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Notes from Japan, Part 1

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We’ve been in Japan now a couple of days, and so far, so good. Jet lag — which normally puts my butt in a world of hurt — has been notably better this time around (maybe staying up 24 hours straight is the way to go). We haven’t done much sightseeing yet — we’re still resting up — but sakura (i.e., cherry blossom) season is upon us, and we’ll be heading out soon enough to see all that we can.

In the meantime, here are just a few random observations from the trip (in roughly chronological order) — and you can find all of our travel photos here.

Northwest Airlines are bastards. Not because they forgot to put one of our bags on the plane to Japan (meaning that we were without toiletries and most of Simon’s clothes for awhile) or that their flight attendants were mean (which they weren’t at all) but because of the videos they play for their coach class passengers that highlight all of the amenities enjoyed by their business and first class passengers. Footrests, built-in video players, fully reclining seats — these things are not meant for us plebs in coach, and yet as soon as you get situated in your only slightly debilitating seat, they show you a video displaying the luxuries you could be enjoying… if only you had shelled out a couple hundred extra dollars (if not more).

All of the guidebooks that we read told us that Japan is a wonderful place to bring children because the Japanese, as a culture, adore the kiddies. We discovered this truth while still on the plane. There were approximately 20 – 30 Japanese girls in their late teens/​early twenties on the flight, and they were all enamored with Simon, exclaiming ​“kawaii” (transl. ​“cute”) whenever they saw him, playing with him, taking photos, etc. And of course, Simon, the little flirt, did nothing to dissuade them. It’s been much the same ever since we landed in Japan.

Japanese airports have the most advanced bathrooms in the world. I walked into one, and I thought I’d somehow walked onto a Borg cube. There were approximately 18 devices that I can only assume were related to the evacuation and disposal of bodily waste. The toilet was vaguely recognizable, but even it was super-charged, complete with bidet, a fan for drying, and probably an automated wiping device. I’ll confess, I did experience a little stage fright. All that being said, heated toilet seats are quite nice. We’ll have to look into giving Opus HQ’s bathrooms an upgrade when we get back.

We passed an egg vending machine on day. I was a little confused by how they kept the eggs fresh and all, until our friend pointed out that the chickens are in the back.

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We’re currently staying with our friends in Shizuoka, which is a lovely city located near the ocean and the mountains. Which means that on a clear day — such as the one we had yesterday — you can see forever over the ocean and see Mt. Fuji in all of its glory.

Japanese bento boxes might be the world’s greatest fast food. (If only they could find a way to integrate bacon…)

Mister Donut is pretty much the only place here in Japan to buy donuts. And they serve a donut that is part hot dog. Make of that what you will.

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I’ll admit that most of my impressions and initial visions of Japan stem, for better or worse, from the movies and animé that I’ve watched throughout the years. Which I know is a very distorted way to think of a country. I don’t expect giant robots to appear out of the blue and duke it out in front of me or anything, but even so, I’m experiencing a curious form of déjà vu every time we run an errand, make a run to the store, etc… like I’ve somehow stumbled into a scene from one of the movies I saw so long ago.

Shizuoka is an incredibly confusing and complicated city, especially if you come from a place like Lincoln where most of the streets are laid out in a grid. On a related note, I’m incredibly impressed with the Japanese ability to make the most of even the tiniest amount of space, be it a clever storage cabinet in the house or a small, yet beautiful park in the middle of a packed urban area.

Shizuoka’s city parks are incredible. Each one is a little oasis of natural beauty in the city, and yet, they blend in perfectly with the surrounding urban landscape. One in particular is especially cool, with forest paths and obstacle courses, and it’s just a short distance from our friend’s front door. If Simon were a few years older, he’d think he was in heaven.

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The Japanese are serious about pet feces. There are signs everywhere reminding you to clean up after your dog/​cat.

The sound of a bamboo forest — the wind rustling the leaves, the clacking of the branches — is one of the most peaceful sounds I’ve ever heard.

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Engrish really does exist, and it’s as awesome as you’ve heard.

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Perhaps it’s the urban environment we’re currently in, or that we’re still surrounded by a number of Americans — our friends, their neighbors — but we sometimes forget that we’re in Japan. It’s strange, I know, but it does happen. And then something little will happen — we’ll see an ume (plum blossom) tree in full bloom, or come across a Buddhist cemetary — and it all comes rushing back.

More to come in the following days and weeks.


Read more about Japan and Japan Trip 2009.

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