Saturday, November 22, 2008
Notes After Japan
I recently traveled to Japan with my 9-month-old daughter, stepson, and husband.
Having arrived home less than 8 hours ago, I have already forgotten the sheer physical angst (yes, physical angst) of an infant in meltdown on a plane. Poor girl. Night and day suddenly become day and night and she is literally turned inside out upside down. Rubbing her blue eyes, rimmed with red and dark half moons beneath. She cries. She can't sleep. She can't nurse. She just cries. Yes, I have forgotten the tears (hers and mine). The amazing thing is how she rebounds. Desperation at noon, flirty smiles for passengers five minutes later.
Having eaten sushi at The Source, the Fish Market in Tokyo, I have to admit: I am more of a Kobe steak girl. I just can't quite bring myself to relish in the cold flesh that is sushi. I don't dislike it. But deep down it oogs me out just a bit. I am okay with a rare, bloody steak. But raw fish somehow just doesn't satiate me. I'll keep trying.
The Japanese are precise, polite, and polite. Yes, polite times two.
I love the bow. It is so much easier than the awkward, "should I kiss one cheek or two--or not kiss at all" question at stake with European friends. It is simple and deeply reverent still. It has room for humor. It can say it all. On the bullet train between Kyoto and Tokyo the conductor would turn to the entire car and bow before exiting. Each time she entered and exited. It injects a bit of Zen into each day. This must be healthy.
On every corner: vending machines with drinks.
I love the bento box. Cubicles of foods I can't name. A surprise in every lacquered square.
FYI: pregnant ladies in Japan eat sushi. (BTW pregnant ladies in France drink red wine and eat unpasteurized cheese.)
Tokyo is clean. Spotless. Shiny, especially at night. And yet you can not find a garbage can to save your life. There are recycling bins. But what to do with a dirty diaper?
Speaking of diaper changes, the Japanese have excellent baby changing facilities in the department stores. The best I have seen.
Places we visited:
Kyoto: Daisen-in Zen Garden at Daitoku-ji and Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion);
Nikko: Tosho-gu Shrine and Nikko Edo Village;
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market, Roggongi area, the Imperial Palace, National Diet Building, Ginza area--high end shopping, The Sony building, Akihabara--the several blocks of high-tech wares and anime products galore, and Takeshita-dori (to see the funky teen scene).
We mastered the metro.
Number of times we were stopped because a local Japanese person wanted to take Izabella's picture: once.
The gifts: the giving of gifts, small symbolic items, is automatic. For the Japanese. For us it caused a bit of strife. What to give? To whom? When? Do we unwrap in front of them? But it is a tradition that reinforces gratitude. Words inevitably fail. A small gift can speak your kindest intentions even when your words fumble.
I turned 34 years of age while in Tokyo. I got a kiss and chocolates.
Truth: I did have a gathering moment in a Starbucks. I needed to nurse the baby and was too tired to nurse in the Ergo while walking. You should know: there is no decaf option available for espresso drinks (at the one Starbucks we visited).
Number of times we were interviewed by the local press: once. (We looked clueless and were holding a cute baby = perfect subjects for an evening news spot about tourists.)
We learned that you do not need to tip. We left a small tip after our breakfast the first morning. The patroness literally ran after us on the street to return it. Later we asked a Japanese friend and we were told that there is no habit of tipping in restaurants or even cabs.
We hauled the stroller all the way there. Times we used it: once.
The shopping in Tokyo: endless. Yet we managed only to buy a few souvenirs for family and nothing for ourselves. It was overwhelming. Besides we had *ahem* over packed for the week. (Our arrival required an entourage to assist with luggage.)
True story: I missed dinner two nights in a row because Iza decided that it was bedtime at 5 or 6 pm local time. (I was so tired that I went to sleep with her both nights.) After missing two dinners, I ate three sandwiches for lunch. Three.
If you leave a disposable plastic baby spoon or cup in a restaurant, you will be chased down and have it returned to you nicely cleaned.
Iza sat up for the first time all on her own. She did it my starting on her belly and pushing back into a seated position. She was quite delighted.
Iza also managed to do the work of breaking a new tooth. Hooray! Total teeth: two.
In the end, regarding Japan....
Conclusion: more, please. The question, when?