Japan: Dear Japan


Currently, my body thinks it's 6 pm in Tokyo. My mind tells me that it's 3 am in Dallas. So it seems to me that this is a good time as ever to start documenting our trip to Japan. .

Marketplace at the entrance to The Senjo-ji Temple in Tokyo

Dear Japan,

In planning our first trip to Japan, we expected there to be a few 'snags' along the way , what with the language barrier, difference in culture, currency and customs. Preparing ourselves for potential problems is an expectation of international travel and we were OK with that. So, we took it upon ourselves to learn a few polite Japanese phrases, read a book on "Japanese Culture" and carry a copy of The Lonely Planet's "Japan"  before traveling 13.5 hours to get to you.

First of all, if I knew how to speak Japanese, I would have told you personally just how much I appreciated your hospitality and patience with us during our week in Tokyo and Kyoto. "Arigato gonzaimas" (Thank you very much) just doesn't seem to express our sincere thanks.

I have never been treated so kindly and so respectfully in any other foreign country. Despite the fact that many of the people that we were exposed to were in the service industry, it appeared that the desire to please and provide guidance was their sole motivation.We are still at a loss to explain the high  level of customer service that we recieved considering that tipping is not common or expected.

On our first night in Japan, we decided to find our hotel by using the train and subway system. The map that I picked up was in Japanese. If you look closely, you can see why this was a problem.

Thanks to the  Japan Rail-Man at Ochanomizu Station, we were given a smile, a nod, an English map and a directional point followed by "one-two-three" (we assumed these were the number of blocks to our hotel)

By the grace of God we made it.  It was late. It was pouring rain, We were soaking wet and exhausted. But, it was our 13th wedding anniversary. So, we sucked it up and went out to dinner. Not far from our hotel, we  found a noodle-bowl diner with pictures of food that you could choose from. It was the best bowl of noodles with an unknown meat source that we have ever had! Throughout our meal it was evident that the waiter and the cooks were watching us for our reaction to the food. Afterwards, we were presented with a complimentary plate of "Goyuza". Just because.

"Goyuza" Japanese Potstickers filled with vegetables
Then there were the silent majority of Japanese on subways and streets. Not once did I feel crowded, pushed or nudged. Personal space is remarkably respected given the population of Tokyo (12,800,000 ) That being said, I recall seeing "Pink" subway cars designated for women only. These "Pink" cars were implemented as a result of groping complaints experienced during rush hour. How thoughtful  Also, we did not expect quiet deference while visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market. You made it clear through your guidebooks that it is a working fish market and not supposed to be a tourist attraction but we chose to take our lives into our own hands while dodging one-man fish trucks speeding around market corners like bats out of hell. I guess they have a job to do and we respect that..
Staying out of the way at the Tsukiji Fish Market

Thank you for your degree of hygiene. Japan has got to be the cleanest country I have ever visited.

I'll begin with the traditional Japanese toilet. I guess I didn't get to that part in my "Japan" book because when I first walked into a Japanese ladies restroom, I was surprised by what I found...
Japanese Toilet - Flush with your foot

Instructions are always a good thing.
Odd. But most definitely sanitary'

Secondly, thank you for including instructions on proper handwashing techniques. Well done Japanese Department of Health and/or Infection Control.

The use of surgical face-masks run rampant in Japan. I suspect that you wear them to protect yourselves from germs as well as to prevent passing on germs to others but I am not certain as to when or why this practice started. Anybody out there know? It certainly makes a lot of sense and shows a high regard for social responsibility.

My book on Japanese Culture said that "Blowing one's nose in public is considered to be disgusting by the Japanese people" (as well it should be). I did not see any nose-blowing in Japan. For that, I am grateful.

Thank you Japan for a great trip.

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Ben Spotswood said...

We tried goyuza for the first time Friday! Looked exactly the same and was quite tasty!

joanyspot said...

Ben: It is quite tasty!!!

Tim said...

I always found Japan to be a very friendly country. And ordering food from pictures, or plastic window displays, is the only was to dine!

Now I may have to make potstickers for dinner....

Colleen said...

Great story...what fun you guys had...jealous :)