Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 20-27: Three week observations

April 20-27: Three week observations

Sanshuukan taiza-shmasu

I’m here for three weeks

• PDA (public display of affection) is not all that common here, you see almost no handholding and for sure no snogging in the streets.
• On one of our final train rides, Steve rotates the seats to face each other. We now realize that is possible on almost every train we have been on; ingenious! You step lightly on a foot petal and gently rotate. Of course, this is Japan, so we have to put the seats back the way we found them before leaving the train.
• While almost every house or small building is roofed with tile, it is going out of favor because in an earthquake the house becomes unstable and it means a ton of tiles fall on the inhabitants. Fire used to be the number one risk, and tiles were a lot better than thatch.
• Steve confirms that the roads are far safer here because people drive slower and provide more space between cars; road accidents are 50% lower here per capita (or is miles traveled), per Steve
• While most families have a car, it sure seems like everyone travels by train and subway and metro. The rail companies are private, and provide terrific service, though by US standards of cost per car mile, it may seem more expensive to travel between cities by train, especially if there is more than one of you. However, when you get to the next city, and are staying in the city, then you don’t need a car to get around (let alone find your way around in a car, which would seem even harder than by foot).
• Smoking outside is done in clusters around a common ashtray. When we see groups of people huddling, we know why now.
• At two different galleries, most of the work in the current shows had sold, most pieces in the $1-2,000 range. Must be encouraging to the art world, though we know big work has been very slow for the last couple of years (the artists tell us).
• Tokyo is loaded with 10-12 story buildings, many just one room wide. The streets are usually pretty wide as are the sidewalks, so it seems a very human perspective as opposed to being swamped by the enormity of the buildings you find in most US cities. Of course, given that many Japanese cities were destroyed or heavily damaged during WWII, most of the construction looks fairly new; they also have a history here of tearing down and starting over.
• Every single city, town, village has water running through it, whether it is a small channel or a major river. The whole country has water flowing, which makes some sense why rice is grown everywhere, not a problem to flood the paddies. For most part, very picturesque and very prominent.
• Bikes are used pretty much everywhere, and they are not afraid to get up on the sidewalks. We don’t see anyone with a bandaged wrist, so this is not like Berlin where we suspected that there were plenty of bike-pedestrian accidents. In Tokyo, we see a lot of bikes on the sidewalk, going fairly fast. That yellow line down the middle was for people that were sight impaired (yes, THB was wondering when he would qualify for the need to know about this), not to sort bikers and walkers.
• Unlike in India, we hear nothing about religious tension (overt or not), and it seems that many people are practicing some form of both Buddhism and Shinto. That may be a language barrier, or just peaceful coexistence of faith.

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