Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Reflections on Japan

As I was flying in to Japan from high above the ground I saw lots of long white things clustered together in rows. I couldn't tell what they were, but as we descended I realized that they were greenhouses, Quonset hut shaped, draped with plastic sheeting. This is their secret for having fresh vegetables and fruits year round. The Japanese are careful stewards of their land and every available inch is utilized. (Same with Korea) Houses are clustered tightly together and any bit of yard, or roadside or space beside the rail tracks or rivers was cultivated, or planted with fruit trees. Except for the ultra-wealthy, houses are small and compact. Most people live in high rise apartment buildings. As we rode around I had a feeling of yes, this is familiar because it is the same earth that I live on, but at the same time the changes to the landscape by humans was very different from the US.

I noticed that Japan is very clean, as in almost no trash anywhere, especially in public spaces. The weird thing was that there were no trash bins on street corners or in restaurants or stores. I'd have a piece of trash in my hand and look around for someplace to discard it and I never could find anyplace. But there was no trash on the ground. Evidently, people just tuck things into their bags, pockets, etc. and discard it at home. I did see a few bins in the Subway/train stations, but NEVER in the restrooms. Which reminds me, there were no towels in the restroom and seldom an electric hand dryer. The ladies would wash their hands, then pull out a small towel (what we would call a washcloth) from their bags, dry their hands and pop the towel back in their bags. I used my large cloth handkerchief and changed it daily. Good thing I didn't need to blow my nose too.

Japanese cuisine, at least what I was exposed to, is delicious. The tastes are refined and delicate. Everything seemed to be "natural", that is, not flavored with spices or herbs. The flavors of the foods themselves were allowed to be tasted. Their cuisine is heavy on fish, soybeans, and seaweed. I think I had those in many varieties at every meal. Emphasis is on taste and beauty, rather than quantity, although I was always fully satisfied at every meal.

The Japanese people are reserved, yet friendly and helpful. Those employed in the service industries were cheerful, helpful and polite in the extreme. It was so refreshing. Even the garbage collector we passed on our way to the train station greeted us with a polite bow. They seemed to delight in trying out their English and I was impressed by everyone who tried. They certainly did better with English than me with no Japanese.

I enjoyed being a people watcher on the trains. Stereotypically, we think of Asians looking all alike. Wrong! I knew before I went that there is almost infinite variety in their looks and features. I knew this from almost five years of watching Korean Dramas online. I believe the only thing that is identical is hair color, which they change so there are lots of dark browns and reds, with a few blonds which stand out. I am taller than most of them, although the younger generation, my children's ages, are growing taller.

I didn't get any pictures, but we got to attend a performance of Kabuki Theater. We saw a short one act comedy. Headsets were provided so we could hear a translation and explanation of the play. It was different and delightful. Written in 1773 (or thereabouts) the play was witty and clever. The stylized exaggeration of inflection was interesting to listen to, and the acting was great.

I am so glad I visited! I would like to return and explore a little more of the countryside. Of course there is plenty to see in the city too. Like New York City, three days is enough to only skim the surface of a few highlights.

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