There is a pregnancy testing kit in the UK – I think it might be Clearblue – that bears the advertising slogan ‘the most advanced piece of equipment you will ever pee on’. Obviously whoever came up with that had never been to Japan. Japan is outstanding in all ways, but I think a post about the bits of everyday genius they come up with has to kick off with the wonder that is their public toilets (which are, by the way, always working, always spotless and always stocked with paper. Not always stocked with soap weirdly, but I guess you can’t have everything)
The vast array of buttons on these loos is baffling – some of them have pictures on but most don’t. Only go for trial and error if you don’t mind a surprise as most of them are some variety of bum spray with variable pressure and direction. I’ve also discovered extra flushes (although a lot of these toilets have automatic flushes anyway which go off with no warning while you’re in the middle of pulling your trousers back up), heated seats, air fresheners and helpful fake flushing noises to mask the sound of your farts.
My favourite toilets are the ones with a tap attached which runs whenever the flush does so you can wash your hands before you’ve even left the stall.
Actually no, my favourite are the heated seats. God, I’ll miss those.
Everyday genius 2: You will never go thirsty in Japan. There are drinks vending machines absolutely everywhere – I was waiting for a traffic light to change in Osaka and counted 11 machines visible from where I stood. In the UK I’m used to the vending machines being overpriced, but here the drinks are actually slightly cheaper than the convenience stores because they don’t have sales tax added. The real genius part is that you can sometimes get hot and cold drinks from the same machine. While most of the machines are for soft drinks there are also a few selling beer or cigarettes. I’m not sure how they stop minors from buying them. Maybe Japanese minors are just more obedient.
3. Umbrella wiper! I love this! Actually this is a bit of a cheat as I only saw one, but a lot of places have umbrella shaped bags available to stop you dripping everywhere.
4. This might be the smartest thing I’ve seen in Japan. At first I thought it was just random markings on the floor that I wasn’t really paying attention to, but then I noticed that the raised parts had different patterns when they turned corners or got to stairs or road crossings. This is Braille for feet! Wow! This should seriously be everywhere.
5. While I was looking up places to stay in Tokyo I read about the manga cafes and deliberately – recklessly – didn’t book any accommodation for my first night so that I could try one out. I wound up at the Gran Bagus in Shibuya (Grrrl Traveler has a review and directions)
My cubicle for the night.
During the day it’s just an internet cafe and you can hire the cubicles by the hour to use the computers and read manga off the shelves, but it’s also popular for people to stay here overnight for a cheap sleep – you can get a 9 hour block for about $12. Yes, that sounds expensive if you’ve been hostelling in South East Asia, but it’s considerably cheaper than anything else in Tokyo. You can choose from reclining seats and flat ‘beds’ (OK, it’s a cushioned floor, but it’s comfy), and then if you can’t sleep you’ve got a free computer and fast WiFi all night. There are downsides of course, the short cubicle walls and lack of locks would probably make me nervous if this was anywhere other than uber safe Japan, there are no sheets and anyone over 5’6 is going to have to sleep diagonally. There’s also nowhere to store your bag if you go out, but seriously, this isn’t a place to stay for more than one night, it’s a place for when you’re in transit or out too late to get a train home, and for that it’s brilliant. As well as the computer and WiFi, all the cubicles have sockets, there are free showers, and there’s a huge selection of free soft drinks available all night.
Including, worryingly, something onion flavoured. I stuck to chocolate.
Best part though? 24 hour free soft serve ice cream. Genius.
*maybe someone is reading this thinking ‘but we HAVE thought of that! We have these in insert-city-here’. Well, I don’t live in a city. Poole is not London. Poole is not Manchester. Hell, Poole is not even Birmingham. Mourn for me and my sad amenity-deprived existence.