Exceptional, out of my ordinary

This post is a kind of visual listing of things that I found extremely unfortunate and extremely fortunate in my travels here. The first is more just something unusual. It is rare to see garbage on the street. People just don’t seem to litter. So it was both beautiful and odd to see a single empty pop can in the middle of a stairway.

Something I have found extremely disturbing is the multi-layering of the highways. Almost all of the rivers and there are many in Tokyo in the downtown core are smothered over with a highway. All riversides are covered concrete.

Although I don’t have photos of this, a custom here I have found most agreeable is giving a damp and often warm cloth to wash your hands before eating – this happens in both restaurants or at someone’s home. Another custom I have found most agreeable is bowing. It happens in a most natural way and doesn’t seem to be cumbersome or out of place – a gentle, full-body way of silently acknowledging people and exchanges. It can although, be taken to extremes – I’ve seen bowing to a monitor screen and to cars and buses.

Everywhere in public space, there are lines and arrows and footprints indicating where you should go and where you should wait. Both annoying and helpful in a city of 35 million. The Japanese are not known for breaking too far away from the rules and the gang, so I am also happy to see that not everyone pays strict attention.

Amazing postal service- sometimes several deliveries a day, a post office in every district and they even stick the stamps on your envelopes with a smile!. Also, the automatic tellers there are the best place for tourists to withdraw money.

The shinkansen or the bullet train. Fantastic to be able to travel so easily, quickly and efficiently without getting in an airplane or a car! We need this at home.

Something I find extremely unfortunate is the deluxe, ultra-absolute, plastic packaging of everything for sale. I understand there is a long tradition of gift-giving and wrapping and protecting things from insects as the climate is very humid, but really, does one carrot or one grapefruit need to be cellophane wrapped in the grocery store?

There are public washrooms everywhere: in the streets and in every subway station. AND, they are fantastic. I want a Tonto bidet at home. What could be more welcoming than a warm toilet seat on a cold winter day? And with its warm gentle spray, you can be sure that your bum is well wiped! Maybe a bit more water is used, but way less toilet paper! Don’t forget your toilet slippers! I still really don’t get the necessity of toilet slippers.  Bathroom Accompaniment

I find women’s voices here are often too high and they have a deeply ingrained habit of covering their mouths sometimes when they talk and when they eat. In reading, The Tale of Genji, that 10th century tale of over 1000 pages written by Murasaki Shikibu, that I am now half-way through, I am astonished to realize that women and men in court life lived very physically separated lives, the women – very veiled lives, remaining behind screens, fans and multi-layered clothing. Whole conversations between men and women took place often with the women shadowed by screens or curtains.  I cannot believe this would also be true of women working and living more simple rural lives. Hard to farm behind a screen.

A good thing- there is no Mr, Mrs, Ms, differentiation for men or women; everyone has san tacked on to their family name and are addressed as such. I am Karen san, but I don’t call myself that; it is an honourific title added to denote respect for the other. A nasty thing- husband in Japanese means master, wife means slave. Many women have opted out of using these words, but there is a definite vacuum left. Not unlike our unmarried status leaving us with- partner? lover? better half?

I almost forgot one of the very best things about Japan – their onsens. The onsen is a public spa, with hot and cold bath, hot tubs and often swimming pools alongside. The real ones use the volcanic heated water that bubbles to the surface and are often outside, but every gym seems to have their own interior version of an onsen. I have never heard of an onsen where women and men can go together. Although there is a naturalness about the naked body, remember that this is a country where clean is a word interchangeable with beautiful – kirai. Don’t be deceived by the nakedness in the onsen – very prudish and guarded sexually. Sex does not happen. Maybe it is only an accident that there are 127,341,000 people on this tiny string of islands.

I am happy to see people actually using a broom to clean the streets instead of those nasty vacuum sucking machines that race over our sidewalks at home. Get out and move your body – healthier all around.

The lace-covered seats inside taxis are inviting and beautiful. Cleanliness and beauty use the same word in Japanese – kirei.

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