I’m sitting in the Osaka airport, getting ready to a board flight to Budapest, via Dubai. After a two-day layover in Budapest, we are off to Timisoara, Romania, where I’ll start my Fulbright teaching assignment at West University.
Before I leave Japan, here are a few things I’ll miss, and a few things I won’t:
Things I will miss about Japan:
- 7/11 Stores. The 7/11 stores in Japan are, for the most part, clean, stocked with nutritious Japanese food and run by people who are polite. I will especially miss the onigiiri–a ball of rice with plums or any kind of fresh fish rice wrapped in nigiri. Atticus especially likes onigiri because he learned that’s what samurai warriors carried in their pockets on long journeys. Sujata says that if you are looking for an Air B and B in Japan, make sure it’s close to both a train station and a 7/11 and that’s good advice.
- Ramen Shops. We have three or four ramen shops in Denver and none of them hold a candle to even the worst ramen we’ve had here in Japan. My favorite ramen shop is a little 6-seat corner shop under an elevated train near the Osaka Mall. We walked in there this past Sunday afternoon and in addition to being served some most delicious ramen, one of the patrons (a local who was friendly with the owner) shared his sushi with us (which he had brought in, probably from 7/11).
- Japanese Public Transportation. There may be another country in the world that has a sophisticated public transportation as Japan’s, but I’ve never been there. For the past three weeks, we have used our Japan Rail passes and they have taken us everywhere we have wanted to go on this island–that includes big cities and small, out of the way towns. Beyond that the trains are clean and they run frequently and on time. It is simply astonishing how the public transportation systems, especially in the big cities like Tokyo and Osaka move people around. Finally, the shinkansens (the high-speed trains that crisscross the country) are brilliant. It is maddening that the U.S. can’t put together a public transportation system like what they have here in Japan.
- Bowing and saying “Arigato gozaimasu!” I love how the Japanese bow as a sign of greeting and respect. I especially love bowing to older folks as I’m walking down the street or moving through the train stations. “Arigato gozaimasu” means “thank you very much,” and literally everywhere you go in Japan you hear people singing out, “Arigato gozaimasu!!”
- The Japanese people I’ve met and had contact with. They are an excessively kind and gracious folk. I love their understated emotions, the way they smile at me when I muster a few Japanese words and, especially, the way the elderly Japanese women fawn over my daughter.
Things I will not miss about Japan:
- Hitting my head. If you are over 6′, like I am, Japan is a treacherous country. Most of the light fixtures and door casings hover anywhere from 5’9″ to 5’11” off the floor. This means that pretty much anywhere I go there are things looming in the direction of my scalp.
- People staring at me. I suspect this has something to do with #1. I know it’s not because I’m terrifically handsome or that I have foreign object hanging from my nose, ears or mouth. I’ve actually seen dudes standing in front of me elbow their friends and then nod their head my way.
- Shopping/Malls. I really hate shopping and I especially hate shopping malls. In Japan, you cannot get away from either of these things. Each rail stop is anchored by a large shopping mall, so you literally have to walk through a mall each time you change trains or get off at your stop. Beyond that, people are just shopping everywhere, all the time. I really can’t figure out where they put all the stuff.
- Shopping for jeans. I didn’t pack any jeans in my backpack because they are heavy and I knew it would be super hot in all the places we have been traveling, so I’ve just been wearing shorts and Kuhl travel pants. Japan is a very fashionable culture–people look smart and stylish so I thought (wrongly) that if I could get a cool pair of Japanese denim that I’d fit right in and then people would look at my jeans and not elbow their mates about the excessively tall, white guy standing next to them at the 7/11. This quest has been an absolute and major fail and I am convinced (now, after wandering through countless department and even ’boutique’ jeans stores) that there is not a single pair of jeans in this entire country that fit me. Oh, and it’s the same for sneakers. They have to coolest Converse Chuck Taylor Hi Tops here. None of them fit me. Yesterday, desperate, I asked a clerk if they carried a size 11 and she looked at me, shook her head vigorously, and made the classic Japanese “No!” sign–you just cross your arms in front of you, bow and shake your head quickly back and forth. Sujata caught this and burst out laughing right there in front of the poor shop girl.
- Smoking in restaurants. It’s not too common in the bigger restaurants near city centers, but if you pop into the smaller ramen or sushi shops (which we like to do) off the beaten path, people are smoking, and it really sucks. It’s the same in the bars. Sujata and I went to this little place around the corner from out apartment last night and we were the only two people (of 6, including the bartender) who were not smoking.