Passport Saga, Part 2

Passport cover

A few blog posts ago, I wrote with some trepidation about the need to renew my passport. Although it wasn’t set to expire for 2 years, I was running out of blank pages, and didn’t have enough for an upcoming trip. So, I made the trip to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and watched with some distress as my trusty passport was packaged to be sent away for what was estimated to be a 3- or 4-week period for renewal.

Turns out my angst was unfounded. Just a week and a day after my venture to the Embassy, a package arrived. And there it was – a bright, shiny new passport, filled with blank pages just waiting for future stamps and visas. And my old passport…which still contains my current Japanese visa, by the way…was there, too, unscathed but for some strategically placed punches to show its retirement.

All in all, I must say I was surprised by the relative ease of the whole process. Yes, there are some specific instructions that you have to follow in completing the renewal application and getting the package ready to submit. And the process of going through security and getting to the passport window at the embassy was, not unexpectedly, a little tedious.  But all in all, the process was well-explained, straightforward, and it worked…even faster than promised.

 

 

Everyday life in Japan — Part 4

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Toilet Talk…

I know I have already talked some about the amazing toilet technology in Japan, and maybe you are tired of hearing about it, but just one more post about it.

The above photo is the WC – water closet in our apartment. It is the first door you see as you enter the apartment. Technically in the genkan  (entryway) of the apartment. Most traditional Japanese homes will have a separated bathroom:  the toilet in one room, and the sink (and usually washing machine) in another, and then a “shower room” generally near or in the sink room. I am not altogether sure about why this came about, but I think it probably has to do with keeping the clean areas away from the “dirty” areas. Hence…  our WC is just off the entryway to the apartment. The genkan is the area where you change your “outside” shoes for your “inside” shoes. It is very important here to not bring the outside into your inside.

This is a small little room, but not really unusual. Our house back in the US has a similar water closet in the master bath. Not a big deal, really.  The difference, though lies in the caliber of the equipment in this room. Never have I seen such fancy toilets in the US. Or anywhere else for that matter. These amazing toilets are at the pinnacle of toilet technology!

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Now…  our toilet… the one in the above photo is by no means the fanciest toilet I have seen here in Japan. But it does have some nice features. The first thing you notice is the tiny little sink in the top of the tank. And yes… this is a nice feature when you consider that there is no free-standing sink in the room, and that the bathroom sink is in a completely different part of the apartment. It is nice to have a place to wash hands after using the toilet. Granted… the water that flows from the supply tube through the faucet is cold water, and there is no way to make it warm. But it does the job — and very efficiently too — as that same water just drains into the tank for the next flush. Soap and all. So maybe it also helps keep the toilet clean too?

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Ok…  The control panel on the wall. Yes… you can flush by using the little handle on the side of the tank, but you can also use the wall panel to operate the flush too. Big flush, or small flush…  you choose from the two buttons on the top…  graphics are obvious.

Other features include heated seat (very nice feature…  surprisingly nice feature…  something that I never thought I’d care about, but I really like it!), bidet, and a separate “backside” washer (for lack of a better name) — the difference is all about location. That is all I am going to say about that. And at the bottom, under the plus and minus is the control for the temperature of the water spray. After all… who wants to be sprayed with cold water… right? Also, when you sit down on the seat, the exhaust fan in the WC turns on… lol!

The other buttons I haven’t really used…  although I have the translations from the cheat sheet the relocation company left for me. As follows (the big red button just turns off the water spray)… Under the red button are two small buttons:  the left one is labeled “deoderization”, and the right one is labeled “massage” (massage???  lol…Not sure about that one.)  On the right side next to the power button are two related buttons labeled “position” presumably controlling the position of the spray. Haven’t tried out any of those…  Ahem.

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This is what happens after a flush…  while the tank is filling, you have the opportunity to wash hands. I really like this feature because it seems like such a good way to conserve water. You can wash your hands in the clean water, but then that wash water is what is used for the next flush. Makes sense to me.

Other toilets we have seen here in Japan. Our hotel toilet had pretty much the same features as this one, but with one additional…  It would make water sounds when you sat down… to help drown out other sounds, I guess. The toilets at Haneda Airport have the same feature except that the water sounds turn on when you are in proximity to the toilet…  you don’t even have to sit on it to have sound effects. I have seen toilet cubicles at department stores that have water sound effects or optional music at the touch of a button. Plus, they have disinfectant wipes for the seat — and toddler seats mounted on the walls so that you don’t have to juggle your toddler while you use the facilities. Nice touch!

This last weekend, though, I think I saw the most unbelievable feature of all. We were at a restaurant, and when I went into the toilet, as soon as I locked the door, the lid of the toilet lifted. It was kind of creepy, actually, but I didn’t even have to touch the toilet at all. Then, the toilet flushed by itself, and the lid lowered as soon as I unlocked the door. Amazing. Weirdly amazing…lol. What next? I don’t know…  I am constantly surprised and fascinated here in Japan.

Everyday life in Japan — Part 3

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Laundry. This is my combination washer/dryer. It sits next to the bathroom sink outside of the shower room. It came as part of the furniture/appliance rental package that we have here at our apartment. It is a decent size for the amount of laundry two people need to do, but I am still trying to figure out the best way to use it. Washing is not a problem, but drying is. The dryer function is not very efficient…  It is a top load machine, so it doesn’t tumble the clothes adequately to get them dry. Everything ends up damp and twisted, and wrinkly.

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As you can see, the controls are all in Japanese — and Braille! — Neither of which I can read yet. We did get a cheat sheet from the relocation company that provided the translations of most of the buttons, but not all. It has been a bit of an adventure figuring it all out. The first time I used the dryer function, I couldn’t get it to work at all. It kept giving me error messages — which I didn’t understand. I finally figured out that you had to have the external door cover closed so that it can lock before it will run. It has two doors…  A door that closes over the tub, and an external door over that. Who knew?

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So…  since the laundry usually doesn’t completely dry in the washer/dryer, I end up hanging clothes in the bathroom…  which is actually what most Japanese people do. They don’t really use clothes dryers much here. This bathroom unit has a “dryer” in the ceiling. It has a heat/ dry/ cool unit over the tub. We can heat up the shower room while we are taking a shower, then turn on the dry function when we are done. That dries the bathroom to prevent mildew, and dries any clothes or towels that are hanging over the bars. In the summer, the heat is turned off and it just blows air to dry the bathroom and the clothes.

Also… when the weather is nice, most Japanese people will hang clothes outside or in front of windows and doors to dry. Many apartments have drying racks on the balconies. Our apartment is up so high (on the 30th floor), that we can’t leave anything out on the balcony because of the risk of high winds blowing things off. I have hung towels and sheets out on the balcony on nice days, but I have to keep an eye on them so they don’t blow away. In our bedroom we have hooks from the ceiling so that we can take the hanging bars from the bathroom and hang clothes in front of the sliding door.

Anyway… I am slowly figuring out the best and most efficient way to get the laundry done here. I am so used to just taking clothes directly from the washer to the dryer, and I am not used to having damp clothes hanging all around. But… it is just another one of the little adjustments we have had to make… living here in Japan.