What’s not to like about Japan? In fact I am pretty content no matter where I go. I am not a very good tourist but then I don’t have to be one on most of my trips. These mission-specific trips are just the thing for a utilitarian guy like me. Having work to do connects me with people, events and things in a very satisfying way. Once the students have the opportunity to see the man behind the curtain, many potential pretensions and barriers get dropped. I doubt that I get the kind of global view of a region that guided groups get but I don’t really care. It is the personal connection that I like. And I don’t have to concern myself with an itinerary because I get squired around or at least told about interesting places to see and things to do.
I also like discovering country/region-specific solutions to everyday problem. They are often unfamiliar, curious and inventive. Things like parking meters, toilets, traffic rules and patterns and signage amuse and bemuse me. Some examples on this trip include:
-Although plenty of places still have squat-down, flush toilets, many have toilets mounted with electronic panels to control seat temperature, and yes, bidets/spray devices built into the seats. I am not sure if these are a step up or not.
-While nearly everything is written in Japanese, occasionally English words appear intermixed on billboards or buildings. This would be expected for obvious international brand names like Coke or when there was no satisfactory Japanese word. The latter was especially true with some medical terms. But these were not always the apparent reasons. One gas station chain that has Japanese characters plastered all over their signs and building also posts a sign over a door noting SERVICE AREA. I was assured that there is a non-convoluted way to see this in Japanese. I did not see this English phrase at any other chain.
-I was confused by a particular traffic signal pattern. It consisted of 4 lights on an overhead horizontal bar controlling 3 lanes of traffic. The far right and left lights were red/green arrows for corresponding turns in those directions from the right and left lanes. Between them were 2 lights that could be either red or green. When we approached one such traffic signal, the right and left arrows were green. Appropriately, cars turned in each of those directions from the right and left lanes without first stopping. Between the arrows, the right side light was red; the left green. All cars in the center lane were moving without stopping. I wondered if we were being given a choice. Did a double green or red mean go and stop with special emphasis? What should we have done if the right was green and the left red? I assume keep driving. No one could explain this. In fact Tak, who was driving at the time, pled ignorance because he only has a Canadian driver’s license. He is from Japan.
-Apparently, the Japanese have ZERO tolerance for alcohol consumption and driving. Zero means NOTHING detectable. If you are stopped with any measurable amount, you lose your license on the spot and pay a hefty fine. Getting it back is not easy and is also quite expensive. Neither Tak nor Isamu would even drink a non-alcohol beer and drive. Despite the implication of their names, most contain a small amount of alcohol.
There were plenty of other things that caught my attention, but I will spare you, and me, the eye rolls.
It is clear to me that one’s alliance to a country or an idea oftentimes has more to do with familiarity, convenience and comfort than it does with it being superior or correct. I am happy to live here but realize that I could live many other places and be content. I came across the following quote that sums up how I feel about these trips.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Augustine of Hippo (aka St Augustine)
It is one thing to listen and read, it is another to experience. One place is as good, or bad, as another.
We will be heading for GA in about 2 weeks for some well-deserved, so I am told, R and R,