RESPECT: I have a newfound admiration for people who treat others with respect. The Japanese are ever-mindful of respectful behavior – a fact I was immediately made aware of on the bus from the airport, when the intercom announced “Mobile Phones Are Not Permitted On This Bus, As They Annoy The Neighbor.”
And you know what? They do.
GOOD TIME TO GO: The Vernal Equinox is a national holiday – a great time to head for Japan’s sacred spots. We found ourselves on beautifully laid-out grounds outside a rural temple. The adjoining cemetery came equipped with a flowing trough of water, with buckets and sponges for respectfully scrubbing your ancestor’s tombstones.
UNEXPECTED CHALLENGE: I don’t have too many problems with allergies, but something in the Edo air hit me pretty fierce, making my eyes and nose run at an Olympic clip. Normally I would take that kind of flow in stride, but there are few things more disgusting to the Japanese than blowing ones nose in public. I spent much of the week sneaking away from the crowds to avail myself of every opportunity for a daub of kleenex.
I resisted the urge to refer to surreptitious syrup-tissues in that last paragraph.
But not in that one.
STRANGEST IMAGE: My one-year-old son fell asleep on one of our forays through the city. The aforementioned allergies happened to hit me pretty hard on that walk, and I have to wonder how I must have looked strolling through some of Tokyo’s busiest streets cradling a limp child in my arms with tears streaming down my cheeks.
SPEAKING OF WALKING: On the streets of Tokyo, walk straight, no wavering, or you are liable to get clipped from behind by a speedy bicyclist. They are fast, they are numerous, and they are generally very safe – but their trajectories are finely calculated, so don’t throw them any curves.
FOR TIRED FEET: I can’t recommend the onsen – Japanese spas – enough. Five of us shared an amazing dinner (30 distinct dishes) followed by neck-deep dips in piping hot tubs. Then we spread out mats in a large room and slept (don’t tell anyone, but some of us slipped out for a 3 a.m. splash in the family tub). Breakfast was almost as sumptuous as dinner, and another trip to the volcanic waters had us all feeling squeaky clean for the day to come.
SPEAKING OF SPEAKING: I’ve journeyed a number of times to Europe and Latin America, but this was my first foray to the Far East. In all of my other overseas trips, no matter how well prepared I was linguistically, there would always come a moment when I would have to explain that I couldn’t understand what was being said. How refreshing to go to a country where everyone immediately assumed I couldn’t speak the native tongue!
TOTING TOTS: There are a lot of good reasons to avoid taking a toddler on a 14-hour plane ride*, but one benefit was the universal goodwill expressed by everyone we encountered, from strangers on the subway to pedestrians on the street. There are some human truths a speechless child can communicate far more eloquently than any of us who spend far too much time typing words onto a screen.
*Although I must say my little guy is a much better traveler than I am – he’s been on 24 plane trips in his short life already, so he has the whole process down pat. He’s the only person I know who actually seems to enjoy going through airport security.