Purpose one: writing a travelogue to describe my various trips.

Purpose two: muse.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Notes on Japan

Japan is a land of ironies. For instance, it's the cleanest country I've even been to, but you can't find a garbage can anywhere. I was carrying my trash around for days. It's expensive, but few places take credit cards and few ATMs work with your card. The latter is not just an international problem: you can walk past a bunch of unused ATMs, then see one with a long line of locals. I learned to look for 7-11, where the ATMs consistently worked with my card.

My dad would have loved Japan. He would have loved the food, and the attention both diners and chefs pay to the meal quality and experience. He would have loved the baths. He would have loved the nifty toilet seats with heating, spraying, mini-flushes, automatic lids, etc. I saw toilet seats with more complexity than programmable VCRs.

The legendary Japanese politeness is real, and an interesting study in the difference between politeness and friendliness. I found the Japanese almost consistently polite, but few were outright friendly. On several occasions, I had the sensation that a Japanese not speaking a word of English would receive much better help in America than an American not speaking a word of Japanese is likely to receive in Japan. Barring some Beavis Redneck tending counter.

That said, I did meet some truly friendly people. In Fuji-Yoshida, a lady in a tea shop gave me a free treat and some prints of local scenery. In the same place, I met a sculpturist, Ishibori. He makes some really interesting figures, check out the gallery. They didn't speak much English, but showed interest nonetheless. I enjoyed this experience of generosity. I wouldn't call it an isolated incident, as I experienced this kind of warmth several times while in Japan. In general, though, I found Japanese people curiously passive and intransigent.

Goodbye, Japan

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