Monday, October 22, 2007

Traditional Japan v. Modern Japan

I do not think I have been anywhere in the world where the contrast between old and new is so stark. Japan's trains and technology are ultra modern. From our hotel room, to the streets, and around Kyoto the collision of ancient and contemporary was everywhere.

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Kyoto at night from our room.

1. Robes v. Space Toilets. For example, in our room, the old Japanese culture of hospitality was clear. We have stayed in equally nice hotels in the U.S. and Europe but in Japan you get a whole lot more than a little shampoo. The tray next to the sink had toothbrushes, toothpaste, cotton swabs, cotton balls, small hairbrushes, combs, hair bands, shower caps, body scrubber nets in addition to shampoo, conditioner, body wash and soap. It was refilled everyday. Also, we were provided yukatas or kimono type robes to wear and slippers. In fact, the terry cloth slippers were labeled as ours to take as a gift and they were replaced with new ones each day. I am wearing them now. On the other hand, the toilet was so futuristic I feared I would be launched into space when I flushed. The seat could be heated, it had an odor control fan and spray this and spray that with the touch of a digital button.

2. Tea v. Seattle Coffee. We were treated to a tea ceremony in a Buddhist temple and yet Scarlet Johansson starred in a fancy commercial on TV for Mt. Rainier Caffe Latte in a paper cup. I gather you can buy the Starbucks-like cups at grocery stores with the instant? coffee latte already inside.

3. Bamboo mats v. American mops. Temples and homes still have bamboo mats on the floors but there was a hilarious TV advertisement for a mop to clean the mats that looked exactly like a mop we could buy off the TV here in America. The ad was the same as well showing struggling housewives with an old icky mop and happy housewives with the new special mop. "But wait! That's not all. You can get two for the price of one in addition to the bucket if you call the number right away."

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Traditional home. They know how to do roofs there that will last 1000 years and never leak or blow away.

4. Buddha v. Jesus. Many places where we walked, we would come across a small shrine to Buddha with little aprons on rock sculptures surrounded by flowers and fruit. And yet, the theater near our hotel was featuring the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar." Posters were all over the city with the face of Japanese Jesus. The theater had a large flat screen at the entrance showing clips from the musical over and over. Since this is one of my favorite musicals, I stopped to watch. It was surreal to hear the same music being performed by an Asian cast in Japanese.

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Buddhist temple with shrine (see little aprons) in the front.

5. Kimonos v. Mini-skirts. On the subways and in the department stores, I observed a lot of teenagers. They were dressed in expensive clothes which were on the cutting edge of fashion. Of course, in their hands were all colors and types of techno gadgets. And yet, frequently, we saw women out to dinner with their husbands dressed up in kimonos. Also, we saw teenage girls dressed in kimonos visiting the temples. Obviously, wearing kimonos is a regular and normal part of their society depending upon the activity. I was quite surprised.

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Girls visiting a temple.

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They would have wedding photos here?! I witnessed it. See the Japanese characters with English subtitles in the upper left.