As a child, my family would host Japanese students who were trying to learn English over the summer. The first evening after their arrival was highly anticipated as there was always a suitcase of gifts. For us kids, it was better than Christmas. The wrapping itself could have been the gift, mysterious, colorful, covered in cryptic lettering. There were trinkets and sweets that tasted unlike anything we’d ever eaten before. Once, a young man brought my little brother a kendo sword. A female student brought a stack of colorful oragami paper, no two patterns the same, and spent hours making us tiny, beautiful animals. As an adult, I appreciate the Japanese appreciation of nature, walking contemplatively through the woods, gardens, the use of wood and stone in building and art. Reading the Tale of Genji kept me up late into the night, many nights. So, never having actually been to Japan, it nevertheless held a place in my heart.
Finally at the age of 45(!) I’ve made it here. Whenever I go to a new place, I play the “Same Same, but Different” game. What’s different? What’s the same? What’s the same, but different? My initial impressions of downtown Osaka were:
- There are a lot of men in black business suits.
- Lots of people ride bikes for transportation, not sport.
- No one wears sunglasses despite the brilliant sun and all the shiny buildings.
- Lots of people including small children wear corrective glasses.
- Its extremely clean but there is nary a garbage can.
I had heard 7-11 was a cross cultural experience and that they were on every street corner. And so they were. Same, but different.
In order to buy a snack, one must, of course, pay with money.
And then receive a receipt that leaves you just as confused as you were at the cash register.
Any big city has its must see landmark. In Osaka it just happens to be an enormous castle surrounded by a moat, built in the 1600’s. It was full of ancient hand written scrolls, Japanese style suits of armor, yellowed maps, and more.
And apparently in any culture, there’s always “that guy”.
Every toilet I’ve encountered seems to talk to you when you enter the stall. There is much whirring and light flashing. At first I was worried we were getting ready for take off, but it seems you can ignore all the toilet talk and bypass all the incomprehensible buttons and just use it like a boring old American toilet. Those are just there for bonus points.
The Japanse diet seems to contain far less fat than the American one and I’m finding myself hungry a lot. So, I’ve been spending probably more than my fair share of time, searching out food. Some restaurants have an interesting system where every table has a little door bell to summon the waitress. It’s funny but makes perfect sense.
Next, I am off to rural Mount Koyasan and its collection of Buddhist Monasterys. This also means I must confront my fear of Japanese public transportation…