Thursday, July 29, 2010

When I last posted, I was staying in a capsule hotel in Tokyo. We stayed there for four nights, which is rather uncommon for such hotels. The capsule hotel is primarily designed for businessmen that miss the last train out or simply need an afternoon nap. For this reason, there are three different checkin periods for the capsule, depending on how long you wish to stay or what time you check in. Most people stay for an afternoon nap or one night.

When I first arrived, the man at the front desk didnt understand that I had reserved several nights online, so pointed me to the ticket machine. Many transactions in Japan can be completed through a ticket machine, which takes your money and returns a ticket that you pass off to an attendant who knows what to do next. The capsule was little different. I paid for an afternoons stay through the ticket machine, handed the ticket to the clerk, and received a bathrobe, body towel, face towel, and locker key. I had already locked my shoes away in a small locker upon entry, so now it was off to the locker room.

From what Ive gathered, the average capsule hoteler will change out of his regular clothes, don the robe, then head to the baths. The baths were actually one of the best parts of the capsule hotel, once I got used to there being others present. My roommmate, whom I wont name, never partook of the baths, instead opting for strategic spot washing in the sink, which is more disgusting to me than bathing with other men, but to each his own. Anyways, the baths: once you enter, you stuff your new robe into another locker, then roll around a free man. No need to be shy in here. First up, the cleaning station: you sit down on a stool in front of a bucket, various soaps, a faucet, a handheld shower, and a mirror. This is where you clean your dirty self before entering the baths, of which there are two quite large basins to choose from. There is also a sauna. The goal here is to move between the sauna and two baths (which obviously vary in temperature) until your skin reaches some state like 'boiled octopus', which is the translation from Japanese. I didnt even attempt it, as Tokyo was just too hot to bother with that kind of bathing.

Once done bathing, you can proceed to the blowdryers and fuss with your hair (which is increasingly unnecessary for me), head to the massage room, or gamble and smoke in the TV room. I got a 70's Vegas/Mafia vibe from this whole area. If some guido rolled out and started combing his hair in the buff, it wouldnt have been more perfect. Instead, it was myself, one guy I hoped was Yakuza (judging by his full back tattoo), and a few miscellaneous Japanese business men.

The first two nights in the capsule were pleasant enough, as there werent many guests, and they were mostly Japanese. But by the end, the hotel started to fill up with the worst kind of tourist imaginable: other Americans. Almost nothing is louder than packs of roving Americans intent on sharing all the details of their trip or packing and unpacking their bags very late at night or very early in the morning. A word to the wise regarding hostels and capsule hotels: get ear plugs, especially if you've seen white people milling about.

Now, a couple of observations:

Service in Tokyo is just outstanding. Rarely have I seen more pleasant or helpful people. Many people speak even a little English, but seem so ashamed that they dont know more. It's okay, Japan*. My Japanese only covers about 6 phrases, all variations of thank you and hello. Your english is more than I can ask for.

Packaging: In Tokyo, if it is not wrapped up and packaged three materials deep, something is wrong. For example, if you purchase some breaded good, they will each be wrapped individually, put into a paper bag (collectively), which will then be deposited into another bag (plastic) for you to carry away. You can buy individually wrapped sushi at the market. If you go to McDonalds, your Big Mac will be put in its box, put into the McDonalds paper bag, then deposited into a plastic bag. I think with such outstanding recycling, they can get away with this.

Trash cans: there are probably only two or three public trash cans in all of Tokyo. In fact, there could be only one, as that's all we came across. I found this out daily as I have a hard time resisting vending machines. Despite this, I dare you to find litter in Tokyo, as there is a veritable army of street crew keeping things nice. So maybe that's it. Pretend you are in Cairo and throw that trash in your pocket on the ground, where it belongs. Someone will be along within 10 minutes to sweep it up.

Speaking of, Ive recently noticed a habit Ive picked up on the trip, which I find amusing but is likely annoying for those around me. And that is referring to people not by their names, but instead by their nationality (especially when they are doing something bothersome to me). For example, while standing on an escalator in Tokyo, my roommates habit of standing to the right elicits a "Wrong side, America". Or Japanese tourists walking three wide across the sidewalk: "Pick a side, Japan." Or: "No tailored suit today, India, but thanks." Etc.

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