Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More Observations in the Negative Category

Again, I wouldn't characterize these observations as necessarily negative because together such factors make a trip fascinating and memorable.

1. English not spoken. I never expect my language to be spoken to me when I am in a non-English speaking nation. But, since menus, maps, signs and announcements on the subway were in both English and Japanese (not French or Spanish), my expectation was that more people would speak some English as well. We did not have trouble; it was easy to point. I did buy a new purse in a small store in a shopping mall. The clerk did not speak English but she showed me on the calculator how much my purchase was. Next, and before taking my credit card, she stated as if to warn me, "one time." I had no idea what she meant and she repeated it two more times before the sale was finalized. My best guess is that she was telling me I could not return the purse or that the sale was final and no exchanges were allowed. Maybe Nordstromized Americans try to return items in Japan and it is just not done. I really do not know.

Another incident that was heart warming happened as we were visiting some of the Buddhist temples. A group of school children who appeared to be about 7, 8, or 9 years old passed along a garden trail. Obviously, we were big white people so the children decided to practice their few words of English on us. "Hello!" "Hello." Hello!" A chorus of children's voices greeted us. And then as we passed by, "Good bye. Good bye! Good Bye." An older Japanese couple witnessed all of it and they were smiling and bowing towards us. It was great.

2. Bowing. The Japanese bow as a sign of respect. And I mean, they bow a lot. I never knew quite what to do so usually I would tip my head and smile. I walked into this large department store and it must have been at opening time. Crowds of shoppers had not yet arrived. As I went through the doors into a store almost exactly the same as the first floor of Nordstrom's, I noticed all of the store clerks dressed in blue uniforms and lined up on either side of the fragrance aisle. As I walked toward the escalator, they all bowed in succession. I kept looking behind me to see if the Queen of England had decided to shop there. Seriously, it made me uncomfortable but it is an important part of their culture.

3. Drive on the Left. No, we did not rent a car so you might ask why would this be an issue? When people drive on the left side of the road, they also walk on the left side of the sidewalk and they stand on the left side of an escalator as well. Also, the escalators seemed backwards to me with the Up and Down reversed. When you encounter crowds of people, it is easy to bump into them.....and then they bow....and you try to say sorry....but you don't speak Japanese. Clumsy--yes, I felt clumsy.

4. Candy and sweets. I did not get a picture of this and I wish I had. Everywhere were stores where you could buy huge varieties of candies. However, we discovered that it was made out of soy bean paste. It was sculpted into all sorts of beautiful shapes and colors and beautifully packaged but it all tasted exactly the same. In my opinion, it was sickeningly sweet. I loved the feel of it. It was perfectly smooth. One bite...whew! Furthermore, the little cake served to us at a tea ceremony in one of the temples tasted the same way. When you think about it, though, our chocolate is just as ubiquitous with candy, cakes, and cookies.

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Green tea and sweet cake.

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Enjoying a tea ceremony.

5. Gardens too lovely. The gardens surrounding the temples were spectacular. I put this in the negative column because they gave us a complex and made us realize the incredible potential we have with our landscaped yard and the un-landscaped slope behind our fence. Slopes are no obstacle in Japan. All of our natural flora is similar to theirs including rhodies, camelias, hydrangeas, ferns and moss. Of course, they make use of Japanese maples in all corners of the gardens. Hmmm. I suppose they don't call them Japanese maples in Japan.

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"You want me to build what kind of water feature...?!"

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"I'd have to retire to have time to do this. Are you kidding me?"

Interestingly, the fall colors have arrived in full glory in the Puget Sound area but not so in Kyoto. People told us they didn't expect the leaves to change for another three weeks. We were sorry to have been too early. It must be gorgeous.