November 13, 2003
So, yes, it’s been a long time since I updated, but I have an excellent excuse: I was in Tokyo. I understand that they do have internet access in Japan, but rather than spend my time there pecking away at a keyboard as if I’d never left home I hit the streets of the city with Mr. Karen and we filled up on experiences we can’t have here. Well, okay, once in a while we’d do stuff that we can do at home, like eat at Denny’s, but even then it wasn’t the same (unless Denny’s in the U.S. now features rice and gravy and vegetable stew on their breakfast menu, which I suppose they could since I haven’t been to one here in a long time).
I don’t even know where to start in describing the trip. It was great and it was tiring; it was surprising and it was overwhelming. I took hundreds of pictures and wrote pages of notes and organizing all that into a coherent trip report is a bit much to try and do during one lunch break here at work, yet I don’t want to wait to write until I have the time to do it justice because then I might never get to it. Therefore, I bring you Karen’s Completely Random List of 5 Things You Should Know About Japan.
1. Cute cartoon figures are everywhere. I had an inkling about this before we left, having heard from people who’d seen it for themselves as well as finding all sorts of adorable-ish images in my online research, like the chipmunks I ran into at the Postal Savings Home Page. When we used the ATM’s at the post offices, the chipmunks were right there on the screen, too, and animated to boot. It was sort of like banking with Chip and Dale; not exactly the solid, serious, reassuring image most financial institutions try to project. I would have taken a picture of them onscreen but thought it might make whomever reviewed the tapes made by the camera monitoring the ATM’s think there was something strange afoot, so I contented myself with taking pictures of some of the other cartoons we saw in our travels.
2. Using the bathroom can be an adventure. The toilets run the gamut from oval porcelain holes in the floor to high tech models that have more functions than most kitchen appliances. I was a little afraid of the one at the first hotel we stayed at because the lid had a warning about the risk of fire or electrical shock but once I got past the visions of flames in sensitive areas and tried the multiple spray options, I was hooked. The toilet at the second hotel we stayed at was even fancier, with steady and oscillating sprays plus a heated seat (which the person who stayed there before us had turned up to inferno heat, so it was a bit of a surprise the first time I sat down). I was rather let down when the last hotel on our itinerary had just a standard toilet; I felt just a little less fresh than I had when I could irrigate myself after every session on the throne. (You better believe I took pictures; what good is it to have a digital camera if you don’t take photos of stupid stuff?)
3. Bring a towel. I’d read that toilet tissue is not always provided in public bathrooms, so we brought plenty of little packs of Kleenex (which, as it turned out went almost entirely unused, as it wasn’t until Day 9 that I came across toilets that had no paper). No one told me (other than The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I didn’t realize applied to a trip to Japan) that paper towels and other means of hand drying were also in short supply. I spent a lot of time the first few days flicking water on train station floors and wiping my hands on my pants until I amassed a stash of paper napkins filched from restaurants. I could have bought one of the many souvenir towels we saw everywhere we went but figured it was better to save my money for quilting fabric.
4. You do not need to speak Japanese to get around on your own. More than one trustworthy person told me this, but I still worried. I shouldn’t have. True, there were times it would have been nice to know more than a few words of the language, but we managed to get where we wanted to go and buy what we wanted to buy and eat when we wanted to eat (even if we didn’t always know exactly what it was we were eating). It helped a lot to have a bilingual atlas of the city; that way we could match up the Japanese characters in the atlas with the maps in the train station when they didn’t have English on them and still figure out the correct fare for our destination.
5. Just because something looks like a cookie does not mean it will be sweet. Can you say fish crackers? I knew you could. In the right light, a sheet of dried seaweed can look remarkably like chocolate, but it sure doesn’t taste like chocolate. Also, bean paste can masquerade as fruit filling and corn starch bears a striking resemblance to powdered sugar. It’s all interesting, but it’s definitely not dessert.
Soon I hope to upload the photos that aren’t quite so silly and write more about Tokyo. Someday, I hope to see more of Japan and write about that, too.
About a year ago, I was musing about being thankful.