Sunday, March 14, 2010
A brief blog about Japan. I have just been to Kyoto and Tokyo. Brilliant experience. I was most impressed with Buddhist gardens. And with Japanese hospitality. Japanese are among the kindest and most hospitable people I know. They go out of there way to show you around and help you in any possible way (thanks to Kazuyuki Tanaka and Kenichi Kurihara). I gave a talk at Tokyo University and the level of interest and the quality of questions was absolutely impressive. I don't know how they do it, but they give you more then anywhere else the impression that you are special and your talk was brilliant. They genuinely care it seems and that is a lasting experience. Our dinner at an Okinawa style restaurant was also very interesting. We had lot's of good conversations about topics that I might have thought were perhaps taboo (the war, their Korean ancestory etc.). And yes, the food is about as good as it gets anywhere on the globe.
Japan has a culture that is about as alien it gets (if we confine ourselves to earth). One in ten Japanse wears a face mask in public. It freaks me out a little I should say (but I got more used to it in the end). You feel like the plague has broken out. Nobody eats in the street (I started to notice it while eating my sandwich going to the bus). Tokyo is an anthill. Not because there are so many people packed together (there are) but because people are organized. They follow the rules. And there are many signs pointing out the rules. You pay your bus fare when you exit a bus and not when you enter (makes lots of sense). When buying a ticket or ordering your coffee (in English) the response is invariably in Japanese. Not just one word, but long sentences of unintelligible Japanse from very friendly smiling faces. I am sure they know I don't understand a word, but it doesn't matter. I think it is just polite this way and it doesn't bother me in the least (given a little more time I would have started to talk back in Dutch). By the way, Japanese is more like singing actually, where the last vowel is extended for a second or so. And lot's of bowing. In the beginning it looks a bit funny but after a few days I found myself bowing quite a bit as well. And then finally, there are the toilet seats... They are high tech devices. Preheated and with a few options to clean your bottom (couldn't figure out how to reduce the temperature though).
Boy, did I enjoy Japan. From it's cherry blossoms, via its temples to its friendly people. Thanks everyone for a wonderful experience.