Jetlag, Toilets, & Onsen. Oh My! Day 1 in Japan

3 years ago

                I generally don’t think that I suffer that much from excessive jetlag. I’ve done several transatlantic flights in my adult life and a few trips out to Hawaii have helped me establish my own tolerance levels. That does not mean in any way that I do not suffer from jetlag – unfortunately -, and with an 18 hour cross-America + transpacific  flight ahead of me I knew I was going to need a day or two to recoup my losses before I would be back up to full speed.

                I understand that everyone may not have the luxury of spending their first few days in a foreign location simply lazing about – one week vacations are rough – but I would still strongly recommend taking at least your first day – or even half a day if that’s all you can spare – to simply adjust, unwind, and prepare for your days ahead. There are so many little things that will be easier to do if you’ve rested – like make a freakin’ international phone call or try to convert the local currency into US Dollars – and prepared yourself for the days ahead.

                As I said, I had little worry about wasting my time here – roughly six weeks in Japan, I can spare 2 days – and just 24 hours into my recovery stage I am so glad that I did this. Let me explain:

  1. Upon arrival I had been awake for roughly 24 hours – with 3 hours of sleep before that, which in retrospect hardly seemed worth it – and I had literally lost a night in my travels; leaving Boston at 6AM got me into San Fran (6 hours flight later) around 9AM with a final destination of Osaka Japan at 3PM of the next day…with no night in that entire trip; I literally was chasing the sun.

  2. It is important for the human body to experience a literal “night”, and while the airplane tried to duplicate this experience with tinted shades, well, my body knew better. Despite what my eyes saw my internal clock knew it’s really 2AM and why the heck won’t the sun set?!?

  3. Even when I got here it wasn’t going to be a simple land the plane + disembark + get to my hotel deal. Nope. Not a chance. There’s going to be customs buddy, and entry inspection and let’s just throw a random 10 minute line for the restroom in there too, never mind that the inspection line is 38 minutes long and they’re holding it in a room that they claim is air conditioned (by this I’m sure that they meant that the temperature of the room was indeed cooler than the air outside, but not by much if the sweat trickling down my ass crack was any indication). Oh, and I’m not familiar with the airport that I’m in nor do I speak the language of the country that I’m in – finding things in English is going to become like my own personal scavenger hunt.

Now that might put things a bit more into prospective. Needless to say, once I had managed the insurmountable task of getting through all the above I arrived at my hotel (at 5PM in the afternoon) in that contradictive state of jetlag that has you swinging back and forth between euphoric and brain dead.

                Despite my best attempts to take a drug cocktail of Airborne+Advil+Tums I still arrived with a stomach that was less than stable (likely the after effect of 18 hours of airplane food). I had booked myself for 3 nights at the Kansai Airport Spa Hotel Garden Palace, but it wasn’t looking like my first night was going to be that great; or so I thought.

                My room was small, and as hot as I imagine the waiting room of hell must feel – the Japanese aren’t big on running any AC unless a room is currently in use. But for all that it was pleasant and welcoming – once I figured out how to work the AC, which btw, was completely in Japanese; not even one picture or visual aid to lend some help. This was accomplished mostly through a combination of listening to the airflow as I played with the buttons and standing physically in front of the air to test if it was blowing hot or cold air (God help me if I had made a mistake and left my room thinking I had the AC going when in fact I’d turned on a heater).

                There was a cotton yukata (a sort of summertime kimono that is more casual) on the bed for me to wear around the hotel. I suffered a moment of irrational panic as I realized that I did not know the proper way to tie the sash for this lovely garment, but after observing several other Japanese guests with their sashes tied in a hasty knot I wasn’t too concerned with whether or not my bow was taboo.

                As I’ve mentioned above, even simple tasks can seem difficult when you’re jetlagged. My first test drive of the bathroom would be a good example of this. Japanese toilets are sophisticated – apparently more sophisticated than my tortured brain could manage after an 18 hour flight. Luckily this appliance had…wait for it…pictures! Yeah! Let me explain:

  1. For starters, the lid of the toilet opened itself when the sensor went off. This was at once both stunning and a bit alarming. What would it do while I stood in the bathroom to do my makeup? Would it continually open and close as the sensor went off? – The answer to this is no; it also shut itself once I left the stall.

  2. 2) The seat itself was warm – which I’m sure would have been a much more welcome benefit if the room itself hadn’t been about 100 degrees.

  3. There were a series of buttons by the seat; these depicted a picture of a bottom (yes, like two curved butt cheeks), a girl in a skirt sitting, and what I imagine must be a universal idea of what moving air or wind looks like; three parallel lines that gently curve upwards.

Long story short, the butt cheek button sent a spray of warm water towards your butt, the siting skirt girl button sent one to the front, and the last button sent a blast of air to dry everything. In its own way it was all very ingenious, and in my jetlagged state of mind I honestly remember seeing the words “back” and “front” by the buttons in English – although upon further inspection there were no such English words anywhere on the toilet, it was simply my mind literally supplying the visual that I needed in order to make sense of what I was seeing.

                Dinner was a simple affair, not because it was easy – you try ordering with any dignity or grace when the server only knows Japanese and you don’t know any – but because what I wanted was something simple; my stomach hadn’t yet decided if it was going to have a full on revolt and I wasn’t inclined to give it an excuse. Cool fresh edumame and a small bowl of udon with shrimp tempura; despite its simplicity it was actually delicious.

                You wouldn’t think that going into an onsen (a large public hot bath, sort of like a hot tub) would have been high on the list – seeing how it was somewhere around 98 degrees outside – but once I entered that steamy room and took my first stem into the tub it was pure bliss. Maybe it was just the action of soothing tired and overstressed muscles – lord knows I had at least one blister from dragging my duffle bag around – but as I lowered myself up to my chin I felt the tension leave me all at once.

                This was in the women’s bath, and many of the women that were there had their children with them. While adults have enough tact and manners to keep from staring children often act on pure instinct; many of the children in the bath area couldn’t stop looking at me, or pointing and then looking at their mothers with wide eyes. We adults all laughed and shrugged it off – kids will be kids – but it was a bit unnerving to be such an object of commotion; I said adults have enough manners not to stare, not that they aren’t curious too.

                One child was bold enough to come up to me while I was in the bath. She sat right next to me and continued to scan me with wide eyed wonder until her mother – either in pity or humor – explained to me in halting English that the children were all so stunned by how white I was; not white as a race, white as a color, as a hue of pigment. I didn’t want to ask whether this was a good or bad thing and simply checked it off as being one of those travel experiences that I would laugh about years from now.

                It was in this boneless and slightly drunken state that I returned to my room, ready for a night of sleep that had been eluding me for the past 30 hours. I didn’t even feel my head hit the pillow.

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