Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 11 - Part II Going Somewhere

North is not up - it's north.

The park around the Tokyo National Museum introduced us to an idiosyncrasy of Japanese map use.  All the maps of the “You are Here” type in the transit stations, throughout the park, and later the city, are not “North Up” (What Americans are used to – north is always the “top” of the map).  Japanese maps are oriented to “what you can see when you are looking at this sign.”  If you look left, you will see what is to the left of the map, and what you see behind you is at the bottom of the map, and what is in front of you is at the top of the map.  Intuitive, sensible, BUT if it is not what you are used to, confusing until you figure it out.    

And to keep things interesting, in many places buildings on a block are not numbered in the order you find them, but rather in the order they were built.  Tokyo natives are not ashamed to admit they cannot help you find their way around, if it is not their part of the city.  And just about every business card you will ever get has a quick map of how to get to it from the nearest large cross street or transit station.

We did find finally find the Tokyo National Museum.  We got to follow the path of the Buddha into Japan.  On this blustery day, we definitely appreciated the meticulous conservator instincts of the Japanese, especially after the cavalier attitude of the Chinese.  The building was warm, nicely temperature and humidity controlled. We got to see Samurai armor,

Yes - that snail shell is a helmet.
beautifully painted scrolls
This was my favorite.
Yes - it really was a painting of a
tree pulling game.
and other esoterica of Japan.  Like their European counterparts, the paintings were interesting in their own right, but also a window into what (rich) people did at the time.  

The ocean theme was continued outside as we found the very large model of a blue whale.

See little Tavin way down there

  Despite the size it was not life size.  Those whales are almost unimaginably huge.

On our way out of the museum I got to see more of the oddities of the Japanese bathroom.  I know it seems odd to talk about toilets here, but it is hard to go to Japan and not mention them.  I mean heck, in the English language paper we got, there was even an article talking about how this year was the 30th Anniversary of the Washlet. 

This is the seat that has all the buttons to control water jets.  The temperature, intensity and aim are all adjustable. Some models have a heated air dryer as well, colorful lights and even songs.  The Simpsons did not exaggerate.  They didn’t have to. 

Not all of it is so showy; there are practical aspects as well.  The bathroom also featured the “false flush” and the most complete sink ever.  The politeness of Japanese culture has many ways of dealing with being so close to each other all the time.  One method is using flushing sounds to cover up any other sounds you don’t want to share.  But being an island nation, the specter of water shortage is always there.  Instead of wasteful flushing, just wave your hand in front of this device, and it will make as many flush sounds as you want.

The sink wasn’t about politeness, it was just cool.  All in one sink unit, you had the no touch faucet, no touch soap, and in the surface of the sink closest to you was one of those high-speed hand dryers.  Very nifty.
And speaking of nifty, the bathroom mirror in our hotel had a little heater behind part of it, so even when the bathroom fogged up one little square of the mirror was still clear.

Now we were ready to try getting dinner again.

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