A Travellerspoint blog

50 Final Notes From The Observation Deck

And other random trivia about japan...

Greetings from Minnesota!

Just after I touched down in Minnesota last friday, the captain told me everything I needed to hear, "Welcome to the twin cities where it's a bit chilly this afternoon, outside it's -10 farenheit and -24 degrees celsius." This wasn't music to my ears, but like a true Minnesotan I managed to walk the dog and breath the fresh air as soon as I got home. I had forgotten how unpleasant it was to feel sub zero wind temps blowing against my face. No matter how cold it was, it felt good to be back in the north woods and even better to be at home.

Although I was flying high all the way home, I wasn't naive enough to think the high would last forever. But before I wrap of the blog experience I intend to milk every last ounce of inspiration from my trip for one final entry. A few days before catching a direct flight to MN I grabbed a notebook and started jotting down as many observations as I could about my surroundings, namely things that felt some how unique to Japan. These observations are of course subjective to my experience; however, many of these topics surfaced in conversations with Ana. And after getting to know a few of her friends from the University (also foreign exchange), I got the impression I wasn't the only foreigner feeling out of place.

Before I completly surrender to the rat race, here's a list of 50 final notes from the observation deck:

1. Japan is a mecca for sea food. My advice is try first ask later so you can avoid the pain of knowing what you're about to eat.

2. Cars drive on the opposite side of the road and the steering wheels are on the opposite side of the car.

3. When at the bookstore minding my own business, I looked down and noticed all the bindings were on the opposite side of the books. That means all the covers are on the back and all the backs are on the covers.

4. People walk on the opposide of the street. I adapted quickly so as not to disturb anyone's Zen, but once I started running, things got out of hand. When people were supposed to go left they went right and vice versa. Eventually I took matters into my own hands and ran offensively.

5. Japan is empowering the canine population to extreme heights. It's common to see dogs being pushed in strollers, dressed like babies, and treated like royalty.

6. Ordering food in a restaurant could be very challenging at times for one main reason: in half of the restaurants the entire ordering process was facilitated using either a machine in the door way, or a touch screen at our table. This would not have been a problem, had I known how to read simultaneously all three alphabets: Kanji, Katakana and Hiragna.

7. Horse meat is offered on most menus.

8. I imagine Japan being a nightmare for any vegetarian or a practicing Muslim, as meat and fish is served with just about every meal. If you're one or the other and planning to visit Japan, learn how to explain in Japanese that you can't eat meat (or learn how to say 'kosher') before embarking on your trip.

9: Tipping is not standard ettiquette.

10. Tax was always included in the price on the tag; unless of course we eat at a restaurant. Restaurants charged 5% of the meal cost for what was explained to me as, "a table rental tax."

11. Customer service in Japan was exceptional. When transacting at a convenient store, restaurant or train station I always received a smile, a light bow and a thank you (all while maintaining eye contact). I was very impressed.

12. It took being in the east to make me realize what being from the west was all about.

13. Silverware takes a back seat to chop sticks in Japan. Get used to it, go for it and trust me the cherades for needing silverware is second nature.

14. Japan has amazing toilets. They have heated seats with cushions and spray action for your backside. They also have double barrel flushing capebility, offering the user the option to flush big or small.

15. The Japanese do not jaywalk. It doesn't matter if there are no cars in either direction for as far as they eye can see...they're not going to cross the street until the pedestrian light turns green. That didn't stop Ana and I from jaywalking every chance we got, we just ignored the dirty looks.

16. Coffee cups and beer glasses were rarely filled to the brim. This drove me bananas as both are a part of my diet (and very expensive!). I tried and failed miserably at the cherades for "Aghm, mind topping me off?"

17. Big cities in Japan are built in layers. It was common to be in the subway system and feel the train below my feet, hear the rumbling of the subway above my head, and then realize there's a main street and two bridges above that.

18. Women cover their mouth when they laugh.

19. The 'peace' sign is the Japanese trademark when taking photos.

20. Talking on the telephone while on the subway or train is strictly prohibited. The irony is that everyone still uses their phone to text, play video games and watch tv while riding the train.

21. The Japanese love to package products in as many separate plastic wrappers as possible, almost to the extent that it has be a source of national pride. This made mondays mornings my favorite garbage day of the week.

22. Green tea is included in every meal restaurant.

23. Removing my shoes was mandatory in many buildings, as was offering me a pair of slippers that was too small.

24. Slippers for general areas and for bathrooms are not one in the same. There are always separate sandles for bathroom use.

25. You don't have to speak Japanese to survive in Japan, but they greatly appreciated an honest effort to speak it. They also exercised serious patience when my cherades failed miserably.

26. The Japanese have very healthy and active population. According to a Jan 23rd article in the Toronto Sun, Japan has the oldest population and the highest life expectancy. It was inspiring to see so many active senor citizens and middle aged parents dancing in the parks, flying kites and playing catch or kicking soccer balls across an open field with their kids.

27. Japan's public transportation system was impressive. The buses, subways and trains were ALWAYS on time and exceptionally clean. However, they were often over capacity: Japan_blog.bmp

28. It's illegal to carry a pocket knife in Japan with a blade longer than 2.2 inches. I marched around japan (mostly Yokohama and Tokyo) for 6 weeks before I realized the gravity of this consequence. In 2009 a 74 year old tourist was arrested and jailed for 9 days in Tokyo when the police discovered he was carrying a pocket knife that measured 1cm too long.

29. Baseball is huge in Japan. There was a ball field in every neighborhood I visited and there was alwaus people playing catch in the city parks.

30. Japan has turned garbage disposal into an art. 5 different days of the week, 5 diffferent kinds of garbage was picked up at a communal location in our neighborhood.

31. Japan is by far the safest country I have ever visited, including the United States of America.

32. Japan has a beautiful natural landscape. Mt. fuji was located about two hours S.W. of our apartment by train and very easy to see from our neighborhood on sunny days. Also within a couple hour train ride it was easy to find 300 foot waterfalls, dense forests, the Pacific Ocean on the east and the Sea of Japan to the west.

33. Buddist temples and Shinto Shrines are a common feature of Tokyo and Yokohama communities. Mixed between high rise condos, towering apartments and suburban homes it was easy to spot the roof tops of these ancient buildings.

34. After investigating the heavy sound of a military chopper over head I learned there is a strong U.S. military presence in Japan. I also learned that our most useful navy base located outside the U.S. is in Yokasuka, a town approximately 30 minutes south of where I lived.

35. Japan closed to international relations for the entirety of the Edo Period (1600-1850's). It didn't open to tourism or major international trade until 1857.

36. Kareoke is king of the night life activities.

37. Wearing the surgical mask is common place in Japan. The main reasons for wearing it include, but aren't limited to: protection from spreading germs, prevention of getting sick, keeping their face warm, and for the younger generations it was becoming the trendy thing to wear.

38. Although it's becoming more common to read in the western style, the traditional Japanese method is to start reading in the upper right hand side of the page and then downward.

39. English is found on advertisements, street signs and menus all arond town. The only problem is they often have misspelled words or any lack meaning

40. About once every week I woke up to a tremor in the middle of the night. Once the original "We're all going to die!" feeling subsided I was eventually able to roll over and go back to bed. No matter how low the crime rate is in Japan, the threat of natural disasters is always high.

41. If you ever visit Japan in the winter bring lots of layers for sleeping. The temperature in the city reached a low of only about 32 degrees, it was drafty and cold in just about every building. I even managed to see my breath some mornings in the apartment.

42. Netflix is not available in Japan!

43. The Yokohama/Tokyo area is expensive. A small cup of American coffee at Starbucks (mind you it will only be 2/3 full) cost 320 yen, or about $4.00.

44. Hello Kitty should be the mascot for Japan. Hello Kitty is drawn on cakes, jackets, backpacts and all kinds of Jewlery. I made sure to pick up a pair of chop sticks and a guitar pick with Hello Kitty on it before heading home.

45. One word: METROSEXUAL. The standard fashion for business men in the city includes a man purse, a smart suit, hair gel and for the younger generation a pair of non-prescription eye wear was pretty common.

46. I had to forfeit my idea of 'personal space' within a few hours of landing in Tokyo. If you're from New York this probably isn't a big deal to you, but being i'm from Minnesota this was like giving up my right arm. I now know what claustrophobia feels like.

47. Slurping noodels is common. Noodles are hot when served right? So why not reverse whistle and suck em' down the hatch. The first time I sat down with a bowl of wide noodle raumen and brown curry (what turned out to be my favorite Japanese food), I gave it hell and slurped until my bowl was squeaky clean.

48. The rumor I heard was everybody smokes in Japan. I can't say I found that to be the case. In fact we saw several designated smoking areas out doors as well as signs on the sidewalks indicating smoking was not permitted while walking.

49. My experience with Japanese people taught me they are very humble. Although at times their pride for Japan was abrasive and it was easy to feel like an outsider, most people tried very hard to speak English.

50. 36,000,000 people live in the Yokohama/Tokyo area of Japan. That is 1/4th of the population of Japan...talk about being packed like sardines. This makes a busy day at the Minnesota State Fair a walk in the park.

I wish I could have brought home every possible souvenir (especially Ana), but what souvenir could be better than a new outlook on life? I got to live life as an observer, explore an interest in writing and sleep a few extra hours. I made some new friends, saw a little bit of Japan and gained a new perspective. If any one is thinking about visiting Japan, I have some advice: Go with an open mind and be prepared to experience culture shock. You will also enjoy your time a lot more if you learn a little japanese before going. Even if you're a terrible speaker, they will respect you more for trying.

Thanks for taking the time to check out life in Japan. I always looked forward to reading your comments. Be well and Kan Pai!

Sr.Curtissan

Posted by Sr.curtissan 12:41 Comments (4)

Concert Review: Rodrigo and Gabriela

Live at the Bunkamura Orchard Hall, January 13th, 2013.

Like many Rodrigo and Gabriela fans I jumped on the bandwagon after their 2nd album, Rodrigo and Gabriela (2006). The track list featured two cover songs: Led Zepplin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Metalica's "Orion". These tracks made the already accessible acoustic duo's sound even more palatable to new listeners. The 7 additional tracks showcased their talent to merge influences such as folk, acoustic, rock and flamenco. Their latest album Area 52 2012 is a reworking of songs originating from both Rodrigo and Gabriela and the 2009 release 11:11. Only this time, they recorded with a Cuban orchestra known as C.U.B.A. Rodrigo and Gabriela have been on my watch list since 2006, and what better opportunity would I have to see them live than at the Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Tokyo, Japan.

The Bunkamura Orchard Hall set the stage quite well for R & G. It's designed in what's called a "shoe box" format. The rectangle shape venue has deep ends with very narrow seating on the sides, offering only one or two rows of seats on the left and right side of the 2nd and 3rd level. We sat in the middle of the 32nd row of approximately 40 on the main floor with 60 seats extending either way. The floor having a slight angle offered a great sight line to the stage, making any seat on the lower level a bargin.

The Bunkamura was perhaps a bit too big for R and G from the perspective of ticket sales. No tickets were sold for the 2nd or 3rd levels and the main floor was just over 90% of it's capacity. Regardless of failing to sell out out the 2,150 capacity venue, for 105 minutes their sound reached every corner of the auditorium with conviction. The only dissapointment occured when the speakers in front of Gabriela emitted a high pitched reverb that took approximately 30 minutes trouble shoot and repair, but like true professionals R and G played through the glitch not missing a beat.

The set list covered a wide variety of songs from their studio albums, but they also managed to slip in new material throughout the show. The new tracks added a blend of anticipation and mystery to an aleady intriguing set list. They opened with a previously unreleased song driven by power chords played by Rodrigo. In a heavy metal stance with head banging, he fired up the crowd until everyone was out of their seat and clapping along. Two of the highlights during the show came when each performer stood alone on the stage and played a song without accompaiment. This allowed the audience to appreciate the playing style of each individual performer: Rodrigo's ability to trail blaze the fret board with precision and Gabriela's electrifying precussion beats.

Music director for Area 51, Alex Wilson, accompained R and G mid way through the show for a series of songs which added a foriegn element to the typical R and G acoustic sound. Wilson's tyle of piano playing complimented the duo's musical wit. His razor sharp skills attacked and released the rythms of the two guitars while at times taking the lead and other times providing the framework for a solo. The combination of the piano accompaniment, the solo performances and R and G addressing the crowd between sets helped break down the show into segments, making it easier to appreciate the experience on a variety of levels.

The crowd radiated energy thoughout the entire show. It was refreshing to be a part of a crowd that carried the rhythm through an entire song rather than just the first few measures. People swayed alongside one another and after each song came to an end, they eagerly waited to see which song would follow, with hands ready to clap on cue if asked by R or G. It was a perfect match for the passion created by an enthusiastic R and G. The only negativity I sensed from the crowd was during the technical difficulties. The murmers among the crowd hinted towards a slight dissatisfaction with sound quality.

I had my doubts going in to the theater about the potential for a show featuring only two acoustic guitars and no lyrics. I had also avoided seeing them live in the past due to their high priced tickets ($80). Yet when it was all said and done I definitelty got my moneys worth of entertainment watching R and G perform. The energy from the crowd was contagious, R and G played with passion and the mixture of released and unreleased tunes kept me on my toes. It was also impressive to see a band of native spanish speakers facilitate the show by addressing the crowd in both Japanese and English. The only spanish word came at the very end of the show, as Gabriela exited the stage left and shouted a final farewell with the wave of her hand, "Gracias!".

Posted by Sr.curtissan 22:17 Comments (0)

The Nature Of Nikko

The Japanese have a saying: "Nikko wo minakereba 'kekko' to iu na." This translates best: "Don't say magnificent until you've seen Nikko."

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Sacred Bridge crossing the Daiya River

Nikko, Japan is a cozy mountain town visited by people from all around the world who share one thing in common: experiencing its many low hanging fruits. It's located approximately 140 km north of Tokyo in the Tochigi Prefecture, which is home to Nikko National Park. The high season for tourism in Nikko occurs during the cherry blossom season in the spring, a couple months in summer and then a short time in September/October during leaf senescence. Ana and I were visiting in the off season, which meant no lines for tourist attractions but lots walking in winter weather.

The Narusawa Lodge had been in Yuji's family since the 1930's. When he greeted us at the front door wearing a black hooded sweatshirt that said “One Love” over the profile of Bob Marley, I took him to be a peaceful guy. Yuji offered to take us to the Onsen our first evening in Nikko. Like most good tour guides, Yuji had a little passion for his job and was knowledgable about the area. So when I asked a simple question like, “What’s that building over there?” he told us EVERYTHING. In this case it was smaller hockey stadium. He went on about the semi pro hockey team (the Ice Bucks) that plays there, the Women’s World Hockey Division 1 Championships that took place in 2007, when it was built, who built it and so on. As we rolled into the parking lot of the onsen Yuji accelerated towards the front door and pulled the E-brake, cutting the wheel just in time to make a 90 degree turn and park in front of the main entrance. He turned around with casual smile that read, “I still got it.” He rolled down his window, “I’ll pick you up 9:30pm.” He threw it in reverse and locked up the tires for full effect, then cruised back to the hostel.

With nothing but the stars and the cool smell of the snow to keep me company, it was easy to melt into the winter landscape and enjoy the hot springs. A couple hours later Ana and I met in the lounge. The warm tones on the wall and good company made for a toasty atmosphere. Even the friendly staff and Miles Davis on the stereo managed to drown out my objection of paying $6 for a 10oz glass of Heartland beer. Shortly after the last sip Yuji spun into the parking lot to pick us up, right on time. After a few pulls of the E-brake and a couple close calls we were back in the hostel and ready for a good night's sleep.

Friday morning our bus started in the foot hills of the mountains and within minutes had carried us to just below the cloud line. From this altitude (about 1000 meters above sea level) the view of the city was pretty impressive; until we realized we had missed our stop. The next bus stop was no more than 3 minutes up the hill which didn’t feel like a long way, but it was far enough to carry us into an entirely different micro climate that required an oxygen tank and sherpa for support. I knew we were in trouble when the bus came to a rolling stop and the majority of the stores in town were closed…including the bus station (with the exception of the lobby area, Hallelujah!). We hopped off the bus and right into a face piercing wind and snow flying left to right. "Perfect" I thought. Now we had to put all our faith in was my trendy Nikkon camera (Thanks Ashton!), a thermos of hot water and half a bag of trail mix. After a brief ration check we walked a half block down the road to check out the only tourist attraction within walking distance: the 97 meter high Kegon Waterfall.

I was pretty sure I could handle the change in temperature, but I wondered if Ana would want to turn around and wait for the next bus. I was thinking “Costa Rican, 10 degrees, snow, wind…no chance,” Not only did she thrive in the cold, she even picked up her pace a few times just to do a fancy foot slide on the ice. While Ana was flying high with the spirit of the mountain and fresh snow, my toes were starting to wimp out and beg for mercy. It turns out last year’s model of Mizuno running shoes weren’t designed to protect against 10 degree weather and snow drifts 6-12’’ deep. I’d hoped the power of my beard and inner grizzly man would get me through times like these, but by the time we got to the waterfall I was one unhappy camper:

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After a quick pep talk about 'when the going gets tough', I snapped a couple more photos of the water fall and headed towards the souvenir shop. On my way I saw a furry little creature chilling out on a tree stump:

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This is a Japanese macaque, or more commonly known as a snow monkey. In Japan they are called Nihonzaru(Nihon=Japan + saru=monkey). It turns out these primates are from the old world, which would explain their wisdom and cunningness in jumping over the rail and ripping off a box of chocolates from the souvenir shop. They carried it to a remote location on the mountainside completely out of reach from any brave store owner or tourist. Judging by the color of his face I’m pretty sure he was colder than I was:

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We later found out they’re a rare sighting this time of year since they typically spend winter months in their caves. At this point I figured missing our bus stop was less of an error and more of divine intervention. Apparently when snow monkeys are not hanging around in their cave (pun intended) they enjoy bathing in hot springs...

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…and getting fresh with each other.

I wish I could take credit for this photo, but I found it on Wikipedia alongside the “Intelligence and Culture” section:

Later that day we visited a few other main attractions in central Nikko: the Futarasan Shrine, Toshogu Shrine, Ryukoin Temple and Rinnoji Temple. All of them circa the 8th century. Fortunately for us, they were located within walking distance from one another. 1,300 yen ($16) bought us an all access pass to go inside, walk around and do the proper prayer in each of the temples. That's one ring of the bell, two claps, two bows, and one final clap with your blessing in mind. Unless you're looking for bad juju, make sure to throw a coin in the offering box before you begin.

Between the 120’ Cedars, stone streets and the ancient structures it’s easy to understand why the Shrines and Temples of Nikko are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to these main attractions, being in the presence of so much history had a calming effect. It was peaceful to think that for centuries people had admired Nikko's beauty in perhaps the same way I was. After seeing several Shrines and Temples they started to blend together in my mind, but one aspect never got old; the feeling of transendance when out of no where, between towering green canopies emerges a five story pagoda:

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It took about two and a half hours for the cold weather to get on my nerves. I was hanging tough until we got to the last building. As Ana was snapping the last few photos I was doing damage control making sure I had all 10 fingers and toes. So when we approached the doors of the Toshogu Shrine and a member of the staff asked me to remove my shoes before entering I almost had a conniption fit. I wanted to say, “You want me to offer my toes, is that it!?” Instead I dug deep, harnessed my inner Zen and placed my shoes on the rack. I passed the staff member standing there in his wooden sandals, did a quick lap just so I could check it off the list and retreated to the shoe rack.

Main Entrance to the Toshogu Shrine:
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Our last morning in Nikko we decided to revisit the Shrines and Temples while accompanying a free walking tour with an English speaking guide. Once again, each member of the group was from a different country adding an even thicker layer to the already enlightening experience of being abroad. As our trip came to a close, we surveyed the train station for one last snack before our 3 hour ride home. That's when we found the holy grail of street foods:

The Yuba Manju
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Thanks again for checking out life in Japan and all of your comments about the blog. We hope you're well and see you soon!

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Posted by Sr.curtissan 23:38 Comments (2)

The Mind Behind the Mask

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Whether young or old, male or female, a professional or a student, wearing a procedure (or medical) mask is incredibly common in Japan. In fact it is impossible to leave our apartment without bumping into someone wearing a white mask covering both their nose and mouth. Although it came as quite a shock in the beginning of my trip, I became completely desensitized to the issue after only a few weeks. Rather than playing the ignorant card and coming home with koodies, I thought it best to research a little about why they wear the mask before assuming it wasn't for me. I decided to do some checking around online for answers.

I started with a simple search on Google. I typed in: Why do Jap...? I only managed to type the first few letters of 'Japanese', before the first popular search appeared: why do Japanese people have bad teeth? It's true, there are some real "vampire fangs" (as my neighbor says) around Japan. I've also seen a few sets of teeth that look like a small bomb went off inside their mouth. My personal favorite is the set of pearly whites that has about 8 total teeth, each one literally prutruding in a different direction. In David Sedaris's short story titled "The Smoking Section", he includes his observation of teeth in Tokyo, "People looked as if they'd been chewing on rusty bolts." Am I to assume that all people wearing the mask have bad teeth? I suppose that could be why they wear the mask. But their must be something more to it.

There were countless opinions about this subject on the internet. The most credible opinion I found was in an article from Rocket News 24 dated just a few months ago:

There are a few reasons for this, the most common being that they are sick and are wearing a mask to keep their nasty germs to themselves in consideration of those around them. Likewise, many people also wear a mask to guard themselves from whatever illness is going around. Others use it vainly to shield their faces from the onslaught of cedar pollen that descends upon the masses every spring.

Those who wear a mask for these reasons sound like pretty considerate people to me. A bit further into the article something else caught my attention, the top five reasons people not afraid of catching or spreading an illness choose to wear the mask:

1. They’re not wearing any makeup and want to hide their face
2. To keep their face warm
3. To make their face look small
4. It comforts them
5. To keep their throat from drying while sleeping

I recommend skimming the entire article, as it only takes a minute and offers a bit more insight into the psychology behind why people wear the mask. I had some trouble creating the direct link, so you'll have to copy and paste. Sorry!

http://en.rocketnews24.com/2012/11/29/surgical-masks-in-japan-fashion-trend-or-wall-of-self-isolation-more-japanese-youth-wearing-surgical-masks-to-hide-their-face/

In most big cities in Japan it's quite common to see people handing out certain free goods on the street. The more common hand outs include: wet wipes to clean your hands, adds for deals on singing kareoke, tissues (always accept the tissue because it's rare to find toilet paper in the bathrooms!), and masks. Most of the time I pass on the free goods, but a few days ago I decided to accept a mask and see what all the fuss was about. It looked something like this:

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Just kidding. Here's a picture of what the mask really looked like:
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I was reluctant to wear it at first. However, after seeing so many people around town wearing them I figured there must be something to this. I decided to give it a try around the apartment, in the middle of my comfort zone. Life around the apartment was pretty smooth with the mask at first. Maybe I breathed easier, or perhaps I felt more responsible and healthy for having put it on. After a short time I even forgot I was wearing it. All that said, it didn't take long for me to realize that some things just weren't the same as life without the mask:

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No matter how hard I tried to act normal, it just didn't feel right.
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In the end, I decided the mask wasn't for me. Having said that the rest of my trip will be spent strolling around with my face naked to all of Japan.

Before publishing this entry I did my usual final review to make sure things were copasetic. I thought my moral compus was a bit off center...like maybe I was unfairly judging the Japanese by pointing out the gaps in their genetic makeup. But i'm also a strong believer in making fun of other people, especially since i'm more than willing to make fun of myself. Let it be known, my mouth is loaded with cavities and i'm a regular coffee drinker. I'm sure you can imagine what the inside of this pie hole looks like. In another effort to be diplomatic and create a little equilibrium internationally, I thought it best to do a quick search about Americans. I opened a fresh Google page and typed: Why are Amer...? The most popular search that came up immidiately set my mind at ease. Any guesses? If you said, "Why are Americans so fat?", you would be wrong. That was the 2nd most common search. The most popular search was, "Why are American's so stupid?" Alas, some form of poetic justice after all.

Here's one more nugget for you:
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Thanks for taking a minute to check out life in Japan. I hope you smiled while reading this entry, I certainly did. Be well!

Posted by Sr.curtissan 19:00 Comments (6)

Mind over Matters Part III of III

The Japanese have a saying: Keizoku wa chikara nari. The English equivalent is: persevere and never fear.

Ojiisan was short enough that when I turned around to see who tapped me on the shoulder his eyes weren't much higher than mine. It was like he was playing cards at all times, always maintaining a steady poker face. I stood up to greet him, but before I could get out a word he sang, "O ma darin o my darin o my daaarin....". And for a moment I felt as awkward as the first time we met when we were face to face in the bathroom. Seconds passed like hours before I felt the big "ahhhhaaa" moment starting to swell inside of me. I picked up where he left off and sang the rest, "Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my daaaarling Clementine". A smile cracked the stoic nature of his face and stretched from ear to ear.

A friend of Ana's from the University was standing near by. She had also made a connection with Eikosan and had been invited to enjoy the festivities. She had a wicked talent for speaking Japanese, English and of course Korean. "Now's my chance!" I thought. I pulled her aside and asked her to translate a message to Ojiisan. I looked at him and spoke slowly, "I greatly appreciate being welcomed into your home. Thank you for treating Ana I like one of the family." Before she finished relaying the message, like a magician his hand shot out of nowhere to shake mine. With an excited voice he said "I like America!". That got me fired up, kind of like I was about to play in some big game where we had a lot on the line. All I could think to say was "Alright! That's really great!", while making a motion of encouragement with my fist.

Ojiisan then did something that i'm just not capeable of making up. He cocked both his elbows and put his hands near his hips, then he made the gesture of pulling out two pistols from their holsters and pointing them at me. His voice shot out like bullets, "Bang Bang!". For a moment I wasn't sure if I should play dead, try and dodge the bullets or return fire and head for cover. Being that he was still smiling I took this to mean that he liked westerns. "Ahhhh, me too!" I returned fire. We both nodded a few times acknowledging one another's interests, yet lucid that niether he nor I had the vocabulary to continue the conversation. After one final awkward moment he gave me a small bow, did another about face and headed in the opposite direction. He may have been a old man, but his spirit was still as young as ever and his intentions pure at heart.

Not long after my encounter with Ojiisan the night had begun to wind down and Ana and I began saying our goodbyes. Before being escorted by Eikosan and her two daughters to the front door, I approached the small table of men and thanked them, "Ari-ga-to go-zai-mas" I repeated several times. I shook Kobayashi's hand again while secretly hoping we would one day get the band back together. Once at the front door, we removed our slippers and dipped our feet back into our street shoes before heading out the door. As it was closing behind us, the mother and her two daughters stood alongside one another waving and wishing us a good evening. "Kon-bon-wa!", they shouted. When the door clicked shut I felt the bizzare notion that I although I was far from Minnesota, I was very close to home.

Thanks for taking a moment to check out life in Japan. Your comments are a blast to read and always appreciated. Be well and see you soon!

Keithsan

Posted by Sr.curtissan 17:24 Comments (1)

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