Sunday, April 11, 2010

Japan: One week observations

April 5-12: One week observations

In the dime stores and train stations,
People talk of situations,
Read comic books, talk in foreign languages

Sanshuukan taiza-shmasu

I’m here for three weeks

- Missing someone?
- What is this?
- Wedding on Miyajima

• You don’t have to check bags when going through museums (except at Chichu Museum, and apparently then only for gringos)
• Service people, such as taxi drivers or shuttle drivers, wear white gloves, as do random others we see walking around, no clue as to why
• We have seen a number of “wrapped” trees (looks like muslin)
• There is almost no graffiti, we were a bit shocked when we actually spotted some tags on a vending machine
• We have seen some eclectic teenage apparel: the girl wearing what looked like torn (rather, razor sliced) legging/chaps with garter belt-like attachments under her shorts and the guy wearing “bloomer” jeans, totally bowed out on each leg and then tight at the ankle
• Men carry hand towels to wipe their hands or face, it is bad form to use a handkerchief to blow your nose
• From the train, we’ve seen futons hanging off balconies to air out, attached by giant clips
• Everybody has individual tassels hanging off their cell phones; we met some women on Naoshima and one did not have tassels and thus I could tease her about it; she laughed, and so did her friends (who did have tassels)
• Nobody talks on their cell phones, they appear to only be texting or e-mailing; on one of our train rides someone’s phone rang, much to the shock of all, and she took the phone out into the area between cars to talk
• Nobody wears a blue tooth device, except maybe waiters in a fancy restaurant
• On our ride to Inujima Project, we see lots of small boats and they all seem to fly a large flag / small sail towards the rear of the boat, usually blue, green or white, no red
• The elevators are unbelievably quiet and smooth
• Everything runs on time, and if someone says they will be there to pick you up, they show up early or right on time, never late
• We get our tickets or breakfast coupons stamped by date and individual issuing them; when someone is meeting us and it is pre-paid, they don’t even ask for a transfer or identification
• Someone (DB?) has set the toilet at Benesse Hotel to be warm when you sit down, a pleasure wasted on me (she seems quite happy)
• The toilet tank at the ryokan in Kiroshiki refilled through a faucet that first emptied into a sink so you could wash your hands before the water disappeared, a clever pre-use!
• The shower at Benesse was one of those dual bath / shower sets, and the “switch” between the two was a bar (not one of those pull-up tabs on top of the water faucet). Worked so smoothly to transition from off to bath to shower to off that I don’t understand why this device hasn’t taken over all hotel bathrooms (or home ones, for that matter).
• The coffee / tea maker in Benesse Hotel kept water hot all the time (the staff must fill the water tank). To dispense, you push the unlock button and then hold down the dispenser button for as long as needed. Great for tea; for coffee they had to give you a little individual drip holder, which turned out to be rectangular for a round cup…bizarre!
• You almost never get napkins with your meals; you (usually) get hot towels at the beginning of the meal. Women aren’t supposed to wipe their faces with these towels, ok for men to face wipe.
• Men are waited on first. Sometimes the server will ignore the woman entirely. I tend to screw things up by nodding to DB to order first. She only shakes her head at me, then goes ahead and orders.
• The exchange of shoes for slippers reaches absurd levels. And, the slippers aren’t exactly size 10. We visited one art house (upper level of absurdity, putting on slippers for a house totally gooped up in abstract art), the slippers were actually our size! DB goes in and comes right back out and whispers: look at these young women’s feet. The slippers are gigantic on them, like 3 year olds trying on dad’s shoes. Worth the price of admission…
• We are trying to figure out if all Japanese wear socks. It looks like you can’t walk barefoot when you have to take your shoes off and no slippers are around to put on; one time DB took off her shoes and the staff person handed her socks to put on. This is almost as if the shoe companies invented a way to sell thousands of pairs extra of slippers and socks. Hallmark – Valentine’s Day, same-same but different.
• In the Chichu museum, you had to take off your shoes and put slippers on to see the Monets. Not so for the DeMaria exhibit. For Turrell, one exhibit you kept your shoes on an one you took them off. Left brain? Right brain? No brain?
• The extras left in the hotel bathrooms are the most extensive I’ve ever seen, other than your meds you don’t need to bring anything with you
• Money: coins for anything under a $10 bill (1000 yen), so you quickly accumulate a buck of coins that you try and get rid of just as quickly. Basically, costs aren’t that out of line with what we would pay in US, and for some stuff, even less
• I am referring to every Asian here as Japanese, since I have no real way to tell them apart from Koreans, Chinese, etc. Please forgive me; there isn’t much I can figure out to do to be more discerning.
• Favorite picture in the Benesse Museum: Jennifer Bartlett massive triptych showing three slightly different perspectives of a beach, with the last showing a yellow and black set of small boats. In front of the picture are actual yellow and black boats. When you turn from the picture and look out the window down at the cove in the distance, you can see yellow and black boat. Awesome!!!! She paints in a Hockney style, and across from her work is a large Hockney, so the museum isn’t afraid to put them together either.
• Some buildings have charcoal siding. Looks like they have been singed black. When you get close and touch it, it sort of feels real, sort of not.
• The announcements on the train, in the train stations and on the ferries last forever when in Japanese. If they bother with English, it is a most a tenth of the time, often even shorter. Very lost in translation (or boring the locals to tears twice is not acceptable).
• Taxis start off at around $6 for flag drop, and then don’t really start ticking for at least a few miles. And, today in Kyoto, we had a young woman driver

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