It's 04:45 and I'm lying curled up on a bench in the smoking area just outside Osaka Itami domestic airport. A predictable situation, but who wants to spend good money on accomodation when you'll be leaving halfway through the night anyways! I think it might be this particular night, but I've already put a jumper on and my 3/4 length jeans are leaving my shins a bit chilly - this isn't England chilly, this is the kind of cold you get back home when bits of you are under different numbers of duvets :P

So this seems like a good juncture for me to list some of the interesting cultural idioms (weird differences really I suppose) I've noted while I've been here. Yes, most if them seem to be toilet related, but as we've discovered the Japanese seem to be a race that, while not being obsessed, have exceptionally good hygene ingrained into their very way of life.

  • In any given day you'll use 3 different pairs of shoes. Japanese houses (and many more serious restaurants) have porch areas just inside their doors that are half a foot lower than the rest of the building (or rather, everywhere else is raised) used especially for you to leave your day shoes in. You'll pad around barefoot in any restaurant, or in slippers at any home. Then of course you have the toilet shoes: a pair of slippers/flip-flops that live at the entrance to the toilet (whether big or small, hotel foyers to student flats) for you to wear in the loo. It seems crazy, but doesn't it make a little sense?
  • I think I may hve mentioned it already, but many toilets have a cistern that fills via a mini sink, designed so that when you flush the sink starts. Once you're done you can wash your hands right there with the clean water that will be used forthe next flush - function & form together, this is a crafty little idea!
  • Just to break up the toilet oddities; I've noticed that almost every subway exit across Japan (and most of the big cities have subways) has a compass laid into the mosaic or floor tiles as you leve for the street. An unbelivably helpful tool for the traveller, but given that some subway stations have 25 exits I can imagine it's a useful feature for even the commuting businessman.
  • While spending some time chatting to Ai's Mum (a slightly tricky pass time, she only knows a few more words in Engliah than I do in Japanese) we got talking about our world travels, in particular the places in Europe we'd been to. She told me that she'd been to Napoli, Italy ('Sardinia' just didn't translate, so I told her I was going to Italy when I got home :P) and that one of her lasting impressions was of how blue the sky was, there and also in London. I hadn't thought of it, but as you travel further North (my years of physics training tells me!) the sun gets further away from the zenith, even on midsummer's day. This means it gets cooler (hello Tokyo summer: 38°C to London's 28°C) but the rays of the sun ge to darter through more atmosphere, making it bluer! Hardly a Japanese idiom, but an interesting observation: the skies here are a lot whiter.
  • Speaking of heat, you'll find that almost ever Japanese person (at least non-businessmen) carry a tiny towel with them (basically a long flannel) which they use to mop sweat from yer brow, and dry thee hands if they wash them at the taps attatchdd to the water fountains dotted around the place. I presume this is only in Summer, but we found it very odd that the aquarium we went to in Osaka didn't provide any place to dry your hands once you'd washed them (following a few minutes handling rays and sharks in the petting centre!) - this was almost certainly because they didn't need to, everyone just pulled out ther towels! Douglas Adams must have known the Japanese were a smart bunch - even JK follows the sage advice from his character Ford Prefect in the ever-dotty, kitch and fun Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Always carry a towel.
  • From on smooth segway to another: Hitchhiking here - though we never tried it - is considered to safer here than anywhere else and I can see why, not to mention their unwaivering hospitality (especially here in Osaka) the Japanese seem to have honour very close to their core morality. We're forever seeing lost objects in temples - even full wallets - placed on the nearest raised object, rather than stolen. I'm quite happy to leave my camera slung around my back here without fearing it'll be stolen, I'd even leave my baggage unattended here if I had to - it would be just where I left it (or, alas, on these times potentially insinerated by the police for fear of a terrorist attack). In brief: if a father were to tell me their 16 yr old daughter was travelling alone around Thailand alone I'd probably consider calling child services, if they told me their 14 yr daughter was travelling Japan on their own, I'd tell them the locations of all the cool restaurants we've found and wish them a happy trip.
  • Full circle, there's some more water-closet obscurities I have to share: Along with the control panels that come with the toilets (for cleansing water sprays and 'powerful deodorizer') there's also a technologically enabled toilet seat, it heats your bum up! As a consequence all of the seats I've sat on here have felt like they've recenty been used - something I've noticed I find quite off-putting!
  • Some of the loos I've used (including at the cinema last night) have automatic proximity activated soap sud dispensers as well as water. The idea being that you can completely wash your hands (something they go to great lengths to illustrate how you should do properly, with diagrams usually reserved for operating theatres in some places) without having to touch your 'dirty' hands on anything before you wash. There is one problem with this... Maybe I have abnormally large hands or something, but everytime I'm /almost/ finished rinsing my hands the damned auto-soap squirts out a new round of suds! Oh well :) at least I'm clean!
  • Again, something I might have mentioned before (I'm losing track these days) on many subway trains - especially those here in Osaka - there are special Women Only carriages. Ai tells me they're especially for the morning rush when the cars get so rammed people are packed like sardines, something some men take advantage of. Another good idea ne?
  • Finally (it's now quarter to 6, I've happily spent an hour writing this, it's almost time for check-in!) a quick note about the food here. Many people might blame America for the spread of (crappy) fast food throughout the world, but they've been doing it here much, much longer - but with so much more style! I remember ordering a grilled fish at 'tenoyu' hot springs and them appologising and asking if waiting 7 mins for the fish to grill would be okay! I mean really, I've been at McBurger restaurants where it's taken longer than that! I think the longest we waited for food was 15 mins, for okonomiyaki and that was because they cooked it infront of us! (It is litterally okonomi 'what-you-like', yaki 'fried' - it's a strange almos omlette dish peculair to Osaka, it's amazing)

Right! It's 6 am and the airport is openning up! JK is totally wired from his litre bottle of Iced coffee and a dodgey nights sleep - it's time to roll! See you in Tokyo