With Christmas only a few days away and a frenzy of buying gifts and wrapping them harried and unwelcome or unnerving to some, it is different in Japan where wrapped gifts for ‘omiyage’ or gifting is an art in itself. At every rest stop or shop whether large or small, one is greeted by large displays of foods and other items beautifully wrapped and ready to give to friends and relatives at home where the customers have come from. The Japanese never want to be obligated to anyone so a gift means giving back not only at Christmas but whenever one travels or for which an excuse can be found.
There were pickles, candies and cookies, clothing and chinaware and novelties that customers could buy without needing to wrap each. In fact, the wrappings are said to be more attractive than the contents as ‘presentation’ is very important to the Japanese.
That said, their public restrooms are ubiquitous, clean and free. On our trip there in November, we were always guaranteed there would be restrooms where there were people shopping or taking a rest break. There were large signs with international symbols pointing to the locations of the restrooms that are a universal necessity. In the cities, most toilets were western with warm seats and bidets, though in the country there were a mixture of ‘squat ‘or Asian, included.
Their toilets also had the convenience for mothers with babies besides the changing tables we have in the U.S.: a high-chair-like seat attached to the wall of each stall where baby could be seated while mother used the facility! We had never seen any comparable anywhere else we’d traveled.
In Europe the opposite is true where we’ve traveled:public toilets are fewer and one must pay to use them! If any city is unsanitary because the residents or visitors didn’t have the cash necessary to use the facilities, it is probably due to the demand of paying to use them. In our experience we’ve had to pay a restroom attendant to use the toilets and given a piece of toilet paper after paying money ranging from the equivalent of 25cents to 75 cents , we’d go into to a poorly lighted stall, and often odorant. When we didn’t have the necessary change, someone who did would go into a stall and then keep the door open for others. I remember in Scotland being scolded by the attendant for that act, and being made to pay. She even had change for those who only had currency.
Or there is a turnstile where one deposits a coin to enter the restrooms. At a museum in Prague where we had paid admission to visit, we still had to put a coin into the turnstile to get into the restroom. While there. a class of youngsters came with their teacher, and we wondered whether she had a coin for each, but no, she merely instructed them to crawl under the turnstile! Did that teach them to cheat or a defiance of a stupid rule to pay to satisfy a biological need?
We even encountered a turnstile at the Vatican restrooms, a change window conveniently located to exchange for coins. Oh, when we went to an eatery we were allowed to use the restrooms without charge, but the need to use them didn’t always occur when it was time for a meal or a snack, or when the places were not open.
In fact, speaking of cleanliness, a traveler on a recent trip told us in some Asian countries not as modern as others, the odors were so noxious they used Vicks vapor rub to smear their noses so they could stand to use the restrooms.
This blog is not a promotion to visit Japan, but as going to a restroom is a necessity for everyone regardless of their differences, it’s good to know they welcome visitors and natives to use them free and readily available.