As in most ryokan, traditional inns, guests sit, and sleep, on the tatami-mat floors, but in the bathroom a snug electrically-heated seat awaits – on the toilet, beside a row of glowing lights and switches, each with a stick-figure cartoon illustration, offering half a dozen different ways to tickle your fancy, as it were.
Japan seemed foreign enough when I came here as a boy of 13, long before the world went digital. At mealtimes we pondered life-sized plastic models of culinary treats and pointed to order. Railway stations had been helpfully signposted in Roman script ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but English was very seldom spoken.Today, Japanese design and technology lead more often than follow, yet the incongruities can prove confronting. Mobile phone (cellphone) networks and ATMs (cashpoints) are mostly incompatible with foreign network protocols. Restaurant customers may be expected to select and pay for their order electronically, before fronting a counter – but credit card acceptance is still lagging somewhere back in the Seventies. Modern Japan remains as foreign as ever, in many respects. More images