Thursday, March 14, 2019

Top 10 interesting experiences in Japan (thus far!)

Genbaku Dome
We've only been here for a few days, focusing on Hiroshima. This afternoon we're taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto. For now, a few TENtative reflections:

First and foremost, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a quiet, thoughtful, beautiful collection of commemorations to the victims and survivors of the world's first use of atomic weaponry. We spent two days wandering about, studying exhibits and immersing ourselves in questions about how this site works rhetorically, aesthetically, and practically. I will have much more to say about this park in coming months. But for now I can simply confirm that this place is a must-visit for any traveler.

Courtesy, grace, and honor are so widely practiced here. Yes, there are layers of meaning that I cannot fathom (without much more time and reflection). And given my obvious appearance and performance as a Western tourist, I won't even attempt to consider the authenticity of what we've experienced. For now it's enough to appreciate the generosity of strangers, the kindness of a bow, the earnest desire to avoid offense. Folks in the U.S. could learn a great deal from Japan.

Food is simply amazing. Yes, my first "meal" was some sort of savory, gooey, squishy thing on a stick purchased from one of the many, many, many 7-11s in Japan [we arrived too late to find a restaurant]. Since then meals have been a delight: Mazemen, Udon, naturally, but also the best beef I ever had. Jenny and I found a comfy, cramped place where they serve Wagyu. Along with a couple of quietly chatting fellows and a cheerful group of salarymen nearby, we were the only foreigners around. And they made us feel right at home with a simply sublime meal.

Transportation is clean, safe, fast, and pleasant. My favorite part is the sense that most folks riding buses, metros and the like treat these mobilities as sites of refuge from the noise that permeates many other public places, speaking (if at all) as if in a library. Tickets for the bullet train are much more dear than I'd prefer, but I'm sure that ride is going to be a delight all the same.

Sharing unmarked sidewalks with bikers is a little scary but manageable. Here of all places, I'd think that there'd be a formal rule (walk on left, walk on right, whatever), but it seems less organized than that. Bikers seem happy to weave around pedestrians on either side. So far, no accidents, so I'll try to trust the system - and keep my eyes open.

Japanese toilets (as is well known) are awesome. No news there. Even so, despite having visited the country once before, I've never actually availed myself of, shall we say, all of the features (bidet, masking sound, scent-spritz, etc.). But now I'm on board. We're getting one of these suckers for our home back in the States!

Nonverbal gestures are a topic of personal (and professional) fascination. I've learned to point to my nose rather than my chest when referring to myself. I've seen (and received) a couple X-arm gestures, which indicate bad activity - like taking a picture where I shouldn't. And I understand that I should never give a "thumbs down" emblem around here. In Japan, doing so is considered obscene. [I'm glad I read about that gesture before getting here!] So much more to learn...

Pachinko is intimidating! Since seeing a cartoon version of the "gaming device" on an old Simpsons episode, I've always wanted to play. So we entered a crowded, smokey parlor. But the games! Such a cacophony of video clips, sound effects, and tumbling silver balls. Hard to figure out. I think I'll wait until we get to Tokyo where I can visit a parlor where they offer instructions.

I wonder how many homesick
Americans stumble into this place!
The corporate jingle they play in Edion (an electronics superstore of sorts). We came here to get SIM cards for our phones. The experience was... stressful, especially since literally not one person among dozens could help us. They seemed genuinely surprised to be selling the danged things, and absolutely perplexed that anyone would be confused by the set-up process. Folks hovered nearby, sort of wanting to help but embarrassed that they couldn't. Three cheers to Jenny for working the problem. The employees were more relieved than we when I assured them that we were happy (and leaving). Still, I can't get that bouncy jingle, sung by children, out of my mind. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-EE-DEE-ON!

Television is worth a follow-up post all its own. I know that commercials don't reflect the reality of any culture, yet I cannot help but study each spot for insights into how life works here. I won't fall into the ethnocentric trap of labels; my inchoate readings only reveal my own limitations. But there is something delightfully new (to me) about the expansive gestures, the sound effects, the costumed characters, and the other attributes to shows and commercials. And then there's kids entertainment... Oh, to grow up in Japan!

Anyway, that's enough for now. Next stop: Kyoto!

No comments: