anyway, teeth, nose and eyes intact, we walked back down the hill to the station and took the train back to Marugame, to buy more Pringles from the supermarket and then head back to our almost-deserted hotel. It is rather like the Overlook from the Shining, but with slightly more guests. Slightly more guests. Perhaps there would be more guests if the hotel wasn't a mile from Marugame, which makes it about a mile from nowhere. Or if the dimensions of the hotel were a bit less bat-shit insane. No, really, I don't believe there's a need to make the doorways exactly 6'6" high - it might be more than enough to accomodate the average Japanese man, but it means all the corridors look like that room from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory where everyone is far too tall for their surroundings. And the toilet cistern continually makes a dripping noise as it gradually, oh-so-gradually refills. It's been refilling, it would appear, since I flushed it two hours ago. Weren't the Japanese meant to be the forerunners in advanced toilet technology?

Again, the Toilet of The Future was invented in the 1970s, and has stayed exactly the same ever since. It is odd that there aren't toilets with built in seat warmers in the West, just as it's odd that nobody in the West ever fails to be astounded by this. But it's also odd that every single toilet in Japan has the same beige bakelite console attached to the side of the seat, with exactly the same heating/rinsing/drying functions on the buttons, unmodified in design since it was first thought of by a clever chap in Osaka/Nagoya/specify your favourite home of toilet inventors here.

As I keep going on about, the Future that Japan has right now is a rather dated one. From a conversation in the taxi on the way to the station, I understand a bit better why that might be. Japan has been the second largest economy in the world for a couple of decades, and at the same time has been going through a never-ending period of stagnation as the economy fails to expand and grow. Plus nobody ever seems to retire: we pulled up by some roadworks that seemed to be exclusively staffed by septuagenarians, and given how badly we Westerners tend to underestimate the ages of Asians, who knows how old they really were?

So everyone is getting ever older and though the Japanese Post Office has more money in its accounts than Anything In The World, they really don't want to buy a new future - they're too busy working on filling in holes in the road to read new issues of Wired magazine and find out what they're meant to be demanding. Plus as you get older you become more conservative, less keen on trying out novel new versions of the future. Is it any wonder then that the vending machines are still selling "coffee" drinks that come in pre-heated metal cans, impossible to be drunk by anyone with an ounce of sense or feeling in their lips? Is it a mystery that the shinkansen looks like it travelled through a time-tunnel from 1979? Should anyone be surprised that my hotel feels like a museum piece when it was only built 15 years ago, and has toilets that defy any attempt by a Western plumber to comprehend?

We're living in the future here. It's just it's a bit of an old fashioned one.

Oh, and the power cable to my toilet looks a bit frayed. That is upsetting when you're trying to go about your ablutions.


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