Category Archives: japan

Ninja Trains

I think my favorite thing about Tokyo was their JR train system. I was extremely impressed with how accommodating they were with the wheelchair. All I had to do was go straight up to the guy at the ticket booth, speak in simplified English and point to the stop I wanted to get off at on a map of the rail system that was graciously given to me by the youth hostel I stayed in.

One thing about Japan, they are extremely efficient and extremely on time. If a train says it will leave at 10:44am, it will leave at exactly 10:44am. Trains are never early nor late. They arrive precisely on time. This aspect also carries over when helping wheelies on and off the trains. Sometimes the train will have a small step up into a railcar and a train attendant will come over with a ramp that hooks into the car so you can wheel yourself in and then they unhook the ramp when you are securely in the car. Then if you need to change trains, the attendants will call ahead to the next train station to have two other attendants waiting for you at precisely the right door to clip another ramp into the car so you can get out. It was amazing and eerily exact. The Japanese don’t skip a beat when it comes to their trains running efficiently and on time. The nice thing is, if you miss one train, there is usually another one only 4 minutes behind it.

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When you arrive at your destination, the train attendants will also escort you out of the station through the maze of elevators and magic carpet escalators to make sure you get out without confusion. They are even nice enough to give you directions in case you are lost. The JR train may be the most wheelchair accessible public transportation system that I’ve been in, both inside and outside of the US. I was truly impressed and highly recommend it as a way to get around Tokyo or nearby towns in Japan.

Especially when going to and from Narita airport, the “Narita Express” is a quick way to get into downtown Tokyo. It’s about an hour ride and a great way to see some of the Japanese countryside. Going from Narita to Tokyo, you can get a half off express ticket for about 1500 yen ($15) in the airport-train terminal.

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“Gist for use”

The biggest culture shock I experienced when first arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun, was not the hoards of fish and seafood delicacies, nor the timed precision of the JR rail system. No, none of these compare to the challenge of figuring out how to flush a Japanese toilet.

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While I was staying in a youth hostel in downtown Tokyo, I was lucky to have a private room and bathroom. Everything seemed normal except that the toilet had about 30 different buttons on a panel right next to it, and yet the flush handle was no where to be found. Instead, the toilet bowl lid would lift up to greet me, then a little water hose nozzle mechanically came out of hiding from within the toilet bowl. The only thing less than helpful was a lamenated instruction card titled “Gist for Use”. I didn’t know Japanese and therefore still didn’t know which buttons on the panel to push. To remedy this predicament, I started to press every single button on the little panel. Yet, nothing happened. I spent the next 2 days reenacting this scenario, hoping that one of these times I would actually push the right button and the toilet would magically flush everything out of my life. Finally I noticed a little metallic knocker that I thought was supposed to be used in emergencies if you fell down. To my surprise there was a round button underneath it and when I pushed it, the toilet flushed! Although I was quite proud of myself for finally figuring out how to flush a toilet after only spending 48 hours in Japan, I still had a few mishaps.

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While at a work meeting, I needed to use the restroom and having figured out the flush button 3 days earlier, I felt very confident in my bathroom abilities. I did my thing, put my pants back on, then pressed what I thought was the flush button. Instead of a loud familiar rushing sound, a fountain of water began to spray out of the toilet bowl and onto the floor of my employer’s bathroom. Freaking out because…well…water was being projectiled out of the toilet, I did what any reasonable person would do; stick my hand in the toilet. I sat there for awhile letting the bidet water massage my palm while pressing more buttons on the wall. Finally the spraying subsided. Here I was, sitting halfway on a toilet, with my hand all wet, at my work, with water all over the floor. Turns out, the button was where any American flush handle would be. I apparently had been too distracted by the seat warmer and personalized bidet spray panel on the wall to notice the regular flusher behind me.

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Advice: never trust a Japanese toilet panel unless there is a sign that specifically points to a button that says “flush”. Apart from this one exception, ALWAYS look for a metallic flusher on the side of the toilet, or on the wall next to you. Do not get distracted by the fancy gadgetry.

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