First Impressions and Broad Generalizations
I will go straight out and admit it from the start: before coming to Japan I virtually knew nothing about Japan, Japan's culture, the Japanese language, Japanese food (turns out there is more than just raw fish. A shocker I know), and so forth...so stepping off a of a 13 hour plane ride across the Pacific Ocean (my first time flying west! And therefore full circumnavigation across the globe by airplane!!!) was a bit like a slap across the face. A big slap across the face, with extra wasabi for taste. The first impression I had was the sheer amount of people there are! Millions of people buzzing about in well put together outfits, tiny high heels, and heavy black business suits...yet somehow different than India, one of the world's most populace countries. Despite the amount of people in Japan, at all times everything seems to be incredibly orderly, non-aggressive, and perpetually elegant. Who knew mob mentality could be so beautiful. It reminds me of the big schools of fish or clouds of black birds you see on the Discovery Channel. People have an incredible skill for coordination and efficiency here, an almost intuitive force that allows things to flow just so.
My second impression of Japan was out of all of the well dressed, well organized peop
le racing around me, basically no one (and I mean this: NOBOBY) speaks English. As a girl who has fancied the post-Colonial English countries in the past, this too was a big surprise. After miming my way into the acquisition of a sum of converted money and a bus ticket to Tokyo with a friendly lady in electric pink lipstick and perfectly coordinated dress suit (which of course would not make sense with out the ridiculous straw hat with a big bow to match the lipstick), I was on m
y way to to the city. When I got on the train I was greeted by a big bow from a man wearing white gloves (which I later learned is known as a “pusher” and whose job is to push people into the trains during rush hour like sardines and still enable the door to efficiently close)...which brings me to my next impression: the Japanese bow.
This could easily be my favorite part about being in Japan. Every transaction, hello, goodbye, “excuse me” or “I'm sorry,” any subtle acknowledgment of someone's existence is met with a bow. Bows come in many different flavors. Some are low, some are long, some are erratic and dizzying to watch as old women chatter on in agreement, some are mechanical, like when a vendor passes through a train and before exiting they give the whole car a great big bow from the hips and carry on. The bow is great. I find myself bowing about like it is no one's business without even thinking about it and it is such a great way to convey information....in a non-verbal manner, which of course is fantastic for the mute white girl trying to make her way. So yes, the people, their efficiency, and the bowing are my first three overall initial impressions of Japan and somehow I feel like they may not be mutually exclusive aspects of society, rather totally supportive of one another. If there is anything that is apparent, it is that Japanese culture is not apparent. It is complex and deeply nuanced, in need of incredible respect and attention to detail.
Being an ever-increasingly avid mountain and nature lover, I never would have thought that Tokyo, the world's largest city, could possibly have stolen my heart in the way it has. What had originally been a pit stop on my way to Kyoto, has transformed to one of my favorite places in the world...and if I may be so bold, possibly even my favorite place to travel (besides Switzerland...ahem Silvana ahem). But really though, Tokyo is fantastic. You can walk for miles and only see skyscrapers, yet still tucked in between is a rich, thriving culture of food stalls, Zen gardens, sake bars, temples, shrines, and people from all over the world dressed in everything ranging from Pokemon pajama bottoms to slutty Frank Sinatra themed outfits ( I know, I know, bizarre). Literally the second I stepped on to the train to the city, I met one wonderful person after another. The first night I was there I met two girls from France, a girl from Belgium, a guy from Canada and a guy from New York and despite my sleep deprivation we went out to a sushi and sake bar. I was happy to be with people who knew a bit of Japanese, primarily one of the French girls Diane, because knowing what kind of bizarre concoction upon rice to order was beyond me. I ended up trying raw squid and plum sushi, which was an accident I have not since repeated. Haha.
Unfortunately, however, due to my sleep deprivation in conjunction with general and complete airheadedness, I ended up leaving my wallet (with all my money, cards, passport, important health documents, so on and so forth) in the bathroom of a run down sake joint. It was a bad capstone for a great evening. But thankfully Diane knew of these things called “Police Boxes,” which are apparently on like every street corner and assured me that “people in Japan do not steal. They just don't.” Thinking trying to rescue my lost things was a fruitless endeavor, I still went down to the alleged police box and had Diane (attempt) to explain my case to a somewhat begrudging officer. After a tedious battle of words and wit, it was communicated to me via handrawn map and the police officer saying “wallet, wallet” that my wallet had been turned in to the main police station. YAY! The next task, however, was trying to decipher in the dark where this said Police Station resided. Luckily the wonderful friends I had met joined me in the pursuit and with the help of an incredibly kind family who took the time to walk us all the way there through back road streets and deserted temple grounds, my wallet and I met again. Alas. Reason one hundred and seventy five why Tokyo is great.
The next day I woke up early (4 in the morning early). I suppose this is the only time in my life that jet lag has worked for my benefit, because I was able to make my way over to the world's largest fish market for the morning tuna sale. A huge arena with big hacked bodies of fish and hundreds of shouting bidders surrounded me. Because most of the stuff there has been dragged directly out of the sea and plopped on mats, the whole market smelled of ocean and, not surprisingly, had a somewhat of an oceanic floor. I was one of the few people there that did not have big boots on or some kind of water proof shoe. Occasional blood and bones floated by in big puddles. I could not be more happy. There were enormous squids, strange colored eggs, seaweed like hair strands, tentacles, eels, and big shells cracked open and displaying their gooey innards. After making my rounds and deciding to buy a bit more “mild” breakfast (a melon bun filled with sugar) I went to Subisha, where the world's busiest cross walk is located. It is also the high fashion shopping district where all of the modern gizmos and styles are displayed. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around awestruck at literally every street corner. That night I met up with the rest of the travelers from my hostel from the night before and we went to the top of one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo to have drink and enjoy the view. We made it to the top just in time for a lightening storm. Sitting there drinking plum wine and watching the city hum below the black clouds, I was reminded how truly blessed I am. That night one of the French girls Pauline had heard of a fireworks show in a park so we all went. Apparently it is one of Tokyo's biggest firework displays and people dressed in the traditional Japanese dress and wooden shoes flooded the park to see it.
Much more is to be said about Tokyo adventures, but time is short. :) Love to all.