Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Travel in Japan is....

Some thoughts on life as an American family visiting Japan:

Travel in Japan is...

Three Dimensional. Urban-dwelling Japanese must have exquisite three-dimensional processing areas in their brains. In Tokyo, you can spend the better part of a day going around the whole city without ever walking on ground level. One day I went from the 13th floor of our hotel, to the elevated monorail, to the subway which landed in level B7 of the Shinjuku train station. B7 means 7 levels of basement--we took an elevator 4 floors up, then escalators 3 more floors up to reach the ground. I felt like a refugee from the City of Ember! Then we briefly crossed the ground level plaza to reach a skyscraper department store for browsing and shopping.

Confusing. After a week or so, it feels very isolating to not be able to speak the language. You realize that you CAN get by, but whole waves of information wash over you without touching you. Early one morning my husband was typing on his computer while I was half asleep and it really sounded like someone speaking Japanese--the cadence without the meaning.

My experience in has been that you can get where you want to go, if you don't mind getting lost along the way, and can generally get what you want if you don't mind receiving an approximation of what you intended to order. (This is especially true when it comes to food--you might get cold noodles when you thought you were getting hot soup, but at least it's not raw squid if that's not what you wanted.)

Ah yes, food, the final frontier. You realize how stupid you feel as an outsider when you don't know the proper way to eat something. We went to a nice Shabu Shabu restaurant and had to guess the polite way to cook the beef and vegetables in broth, serve it, drink the broth, etc. Imagine sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner without ever having seen a turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, or a fork, and that's about how I felt trying to navigate the Shabu Shabu dinner without looking like a total slob. I failed at that, but it was the good kind of failure where you don't let the fact that you look stupid stand in the way of trying something new.

Delightful. I hope all travel has as much potential for delight as this trip. We didn't always get along marvelously, but the highs won the day. Today we visited the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, which is impressive and historical--and, let's face it, pretty boring if you are an 8-year-old. But afterward Mojo Girl took off running with her new umbrella across the palace grounds, convinced she could fly. It was one of those moments you can't plan for, but can have the sense to sit back and enjoy.

I've learned a lot from my daughter on this trip, from her theories about the 5 chambers of her stomach, including one for dessert and one for "bravery food," to her instruction in how adults could become kids again if they only remembered how to think right. I think she had longed to drink up lots of attention since school began again, and this heaping serving of togetherness was just what she needed. A gift to all of us.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the picture of the not-so-little T. Yes, if only we thought right and believed like children that we could fly.

11:49 AM  

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