For those of you who follow not only my blog but my Twitter as well (@MGarvis) you will likely know that I have been walking a lot since I got to Japan, and my FitBit (www.fitbit.com) has all the proof you need. You may also have noticed that Tuesday and Wednesday this week my daily steps dropped from an average of 15,000 steps per day to about 2000 steps for those two days. That is because I caught a bad chest cold and spent two days in bed – which is to say I was working from my hotel room, but once my actual work was done I did not have much energy for blogging. Sorry fans… but I’m back!
I have now been in Japan just over three weeks, and have on several occasions mentioned how clean I have been finding it. Listening in on a conversation yesterday between two people with more experience here than I do I think some of the reasons became clear. One of them described Tokyo as ‘shared space’ – a country that is two small and too populated to allow for much privacy, and so when you are out and about the honourable thing to do is to show everybody the respect of their shared space by keeping it clean. That is why almost nobody litters, spits, or any other impolite behaviour that we might consider commonplace in the west (and most other parts of Asia)… out of respect for each other.
In ancient Japan – really not that long ago – most walls were made of rice paper. As such there was no real privacy – it was easy enough for your neighbour to know your business. I have heard it told that because of that it is commonplace in Japanese culture to always maintain a completely polite exterior, even when your feelings are very impolite. Maybe that is one of the reasons that there are few PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) in Japan. It is also likely one of the reasons why everybody at my office seems to like me – whether they do or they do not, it is customary to show outwardly that you do.
Last Monday I was walking around an area called Osaki when I noticed these tiles in the ground. It was interesting to see just how far I am from home – if we are 10,350 kilometers from Ottawa, we are not that much closer to Oakville – say, 9,950km to be conservative. There is no question that I miss it (especially the people), but at the same time I am really enjoying life here. It would be nice if I was not stuck living in a shoebox hotel (please don’t misunderstand, it is a really nice and clean hotel, but the rooms are extremely small) but other than that, life here is good. I am seeing a lot of cultural differences both at work and out and about, but that is not a bad thing. I have never been one to poo-poo cultural diversity.
My friend and Master Dimitrios Beis spends a lot of time at different industry shows and fairs in and around Toronto – wedding shows, food and drink shows, and the like. It is part of his business, and he has on several occasions invited Theresa and I to join him there. When I stumbled upon a similar type of fair in Osaki on Monday I thought of him as I walked around, sampled some of the foods (I had a wonderful fried chicken dish for lunch, followed by a couple of sesame balls for dessert… scrumptious!) and took some pictures of the people and booths.
There were several ‘cartoon characters’ in costume walking around, and the kids were flocking to meet them. There was also a booth sponsored by the Tokyo Fire Department, where kids were invited to try on their gear (sized down of course) complete with the helmets. The kids were having a ball, and the parents were taking pictures of them with their ear-to-ear smiles.
Just as they would in Canada, some people brought their dogs along. This was, after all, and outdoor fair, and as long as the dogs are well behaved they are a welcome addition to any setting as far as I am concerned. This gorgeous girl was very happily sitting in a pram, and seemed content to smile at people who wanted to pay any attention to her, as I certainly did. Her owner was working one of the booths, but she obviously knew that puppy was well behaved enough to not try to escape.
When I say there were all sorts of booths, I am serious – there were crafts (both pre-made, and ones for the kids to participate in) ranging from Japanese pottery to drawing to flower arrangements). There were dancers, there were plants – this tree pictured is actually less than a foot tall, and an amazing sight to see. It struck me as very… Japanese. I could imagine Mr. Miyagi having trees like this if he had fruit trees.
All in all everyone seemed to be having a good time, which I suppose is the entire point both of a fair and of a holiday Monday. The kids were laughing, smiling, dancing, playing, and eating. The parents did not need to chase after them – the perception I have is that they are much safer in general in Japan than they might be in Canada, with no threat of kidnapping. The vendors were sharing their wares – as soon as they realized I spoke no Japanese the majority of them knew there was no sale to be made, and yet they convinced me to try different teas, finger foods, and breads. I did buy my lunch of fried chicken and sesame balls (the two dishes, from two separate vendors, cost a staggering 600 yen, or about $6).
This was only one bit of my walking for the last week, but it was a very memorable part. I have seen so many wonderful places and people that it would be impossible to tell you about all of them… but trust me, if you have never been to Japan you should definitely get down here!