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Travels With An Airhead

Japan High Tech

— by Notch Miyake

Greetings from Japan, home of sushi, sumo wrestling, Honda motorcycles, the electric toilet seat, the mobile traffic monitor, and other vital technological innovations. I discussed sushi in my last column (May 2002).

Everyone should be familiar with sumo since Americans have been Yokozuna or Grand Champions, for many years. The Hawaiian born Akebono recently retired. An American, Masashimaru, is one of the two currently active Yokozuna. This guy weighs 498 lbs, about the same as an R1100S (505 lbs). It is unwise to mock people this size no matter how tempted you are by the red jock straps they wear in the ring.

I did not have an opportunity to test drive any of the unusual Honda motorcycles I saw on the streets of Tokyo. But I did try several models of the electric toilet seat. These appliances have come a long way since the simple heated seats sold just a few years ago.

After a number of unfortunate electrocution accidents, the industry has switched to low-voltage power, which is a lot safer in the damp environment where most of these seats are located. And the heaters now have timed shutoff switches to conserve energy, although this can be disconcerting during a long session.

The top-of-the-line models also spray warm water onto strategic spots. There are typically two settings: no. 1 and no. 2. These correspond to the same points we ask about when we let the dog out, "Did he do no. 1 or no. 2?" Gents, be sure to check the settings before hitting the Start button. Failure to do so might result in an unexpected, although not necessarily unpleasant, sensation.

One night we drove to a restaurant in a Toyota Cedric. It was equipped with a state-of-the-art mobile traffic monitor, essentially a GPS linked to the Tokyo traffic monitoring system. We input the phone number of our destination and a map appeared on the screen showing our location and the target. All the roads leading directly to the restaurant were blinking-red, indicating severe traffic congestion.

The system suggested an alternate blinking-green route around the traffic. We followed the directions and arrived at the restaurant three uncongested hours later, with a new appreciation of the back roads of Yokohama. Thanks to the sake, we arrived much mellower than the 30-minute subway ride would have allowed.

Once at the restaurant, we discovered there was no parking. There is never any parking in Tokyo. The obvious solution to this dilemma is not to park. So someone took over and drove the car around the block until we were done. Actually, he didn?t drive very far, since this area was blinking red. Luckily, the car had a state-of-the-art entertainment system and the driver got to watch the entire Oprah show live on satellite as we ate. So we were all happy.

— Copyright © 2002 by Notch Miyake.

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