Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Japan: People and Places

It is well known that the Japanese people are polite, but I like to notice its extension.
The train conductor walks through, and before exiting, he faces the people and bows with ceremony. We try to buy subway tickets and Mihai presses the wrong button. The supervisor comes running and starts making excuses for having us waiting. In Kyoto we took the garbage out (because it was the collectin day) and later we foung just our bag opened and the garbage all over, like a car passed over it. We started cleaning up and an old lady started bowing and talking, as if saying, "I'm sorry that you had to see this." Speaking about garbage, it is collected two times a week, in small yellow bags, arranged on the sidewalk. They don't have garbage pails on the streets, and yet it is so clean.
A couple of times they stopped to ask us in English if we need help.
If you look around there is always a construction site, but it is quiet, the machines working only as long as they need to, without idling. On the sidewalk, there is a tarp so it won't get dirty. A full wheelbarrow is handled with care, and with an empty one they run, so they don't waste time. The car parked next to the construction is protected by a plastic sheet. The policeman is right there to redirect traffic, even though the space ocuppied by the workers is so small.

To enter a store you face numerous invitations, if you buy something, you are thanked countless times. I saw a person leaving a restaurant; the waiter, the cook, the maitre were next to the car, bowing, and they continued to do this until it disapeared.
The Japanese people consider it impolite to eat while walking. After buying, they either eat right there, or go for a picnic at their working place or somewhere else where they could enjoy their meal. The rule is different for drinking.
Our features betray us and everybody knows we're not from Asia. The middle school children approached us in Nara, asking permission to talk with us, presenting themselves and asking us, in English, which is our favorite food in Japan (or some boys what sports do we like). In Kamakura three boys encouraged one another to ask us for a picture together. But what amused me the most was that we were secretly photographed while we were sharing an intimate moment, happy to be in Ginza. I noticed the lens towards us and asked the lady to show me the pictures; we said farewell all smiles.
I like the children. They have school six days a week and Sunday all the sports events. They walk the streets in their school's uniforms, carring a huge backpack. They help and take care of each other. In Nara, when one of them was too fat to go through Buddha's Nostril, they pulled his hands, pushed his feet, and when he gave up, surrounded and comforted him.

Their way of dressing... for me, it has a single explanation: they are convinced that they are dressed beautifully. In Kyoto, they are encouraged to dress traditionally, and on some days the bus is free for them. If they go to the temple they get a private guide. But I think they enjoy it, it is a special event, a preparation, a state of being, a belonging, because I've seen them not just in Kyoto, but in Tokyo, in Nara and Kamakura. And not just women, but men also, dressed in work clothes or ceremony ones. On two ocassions I saw children, but I presume it was religion-related.

Visiting temples, I noticed that they have special rooms for resting, eating lunch, and where they offer you tea. In one of them, even if the room was full of people from different groups, it was quiet and a pleasant atmosphere.
Family: dads looked comfortable changing the diapers (in public) and handling the stroller or an upset child. There were many pregnant women or with infants. The grandparents are present in everyday's life. Everybody has a slow relationship with the child: they wait for him to understand what he sees, to accept an interdiction, they go down to his level, make eye contact and slowly pick him up like he is a fragile treasure.
Men in suits: are everywhere, at every hour, of all ages. I met them on their breaks, evidently, while smoking or gathered around a cup of something, or in the subway. Their shirts and trousers are a few sizes bigger, like this will help them not feel constrained. Even their shoes are bigger and that changes the way they walk (the same is true for women). While in the subway or the train they sleep seated or standing and, through an unknown technique, they awaken in time to get out where they need to go.
I saw homeless people surrounded by many bags. In the subway, an Indian without a shirt was explaining in English and Japanese that he doesn't have money, and the policemen were inviting without touching him (for 5 minutes) to enter the supervisor's office. There were no beggars!
Our host Mink told us that on the sidewalks narrower than 3 yards the bicycle people should walk, but they just slow down and they follow you until they find a space to pass you (on your right).
There are two reasons for not writting about shopping: first I don't like it, and second we didn't go. It is wonderful to walk the streets, passing stores, knowing that you don't want to, don't have to and don't need to buy something. But the Japanese people buy and after using them, or when they don't need them anymore, they sell them second hand (or n-th hand.)
I knew about Japanese from books and movies, that they are hardworking and polite. It was a pleasure to observe them as a traveler.

Museo d'arte Ghibli: it is a place for people of all ages, appreciated at its true value by the older ones. Hayao Miazaki made several full feature movies and the majority had international success also. Personally, I especially liked Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Kiki's Delivery Service and Ponyo. I cried with bitter tears at Grave of the Fireflies, a movie about the effect of WWII on two siblings. The museum presents the way his ideas transform into a movie. It is a building with an eye for detail and for the child, in which characters from his movies can be found in little spaces, in lamps, windows, handrails. There are small houses with doors that you can open and see a scene from a movie, there are two cat-buses (from Totoro): one for adults, wrapped in artificial fur and soft on his head and paws, and one for little children, soft all over. There is a theater with 70 seats in which twice this many people watched a 15 minute cartoon about preschool children playing (everything was in Japanese, but we got the idea). There are rooms with walls covered in drawings and watercolors, with Mr. Miyazaki's desk, with the plane model from Porco Rosso and big jars completely full of used pencils. In a different room you could see how the animators transfer the drawing onto celluloid, a moving sequence, color samples, how they cut and paste. On the building's roof there is a garden with plants specific for the area, and a robot like the one from Castle in the Sky, in front of which there was a long line to take your picture with it. To all of this, you add a courtyard with a water pump, a terrace and the store Mama Ajuto (Mom, Help) where there was a step-on-toes mob. The museum was brimming with children and their parents, and we were the most childish of them all.

Kamakura: an hour and something away from Tokyo and we had to change several trains to get there. You have mountain and ocean in the same place. We went trailing on the hills, through the woods, we had a picnic at the statue of the first shogun of Japan, we saw a big statue of Buddha outside (they tried building something overhead but everytime it was destroyed, so they presumed that he likes it al fresco), we went to say hello to the Pacific Ocean from this side, visited a temple and went home. The weather started off sunny, then changed different clouds and ended with a steady rain, but for us was a wonderful day because we were with our friends Ana (Anna) and  Doru (Dorhu), and their children, Rares (Rharhesh) and Dara (Dharah).

I liked Tokyo: modern architecture, space, parks. We visited The National Art Center, Mori Art Museum and Tokyo National Museum. We saw Ginza, Ueno, Roppongi, Shinjuku and the busiest street-cross in the world in Shibuya. We entered The Imperial Garden and Shinjuku park. We saw open-air exhibitions of art with windmills and Guliver's Table. We marched beside a protest against nukes. We ate the food that enticed us (seaweed at the fish market) and we liked it.

Japan was everything that we imagined and much more, and we'll see more of it next time. Tomorow... Beijing.
I am in the airplane taking photos of Tokyo International Airport. I look down and see the three men who signaled the airplane on the tarmac bowing deeply toward us. In my heart I bow to them.

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