People eating fish....all types
Trip Start May 31, 2008
13Trip End Jul 14, 2008
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When I close the bathroom door the lights brighten and pleasant music drifts in thru the speaker system. The toilet cover opens automatically so I guess everything is all ready in here including the pre-warmed seat. I notice on the arm panel of the toilet there are all sorts of options. One can push a button for a fake flushing sound...one might assume that's a cover-up for what is really going on in there...there's a button for a heavy duty deodorizer scent...and then there are others...involving a stream of warm water from the toilet directed at whatever exposed part you deem necessary. And when you finish, of course, an automatic flusher and then the cover drops, ready for the next patron. Can you guess where I am? Right, Tokyo, the land of automatic everything.
Like I got into a cab the other day...and tried to pull the door shut...to the admonishment of the cab driver....if I just leave it alone, the door closes automatically. Same thing with the drink machine. With its multitude of options...hot or icy...all I have to do is invest the money...the machine does the rest...and again the door automatically opens (and yes, I did try to pull it open first), and once given sufficient time to take my drink out, it closes all by itself.
This is all really cool once you get used to it. You just wait a few seconds for anything to happen....only do it yourself if the event doesn't occur. This is the kind of stuff I expected from Japan....high tech...gadgets...a uniformed culture?...with teenagers immersed in Nintendo-like distractions. But still a few surprises...the lack of wifi for one. I thought that this would be the easiest place to find a hot spot...that there'd be plenty of options for wireless...but alas, there are none. Most people here seem to use that remote receiver you plug into your computer for an internet signal or else a cell phone. You can't even get wifi at any of the many Starbucks here.
And another surprise, very few people, even here in Tokyo, speak English. As Kyoko says, there's just no reason to practice it. Might have better luck with some of the younger student-types although most of those that I approach don't have strong or even weak English skills. And since all the writing (on menus, signs, papers) is in Japanese, I do feel a bit cut off from communication here. Lucky thing to know Kyoko...we met her in Romania...she works for the Tokyo Sun, the largest newspaper. We are staying with her in the apt she shares with her boyfriend...she's is so delightful and welcoming...so is he. And I've been using her bicycle to get around the city.
Another surprise...to me anyway...everybody rides bikes here...old people...young people. Not a lot of scooters or motorbikes although some...but bicycles. And although it's flat in many places, there are also some serious hills...but roads are good...and people share the sidewalks with bicycles pretty smoothly....although I do constantly worry about knocking someone down with my bicycle. So I use my feet a lot too. But using the bicycles makes the inner city much quieter and the air is noticeably clean compared to other cities of this size.
The food is perhaps my favorite thing about Tokyo (except of course for Kyoko). Raw fish...raw everything...cheap sushi, sashimi, udon noodles...all feels clean and tasty. Kyoko takes us to the Tokyo fish market. Got to get up early....330 AM to catch the action. I see the boats that bring the fish in, the gigantic tuna waiting to be auctioned off, and every type of shellfish I might imagine. The enormous volume of fish and other seafood here on one day of the fish market in one city in the world really brings home the concept of overfishing and the depletion of fisheries. Hard to imagine the amount of total biomass right here today....what it took to produce that biomass...and how much could the ocean possibly have left to offer?
But I see the fish moved from the boats thru processing to packaging and selling...all the way to eating some smooth sashimi at 6 AM the same morning...a willing participant in its consumption. Kyoko tells us that the tuna fishermen are going on strike on July 15 to protest the high fuel costs...no tuna for Japan that day...not a good situation.
Tokyo is an interesting city and I get a good sense of it on the seat of Kyoko's bicycle. The pace of life is intense...an industrialized country with people working so hard...Kyoko works 12-16 hrs per day...her boyfriend about the same. Can't imagine too many Americans committing to those kinds of hours.
After coming to Japan by way of S America and then Indonesia, I'm challenged by the reserve people show....there's no meeting of the eyes followed by a friendly grin...a whole different culture...one filled with respect and hospitality...generous in a completely different way.
I'm grateful for all that is shared with me in the short week I'm in Japan but it is clear to me that this is not my culture...or one that I could easily live within. And yet, with appreciation, I take home the gifts of exposure to a culture so different which only sharpens my understanding of how I choose to live in and impact our world.
Time to head home...my international travels completed for this year. A small taste of the world...so much more to explore. Mixed emotions...does this ever have to come to an end? And yet I'm excited about resuming the life that is comfortable to me and gives me so much joy.
A tiring trip back east...it seems like it's taking forever. But at the end of this plane ride, I'll reconnect with Corey as she arrives home from her summer in Italy...there'll be plenty of rest and nurturing at my mom's home and friends, who have been so supportive and of generous heart, to reconnect with. Thank you all for being an important part of my journeys this past year...your emails and encouragement and interest have been invaluable in allowing me to focus on each moment of my experience. And it has truly been a year of experience that I'll never forget.