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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

 

I'm in Sydney! Just arrived from Tokyo...

Things to know about Japan:

1. When they say 8 o'clock, they mean 8 o'clock. Precisely. In England, 8 o'clock means 'I'll start looking for you around eight, and give it about ten minutes before I wonder where you've got to.' In Japan, it means 'I'll start looking for you at about seven fifty-five, and if you aren't there by 8 o'clock and five seconds, I'll assume you're not coming.' Seriously: we were two minutes late for a tour pick-up, and the guide left without us.

2. The impressive up side of that: Japan trains run on time to the minute. Turns out it's possible after all; British Rail have been lying to me for years.

3. If you don't smoke, book a non-smoking room. There are a lot of cigarettes around.

4. If you're vegetarian, resign yourself. Oddly, for the home of tofu and Zen Buddhism, veggie food is all but impossible to get. I was expecting to be told 'Yes, but you eat fish, don't you?' and having to politely explain, but the day the tour guide greeted the 'I'm vegetarian' speech with, 'Okay, but you can eat this steak, yes?' I gave up and made the best of local mini-marts. Pot Noodles were a feature of the tour.

5. Techno-toilets really do exist. In lots of hotels. And they're terrifying. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather anything of that kind should be respectfully impersonal, like a Victorian butler; I get embarrassed around toilets that look capable of forming an opinion about me. And heated seats really just feel like seats some other blighter has just vacated.

6. Public toilets, on the other hand, are often squat. They're much faster than Western style ones, primarily, I think, because no one is going to linger in them; I mean, if you're crouching, it’s hardly the time to get a magazine out. Hence, the queuing time is about the same as would be in the men's; sexual equality has been achieved there. However, having witnessed some men's public toilets previously and come out muttering about the state of them, I am going to have to make a retraction. Men are not dirtier than women. We just have it easier than they do. Give women a squat toilet rather than a sit one, and they're just as bad as men.

7. If you're in Tokyo, go to Nikko. It's amazing.

8. If you've seen Princess Mononoke, it helps to see Japan. Different national landscapes have different characters, and there's something about the Japanese mountains that makes it seem just right that the gods in them would be stark, beautiful and unforgiving. The mountains are breathtaking, intimidating, inhumanly beautiful.

9. Japanese modern architecture, on the other hand, is pretty unattractive. Almost all of Tokyo and Kyoto look like the bad part of town.

10. If you're in Hakone or anywhere else that offers hot baths, do not pass up the opportunity. Never mind that you have to go in naked, just get your clothes of, shower down and hop in. They are fantastic.

11. Lost in Translation missed something vital. Yes, it's bewildering to be somewhere where you can't speak the language, but if you're alienated by that, it's your own fault. And though people in Japan do insist on speaking Japanese amongst themselves, they're incredibly nice to you if you appeal to them. All the people in railway stations, for example, exercised quick wits and sharp detective skills when we tried to get answers about trains out of them with a series of doodles, gestures and whimpers, and they worked out some pretty complicated things. Really, the concept of vegetarianism aside, the people we met all made a huge effort to understand what we were saying.

12. The bow is one of the most sensible inventions in history. It gets around just about every social situation you can think of. 'I don't understand what you're saying but I mean well' was a common use I had for it, but seriously, you can use it for anything.

13. If you're ever in a hotel and see a vending machine that sells hot meals . . . well, you might try it out of curiosity, but have a stand-by meal to actually eat. Our hotel had machines by the lifts that advertised these boxes where there was a packet of rice, a packet of stew and a packet of gel with a rip-cord that you could pull to heat them up. My boyfriend decided to try one, and accordingly assembled the pieces and pulled the cord. It hissed. It ground. It brooded. Its taste was described by him thus: 'Can you imagine that H.R. Giger did a sculpture and made it entirely out of four-day-old meat? Well, this is like chewing on its buttock.' I gave him a Pot Noodle.

14. Despite that, Japan is actually not that wacky. The dinner and toilets were the exception; some the gadgetry can be, possibly, a little optimistic, but the citizens seemed sensible. In the self-detonating meal episode, for instance, none of the reception staff knew how to work the device until they'd all puzzled over the instructions and conferred with each other in English, Japanese and cheery mime indicating assembly, cord-pulling and explosions, so really the peculiar ones were us for trying to eat the darn thing in the first place.

Comments:
8 o'clock around here means "I'll be there no later than 8:30"

Have fun :)
 
I'm having a lovely time, thanks. Actually, all the former punctuality is adding a particular spice to being able to wander around being late for everything, which is what I'm doing with tranquil abandon. (After writing in the morning, obviously. Not completely skiving.)
 
Your description of Japan makes me want to go there. I'm glad you're having fun. :D
 
Thanks! Am trying to get myself together for another post soon ... working on it ...
 
Just wanted to say I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to talk to you before you left. It does sound like you're having a good time. I'm going to be having an anti-holiday in that I'm taking part in National Novel Writing Month again. It is refreshing in it's own way...
 
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