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Japan revisited

When I completed my End-to-End of Japan in 2015, I was prompted to submit an article about the experience to Cycle Magazine, the monthly publication of Cycling UK which, with a membership of some 70,000, can claim to be the biggest and most representative body of cyclists in the UK.

Dan Joyce, the editor, duly thanked me for my submission, but couldn’t find a space for it at the time, and said he would archive it for future reference. Four years later I received an email from Dan saying he was ready to use the article and……could he pay me for it….! To say I was startled is an understatement…

Over the many years I have been riding a bike ‘in anger’, I have written a lot of articles for various publications, both long and short, but had always written them for fun and the simple joy of writing, and never once expected payment. So the offer of payment on this occasion came as a kind of revelation…… people actually do this stuff for a living! Of course, I knew that already but, like road accidents and winning the lottery, I never expected it to happen to me. So, a couple of hours penning an article earned me the cost of a couple of West End theatre tickets, and a post-theatre meal. I’ll have to do more…. after all, I do like theatre and eating!

So assuming you are not a subscriber to Cycle Magazine, here is the said article…..

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Japan in context: homes

Japanese homes: always a step up.
You don’t just enter a Japanese house, you go (or step) up into it. Every house I’ve been in has been the same: inside the front door is a little ground-level reception area, the function of which is to kick off your shoes and put on a pair of (provided) slippers. You never ever enter a home in your outdoor shoes. The step up into the house from the reception area is like a portal….it’s a gateway into the family’s domestic life, a change of elevation.

Now, for people in the western world, slippers are…..well…..just slippers. Things you put on when you get home from work for comfort about the house. For the Japanese, however, they are much more than that. There are observances which you need to know about. Let me explain…..

You may always enter a Japanese home wearing slippers, but you should never enter a tatami room with them on. Tatami rooms are usually bedrooms,

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sometimes lounges and dining rooms, where you always enter in your stockinged feet. That’s cardinal rule number 1.
Cardinal rule number 2……well, it’s back to toilet humour again, because the toilet must never be entered wearing your slippers, and certainly not in your stockinged feet. The toilet is regarded as an unhygenic place so, when you enter the toilet, you put on the toilet slippers, which will be just inside the door.

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And don’t forget to take them off before you leave.
The first domestic toilet I used happened to be a man’s urinal closet (most unusual), and when I opened the door, there were the slippers waiting for me to step into them. I couldn’t believe the fuss being made about stepping in and out of the little room, but…….there you have it……..only in Japan.

The nett result of all this is that, if you are a slipper manufacturer or importer in Japan, you will never be short of business. And because Japanese people are generally shorter and smaller than westerners like me, I have yet to find a pair of slippers that actually fit me.

You can also expect some rooms to be almost furniture-less. The first lounge-diner I entered had no more than a typical Japanese low level dining table with a few cushions on the floor. And yes, you have to get used to sitting at floor level to eat at such tables. Very un-western, but you quickly get used to it.

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And the bathroom will usually be designed as a ‘wet room’, with a small deep bathtub for soaking, and a wet shower area next to it. The idea is to shower first, then soak in the bath tub….making sure you don’t take soap suds into the bath, because someone may come after you to have a soak in the same water.
Remember those days when you shared the same bathwater with a kid brother or sister? Just like that….but without the bath bubbles and the rubber duck….. 🙂