August 10, 2009
During the Tokyo orientation sessions, the person speaking about culture shock stressed that people new to a country often get frustrated by the aspects of the culture different from the one they are used to. A valid (if almost too obvious) point, but I’ve found that I’m actually excited by most of the changes a new place has to offer. I try to appreciate the parts of a culture that make it unique.
The exception for this is the Japanese shower. I truly hate the thing, and can definitely say the Western version of said bathroom fixture should be the worldwide standard.
The first vast difference you note with the Japanese shower is the size – it’s a lot smaller than most American showers. Next, you observe the shower head – in the States, most showers place the shower near the top of the shower, sometimes allowing the user to detach the head and use it like a wand. My shower keeps only the removable-head concept meaning you have to hold the thing while you are bathing. To further complicate the situation, there are no walls or barries around the shower, so unless you can somehow position the thing just right, the room is going to get completely soaked.
Oh, but if only those were the biggest hurdles to proper hygiene.
Turning the shower on is even harder than keeping the room it’s housed in dry. Well, that’s a little unfair – it’s easy to turn the water on if you are cool with H2O straight from the Artic. To obtain water suitable for use on human skin, you need to move the dial from “0” to “1” and hold it there as you crank (yes, crank) a lever-thing around a few times. The hot water is controlled by gas and, assuming you’ve turned the gas on (an early and frequent mistake), the cranking will cause a small blue flame to flare up inside the shower. Once this happens, you have to hold the knob down at the “1” position somewhere between 15 seconds and five minutes…it seems to change every time, much to my chagrin.
Once you think you’ve held it down long enough, it’s time to take the plunge of faith – move the dial over to “2” and turn the water on. If you slipped up, you’ll be greeted by ice water. But if you nailed every intricate procedure, you’ll get warm, pleasant water…maybe. After finally getting hot water out of the shower, I realized I’d somehow made the water too hot – it scalded my skin. I’m still not positive how to get warm water the first time, but I’ve discovered that by turning the bath faucet on while the shower head runs, you can even the water out. I’m clearly doing something very wrong.
(Though, not as wrong as the time I moved the dial over to the exotic looking “3” spot. Unknown to me, “3” controls the jets that only work when you are taking a bath. Steam started pouring out of the shower and I swear I had just set my house on fire.)
My shower-time follies have led me to clean myself in some very, very strange ways. Initially, when I had no idea how to make the hot water, I resorted to something reserved for dogs and cats – I started bathing in the sink when I was in a rush. Not my proudest hour. Once I learned how to operate the bath faucet, I started using that as my shower – I contorted my body in ways I wish never to discuss with anyone.
Hygiene…I miss it a lot.
(Japanese Fun Fact #3 – You know the Disney movie Lilo & Stitch? Well, live everything Disney created, the Japanese are ga ga for it. To the point where there is an actual Lilo & Stitch anime on TV here. Like, it’s set in Japan (or maybe Japanese-occupied Hawaii, could be an alternate timeline) and everyone is all anime-ish. Has Disney ever done anime before, or am I witnessing history?)