More random observations from Japan

We’ve all said it at one time or another — “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” In Kyoto, though, it’s very much both the heat and the humidity. When temperatures are around 100 and humidity is around 85 or 90%, it feels as if one is moving through a giant, heated sponge. One perspires, but doesn’t cool, because the humidity, combined with the fact that not a breath of wind stirs the air, means that one simply gets wet.

Kyoto is lovely, but the heat is off-putting. I know many consider it the most beautiful and interesting city in Japan, but I won’t be sorry to leave it tomorrow for cooler, mountainous climes.

We’ve been watching the Olympics on Japanese television. Or perhaps I should say, we’ve been watching the Japanese Olympics on television. As far as we can tell, Japanese TV shows only those events in which the Japanese are competing — never mind that it’s the fourth heat in a swimming race, without any possibity of a winning swimmer appearing on the television screen. Medal ceremonies, too, show only the Japanese competitor. If the Japanese competitor won only a bronze, you’ll never find out who won gold or silver. It’s a very narrow, parochial approach to a world-wide athletic event.

Japanese trains and subways are lovely. Because we’re not in Tokyo now, and because we’re not traveling at peak commuter times, we’ve seldom encountered oppressive crowds. Mostly, we’ve experienced insanely punctual, obsessively clean trains.

Speaking of obsessive, when it comes to respecting possessions, the Japanese put everyone to shame. On a crowded train, someone discovered a wallet. A general outcry went up, as everyone sought to find the owner. Opening the wallet revealed that it held no identification, but only about 500 yen (less than ten dollars). In America, someone might have pocketed it, or maybe just left it on the seat. In Japan, several teenagers had a quick discussion, and then opened a window to summon an employee who spirited the treasure away to Lost and Found. I think those kids would have had some sort of emotional breakdown if they hadn’t been able to turn it in.

We read about it before we left for Japan, of course, but nothing prepared us for the microscopically small hotel rooms. They’re immaculately clean, of course, but so tiny one person feels quite crowded in the bathroom. Thankfully, all of our hotels have offered “Western” toilets, rather than the “squatting” toilets popular outside of Tokyo:

One of the great pleasures we’ve had in Japan is reading t-shirts. The Japanese love having English words and sentences on their shirts. They don’t care that they make no sense; they just like having them. We’ve tried stealthily taking photos of a few, but it’s very hard to get the words to come out clearly when you’re sneaking up on someone. Today’s silly shirt boasted about the wonders of “State of California, City of Sacrament [sic].”

Department stores here are HUGE. They’re several stories tall and, as with every other place we’ve seen in Japan, they have about twice as many employees as a similarly situated American business would. It’s quite intimidating, really. What’s also different is the floor plans. In America, department stores tend to have open floor plans, with one department flowing into another. In Japan, the stores are broken down into myriad cubby holes, each dedicated, not just to a single type of merchandise, but to a single brand of that specific merchandise. I don’t like shopping at the best of times, and I was not enticed by the busy, claustrophic approach.

By the way, everything you’ve heard about Japanese packaging, wrapping, and presentation is true. Every product is exquisitely displayed, with a symphony of colors and textures. Part of me is gratified by the beauty and part of me is shocked by the waste. This is a culture that places a high premium on appearances. It’s not a shallow or superficial culture, although one could be forgiven for thinking that given the focus on the superficial, both in terms of how things look and how people behave.

On the subject of behavior, I commented on how polite the Japanese have been to us. I know some readers wrote back about the horrible behavior the Japanese have shown foreigners. I can see that we’ve been lucky. Also, there’s a difference between manners, on the one hand, which are formulaic and kindness, on the other hand, which comes from the heart. Not that long ago, someone told me that Americans are the most polite people of all, because they cut through meaningless gesture and go right to true kindness. (Having said that, we have been on the receiving end of genuine kindness while in Japan, as well as ritual politeness.)

I’m pooping out here, so I’ll wrap this up. My Internet access is random, at best, so no promises as to when I’ll next post. I can see, though that DQ is keeping things lively, so I can sign off with a clear conscience.

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Comments

  1. jj says

    While you’re randomly observing, keep an eye out, if you would, for NY Yankee baseball caps.  I’m doing some work with a consulting/marketing outfit, and they’ve been trying to work up some thoughts on branding.  I’ve advanced the theory that the Yankees are, perhaps – probably – the most recognizeable brand in the world.  You see Yankee caps all over Europe.  I’ve seen them in France, Austria, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, England – just about everywhere.  How do they appear in Japan?  Do they appear in Japan?  (I bet they do, Japan even plays baseball.)  Just curious.

  2. shirleyelizabeth says

    The t-shirt slogans are funny, but, when I think of it, I’m sure they get a laugh out of the clothing sold in the states with Japanese symbols as part of the design.

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