Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Hike under the Sea, a Buzzcutter, and a Visit to TOTO

I grew up in an industrial town in the North of England. I love that town, and its attitude. I continue to visit it regularly.

Consequently I decided to spend a while in Kokura, a town in the north of Kyushu that has been described as "half industrial park." I dislike that description.

I arrived in Kokura off the bullet train late last night, and checked in to a business hotel. I blew all of $50 for a clean, compact, en suite room with wired Internet, and even a yukata (robe).

Today I was determined to prove to myself an ordinary Japanese town, with everyday people, can be a great place to visit. I was not disappointed, even though it rained all day.

I wanted to start with a hike. What could be better, when it's raining, than a hike under the sea?

So I went for a hike in a pedestrian tunnel under the straits that separate the main islands of Kyushu (which I have been exploring this past week) and Honshu (Tokyo, Osaka, etc., are on Honshu). This tunnel was a happy place: little kids were running ahead of their moms; older kids, dressed in baseball gear, were jogging, their game clearly canceled.

After an excellent seafood tempura lunch, I was finally ready for a haircut.

The barber and I negotiated, but he didn't speak a word of English, and I... well, you get the picture. Somewhere in there, I must have indicated I wanted a buzz cut, and, no, I don't want a shave: I'm doing my best to look butch. 

So, imagine my horror when he ran his buzzcut thingie up the side of my head, leaving what appeared to be a trail of stubble; huge hanks fell to the floor. 

I quickly assessed the situation, and realized we had reached a point of no return. I indicated through massive gesticulation that the buzzcut thingie must not touch the top of my head. 

It was hard to know what the barber was thinking, his face obscured by a surgical mask.


Decide for yourselves, but please be nice: my ego is fragile. By the way, I'm unshaven, because I had read it was standard practice to be given a shave at the end of the haircut.

My final port of call was the TOTO History Museum at their factory. Getting there involved a monorail, and a little walk to an area that, yes, looks like an industrial park. But they're making important products that have greatly increased life expectancy.

Well, not all their products are absolutely essential:

I've always wondered about these, and finally I got to see and hear them. Apparently Japanese ladies are quite modest about bathroom sounds, so they constantly flush during the process. These products make electronic flushing sounds, upon command, and are widely installed to save water.

After a final chat with the gracious hostess at the museum (she had spent two weeks in Cheltenham, England) I headed back to the station, where I would make my way to my next island, Shikoku.

The people of Kokura are lucky people. On a fateful day in 1945, spotters could hear the plane in the clouds and were expecting the flash. The pilot could not get a visual fix on Kokura, the primary target; eventually, with fuel running low, he diverted to the secondary target, Nagasaki. 

I'm so glad there are no atomic tourists in Kokura.

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