Home from the East 1: Hotels
So, we’re back, and during our absence Notre Dame burned and 350+ people were murdered in Sri Lanka, but the UK didn’t leave the EU.
Our trip to Japan was fascinating in many ways. It was partly a visit to see family, but then morphed by design into an organised tour.
My first report will be on the mundane and frivolous subject of hotels.
Altogether we stayed in eight different hotels (in Kobe, Nara, Tokyo, Hakone, Takayama, Kanazawa, Hiroshima and Kyoto), all of them more luxurious than our normal Premier Inn fare. (So some of what follows may apply also to the higher reaches of hotels in Britain.)
All these hotels, save possibly the last in Kyoto, catered comfortably for both Japanese and Western guests, and represented, I assume, various levels of compromise between cultures. The Kyoto one had a French restaurant, and was probably the most Western. All, it probably goes without saying, were clean, comfortable and well-run.
We’d been warned to expect small rooms, but although they varied in size, none were tiny. All were en-suite, but in most the toilet was in a separate cubicle, and some had the basin in the main room. Most or all had a bath as well as a shower, and often a clothes-drying line above the bath, a nice touch. Many had “do not disturb” signs that worked electronically.
The number of light fitting buttons was confusing, and generally included either a “foot light” or a torch by the side of the bed for those who need to get up in the night. The tendency of hotels everywhere to provide supplies was taken to an extreme – a traditional Japanese hotel expects to provide everything from toothbrushes and razors to pyjamas.
The Hakone hotel was a bit different, being a traditional “ryokan” in an area famed for natural hot springs. Our room here was floored with traditional tatami mats; there were no beds but a low table and chairs, and the walls were screens covering shelves. Futons and duvets were put out by the staff during the evening meal.
(Rooms can be described in terms of the number of mats it takes to cover the floor, eg a six mat room, a fifteen mat room.)
The hot spring communal bath experience should not be missed. Both the baths themselves and the changing/washing areas are communal but single sex. You strip, scrub yourself down and rinse before entering the water, which is purely for relaxing in, sometimes under the sky. Swimming costumes are forbidden. Such baths are not restricted to ryokans with natural springs; some of the city hotels had them too.
All the hotels provided disposable slippers for use in the toilet (see below). At least one (not the ryokan) provided additional slippers for use in the room. This may or may not have been the hotel which positively insisted on guests taking off their outdoor shoes in the lobby, and either carrying them in plastic bags or storing them in lockers.
All also loaned some garments, which might be pyjamas, or might be traditional-style kimono type with additional jacket. Some hotels encouraged their guests to wear these outfits for breakfast in the restaurant. Different sizes were provided. At the ryokan we also “dressed up” for dinner. We found this fun, although one might say it was a bit like a uniform for guests.
In deference to the modern world, all the hotels provided a bar containing cereal, toast, croissants, bacon and eggs and sausage. Except in Kyoto, they all also offered some or all of the following: curry; grilled fish; raw fish (I think: I didn’t have this); picked veg; tofu; Japanese omelette; miso soup; salad; fruit; yoghurt; rice porridge with sesame seeds. Tea, coffee, green tea, fruit/veg juice.
We were only in one private house, and it was probably atypical. In addition to the hotels, we of course experienced a number of toilet facilities – trains, stations, airports and restaurants. All again were clean and well-appointed, but in theory they are dirty places.
Hence the slippers. I was turned away once from breakfast at my own hotel because I was wearing the wrong slippers, presumably contaminated. At airports etc there are no slippers, but one or two places had little fold-down platforms in the cubicle, so that you didn’t have to stand on the toilet floor.
Most of the toilets were Western style, but we occasionally saw Japanese style, where the ceramic bowl is set into the floor, and one squats facing inward rather than outward. Rather more common were signs telling people used to the traditional style not to stand/squat on a Western toilet.
Many of the toilets had automatic flushing, and automatically warmed the seat.
Also, a modern Japanese toilet will wash you in front and behind, with various levels of intensity, if you wish, and until you tell it to stop. This means a bewildering minimum of five buttons in addition to the flush.
Finally, ladies’ toilet cubicles in stations and airports will often contain a fold-down seat on the wall, to park your accompanying baby.
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