Joined the Club

Trip Start Sep 29, 2009
Trip End Oct 29, 2009

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Where I stayed
Toyoko Inn (Naka-jin Cho), Takamatsu

Flag of Japan  , Shikoku,
Thursday, October 8, 2009


Well, I've taken the plunge and joined the Toyoko Inn Club.  Toyoko Inns are already a great deal--cheap room with free breakfast and often a free gift when you check in.  On a past trip, that's how I got that bright green and yellow washcloth and those monogrammed TYK socks.  This time, it was a plastic foam slab in a wrapper marked "Body Sponge."  This particular Toyoko Inn also serves a free dinner every night at 7 p.m.--last night it was noodles and a bowl of rice, and tonight it was a plate of rice with hot curry sauce.  Not a huge amount of food, but combined with all the walking I'm doing for sightseeing, the effect is a spa experience that others pay a fortune to get!  Toyoko Inn has mastered the design of the small hotel room, fitting all the amenities into a tiny space, with not a square inch squandered.  Their major innovation was the bed that's raised just high enough so that all your luggage can slide underneath.  There is no box spring, just a mattress on a platform.   Now, as a Club member, they gave me a discount on my room (and the desk clerk apologized for my having to give them my credit card again so they could process the partial refund), on my 10th Toyoko Inn night I will get a coupon for a free night, and every night I can designate a four-hour window during the next day when they will clean my room.  It's not quite Japanese citizenship, but it gives me the feeling that someday I might feel like I really belong!  Toyoko Inns also offer the Cinderella Liberty Plan--if you arrive after midnight and they still have any vacant rooms available, you can get the room at a substantial discount.

By the way, the pillows at Toyoko Inn appear to be filled with short plastic pieces, as if someone had cut a plastic straw into many short bits.  This may be a modern version of the traditional pillow filled with buckwheat hulls.  Comfort Hotels Japan has its own unique pillow, with a non-rectangular shape, designed to make life easier for those who sleep on their side.  I hope I have time to go pillow-shopping at a department store--I think there would be much to see!


I had a great day--took the ferry from Takamatsu to Naoshima, an island which has become a center for modern art.  First, I went to the Chichu Art Museum, which has only four small exhibits, but it uses the sky and sunlight as part of the art.  Then I took a bus to an old town where traditional houses have been converted into art installations.  One has a replica of the Statue of Liberty taking up two floors.  Another has a pool filled with electric-lit numbers that are constantly changing. 

An interesting experience on the bus on Naoshima.  The bus driver was talking to a group of four young women--maybe about storm damage from the recent typhoon, I'm not sure.  But all four young women responded as a chorus--they were all saying the same things at the same time.  This must be what the books on Japanese culture describe as "group think." 


Another great day!  I took the train from Takamatsu to Yashima, then a 15-minute walk to the Shikoku Mura Open-Air Museum.   As soon as I got off the train at Yashima, a woman, who must be a local volunteer, gave me directions for the museum, and a coupon for 100 yen off the admission fee.  She wore an official-looking green polo shirt with an insignia for a Genki (Health) project, so I figure she is a volunteer with the local government.  The Museum consists of traditional farmhouses and other old rural buildings from all over Shikoku which have been moved to the museum for preservation.  There's a lighthouse, an old local Kabuki stage, a soy sauce factory, houses, buildings for milling grain, and rice storehouses.  The English descriptions are excellent--not just dates and facts, but also something about the role of the building in society and the emotional lives of the people at the time.  In the middle of all this, there's an ultra-modern concrete museum designed by Tadao Ando, with a waterfall garden.   

On the way back to the train, I stopped at Uniqlo and bought some bright purple socks on sale for 190 yen, and then went to a second-hand store called 2nd Street where I found some souvenir towels for 50 yen and 80 yen.  There is a lot of gift-giving in Japan, and I suspect that much of the merchandise that makes its way to 2nd Street has a gift history.  Then I took the train back to Takamatsu.  I got on an express train by mistake, but no big deal.  When I got to the main train station in Takamatsu, I just boarded the first local train going in the opposite direction and went two stops to the station closest to my hotel.  Now that I have activated my Japan Rail Pass, I can jump on any train (except first class Green Cars and Nozomi super-fast trains) at no charge. 

I am getting better about asking for directions and being understood.  The key is to speak simply--for example, "Takamatsu des" literally means "Takamatsu is," but it works just fine if you want to know if you are on the right train platform to get to Takamatsu.  Japanese people are very sensitive to how others are feeling and very skilled at making correct assumptions from context.  Their language and culture require it!


It's a half-hour walk south from my hotel in Takamatsu to You Me Town, a shopping center at a major intersection.  When I got there, I saw banners everywhere announcing the opening of a new Uniqlo store two days ago.  None of the banners pointed the way to Uniqlo, so it took some hunting to find it.  A while after I got there, I noticed that one of the Uniqlo employees was leading the chant you hear in stores all the time in Japan.  I don't know the exact words, or exactly what it means, but it ends in "...massen."  Anyway, one of the staff was loudly leading the chant, and others all the way at the end of the store were responding with the same chant. It felt as if all the chanting back and forth was building a team spirit among the employees.  It reminded me of the African "call and response" pattern of chanting that has found modern expression in the 1960's Motown groups, where there was always one lead singer and two or more backup singers who would contribute those crucial syllables.  (If you notice on the recent PBS Motown revival shows, they typically increase the number of backup singers to cover up the loss of volume in the aging lead singer's voice, but that's another story.)  Anyway, I suddenly felt the connection between the shop employees' chanting and the Supremes! 

Checking out, ten minutes before closing time, with a dozen t-shirts to fill an order from a friend back home, there were a bunch of people waiting behind me.  The cashier carefully folded every shirt.  I got increasingly uncomfortable about making people behind me wait, knowing that I would mess everything up as soon as I put it into my suitcase.  So I started "helping" with the folding, but there is no way I could do it as well as these store employees.  They are amazing--droopy sweater, gauze material, nothing fazes them, and they don't even need a flat surface to perfectly fold a garment. 


When I checked out of the Toyoko Inn this morning, they presented me with my Toyoko Inn Club Membership Card.  I look very happy in the photo on the card!  I was speculating what it would be like to rent out my house and use the proceeds to move into the Toyoko Inn and never have to do any cooking again!  
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