Monday, November 22, 2010

Kyoto - first impressions

Clean. Remarkably clean, in fact, although I have yet to see a single garbage can (neither domestic garbage disposal nor public litter-bins by the side of the road).

This cleanliness has a funny side too. As you enter a Japanese house (or a temple/shrine, or particularly formal restaurants), you step across the threshold into a transitional zone which is not-yet-inside. It typically has a tiled or raw-concrete floor, and is one step lower than the wooden floor of the house proper (to be clear: this isn't a room, it is just a section of the entry which has a different, lower, floor). Conceptually this is "outside" and therefore filthy, though in practice it is as clean as any other part of the house. You take off and leave your shoes here, stepping onto the wooden "indoor" floor to put on your house slippers — which never touch the outdoor floor. This rapidly becomes automatic, and so deeply ingrained that I found myself taking off one slipper to step on the outdoor floor with my bare foot when I checked that the door was locked. Interestingly, there is never a chair in the entry to sit in while you do this: I guess people wear slip-on shoes and/or learn to balance on one foot. How the young women in their knee-high tightly-laced fancy boots cope is a mystery. (More about fashion and appearances another time.)

But it goes further still. The toilet (separate from the bath-room) is particularly filthy (conceptually) so it has its own set of slippers! You don't wear your indoor slippers into the toilet, nor do you wear the toilet slippers indoors. So there is a little ballet that occurs: you open the door, stand at the threshold and take off your indoor slippers, leaving them on the indoor floor; then step forward and into the toilet slippers which are waiting on the other side of the threshold. When finished, you reverse the procedure, leaving the toilet slippers at the threshold with their toes pointing into the room.

Both toilets that I've used so far have had heated seats. In both cases, there was no sink in the toilet room, but here in my bed&breakfast (more later) there is a really neat feature: The top of the water tank is depressed to form a kind of basin; when you flush, the tank is refilled from a tap that flows into this basin. So you rinse your hands in the water that will be used to flush next time. (There is no soap, as there was none in the washroom of the rather fine restaurant that we ate lunch at yesterday. Apparently conceptual cleanliness is culturally more important than combatting real germs.)

Time for breakfast. I'll be putting up lots of short posts rather than my usual lengthy monologues.

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