Needless to say, we found many things in Japan different from their counterparts in the United States. In some cases these differences were for the better, but some were less well received. Every hotel we stayed in was a four-star hotel, and most had amenities galore. But what amenities are considered standard obviously varies from one country to another. The two most striking examples were in the areas of coffee and ironing.
There are probably few hotels and motels in the United States these days that don’t provide in-room coffeemakers and coffee packets (both regular and decaf) along with the requisite sugar and creamer and usually some teabags. In Japan, even though the Japanese drink a lot of coffee, hotels are still more geared to tea. Instead of a drip coffeemaker, rooms have electric kettles that provide hot water on demand. They also provide teabags or packets (usually including green and herbal teas) and in some cases tubes of instant coffee. In addition, there is the usual minibar replete with overpriced drinks and goodies. Among the drinks listed are “coffee” and “tea”; we learned belatedly that these referred to the cans of coffee and tea in the minibar fridge, not the packets that accompanied the electric kettle. Our hotel in Osaka provided complimentary bottled water in the bathroom, and we partook of it gratefully; on checkout we were charged for bottled water, which I protested (we had not used any of the bottled water from the minibar), saying we’d used only the complimentary water and the teabags, for which there was no charge, but I did point out that we’d used one packet of coffee, for which we were charged ¥270, though I later realized that we shouldn’t have been charged for that, either, since the ¥270 charge was for the canned coffee.
By the time we reached Kyoto, Joan and I had decided to take matters into our own hands. At a Lawson Station convenience store, she bought a package of ground coffee packets that could be used with the electric kettle (she couldn’t resist the “Astoria” brand name, since that is the name of her home town), and I bought a jar of Nescafé instant coffee. The challenge then became to find something to use as a spoon to measure the instant coffee. The linked photo shows some of the alternatives that were tried. As it turned out, the coffee quality was disappointing, and I brought an almost-full jar home as a souvenir.
Although every room we stayed in provided an electric kettle, fog-free mirrors, and a myriad of other novel amenities, and most if not all had hair dryers, the concept of an iron and ironing board in every room has not yet made it to Japan. What I got when I requested an iron and ironing board varied greatly, too. At no time did I get anything resembling what I consider an ironing board. Most were tabletop boards. The worst of them (every one of the three different ones I got in Osaka) had legs that effectively prevented efficient ironing of anything tubular. And even the sled-type one that I used in Tokyo was too small to be very satisfactory. Our room in Kyoto contained an electric trouser press, which came in handy, but when I requested an iron and ironing board, the response was pure bewilderment and then the reply that they did not have any such thing as an “i-ron.” In Hakone, I didn’t even bother to ask! The one that took the cake, though, was the “ironing board” I received in Yokohama: a rectangle of plywood wrapped in cloth. I managed to wedge it in a partially open drawer and get some use out of it, but I would have done just about as well ironing on the bed!
And only once (in Tokyo) did I get an iron that was an ordinary plug-in-the-wall iron and not a cordless mystery. Upon first encountering one of these cordless irons, in Osaka, my first reaction was to call Glenn and ask him to come interpret the controls for me. Before he was able to respond, I had managed to make the thing sort of work—enough to be going on with—though I was never convinced I was doing it right. I’m sure I must have been doing something wrong, but to me it seemed to behave like an old-fashioned flatiron that had to be put back on the stove periodically to be reheated. All in all, I sorely regretted resisting the impulse to buy and take a travel iron (I could have left the travel hairdryer at home).
The toiletries supplied in the room varied widely from one hotel to the next. Some offered the usual sample-size bottles of various toiletries; others (the hotels in Hakone and Tokyo) instead had large pump bottles of shampoo, rinse, hand and bath soap. These were accompanied by other useful items such as hairbrushes, toothbrushes (with tiny tubes of toothpaste), shoe polishing cloths, shower caps, ponytail holders, cotton pads and swabs, etc. Many of these were standard items such as one would encounter in any four-star hotel anywhere in the world, but others were in some subtle way uniquely Japanese. They were so cute! It was very tempting to scoop them all up, but luggage space limited our depredations. One thing I especially liked was the round soaps at the Hilton (Osaka) and Rihga Royal (Kyoto) hotels. This shape is so much more efficient than the usual bar (not that this is in any way unique to Japan: we had round soaps at the Red Lion Inn in Astoria, Oregon, as well).
The one interesting thing we noticed, however, was that nowhere (except in Hakone, where there was a large bottle containing an odd sort of thin emollient) was hand lotion one of the toiletries supplied. Since lotion is standard in U.S. hotels, we found this odd. The explanation may be that the Japanese do not have a problem with dry skin. I came to this conclusion when we browsed through a drugstore in one of the underground malls, looking desultorily for some forgotten or exhausted item. Judging from the number and quantity of products obviously intended to reduce or conceal skin oiliness, it seems very likely that preparations to combat dry skin are not a high priority for the Japanese.