Auf Wiedersehen, Zai Jian, Dasvidaniya, and Sayonara
“Long Read” recently published an interview with Helen DeWitt, the author of the Last Samurai. Being in Japan, I thought it was very appropriate to have read the interview. While the story wasn’t really about Japan itself, I could see how the author chose the title. Unfortunately, the title is confused with the popular movie starring Tom Cruise, and I have no idea how the two relate or don’t. In any event, what I took from the interview is that DeWitt knows a staggering number of languages, including Japanese. And knowing them allows her to develop a different persona for each language she masters.
I thought that idea was apropos to my travels. I love languages and wish I were fluent in more than the handful I do poorly. I love traveling throughout the world, and wish that I could have a different persona in each country. To live like the locals or being one among many is an inspiring thought to me. This trip enabled me to think about what it takes to be German, Chinese, Mongolian, Russia and Japanese. I have savored being in each country, drinking up and being drunk with cultural twists and turns. If I revisit these places, I can absorb more of each culture incrementally and a deepening appreciation. Each country’s history is tempered by those around it, and I love going between the borders.
So, we’ve come to the end of the third world adventure. I hope you have enjoyed the 72 long days’ journey into night through Germany, China (although briefly), Mongolia, Russia and Japan with me. Whether you followed religiously or randomly, I endeavored to share the best and brightest experiences of the day with you.
I appreciated the comments and emails from friends and family. For those who haven’t had a chance, please write to let me know what you liked or didn’t like. I’d love to hear from you, and get your ideas to improve the experience for both of us.
Greetings to all, and farewell!!
PS. You can read the Long Read about Helen DeWitt here:
Guest Post: Thoughts on Japan
I have often told Victoria that if cost is no consideration, my favorite travel destination is Japan. These past couple of weeks in Japan have reaffirmed my choice.
Yes, the July heat is oppressive, and Tokyo is crowded — but no more so than most cities in Asia. Yet somehow, the Japanese seem to care for the public good in a way that is still a distant dream for China and other countries in Asia. Victoria and I are constantly pointing out things to each other, all quite ordinary, that make us feel really good about being here. Let me give three examples.
First, the elderly seem happy and you see them everywhere (unlike most places I have been where the people on the streets, in shops and in the subway are overwhelming young). We know from Japanese friends that the economic circumstances for many elderly are pretty tight. Yet they seem to convey dignity and contentment that I am not used to seeing (especially compared with the elderly on the buses and trains in the San Francisco Bay Area).
Second, they take care of what things they have, both public and private. You can eat and drink on public transportation yet the buses and trains are pristine because everyone maintains the social contract not leave a mess! They look after their apartments by removing their shoes at the door.
Third: the story of my water bottle. I had forgotten to grab my water bottle as we hurried off the bus at Tsumago. Two days later, when we went back to the bus station at Nagiso where the bus starts its route, it was sitting on the ticket counter next to the clerk. Why was I so surprised? I think the sad thing is that I was surprised. I would like to believe this should be normal, anywhere in the world but sadly, it is not.
Japan has its flaws (e.g. too much packaging). Its economy is struggling to meet the aspirations of the young and obligations to the old
Avoiding the bustle of Tokyo is a wonderfully serene travel experience. By the way, cost does not have to be an issue. Prices are much the same as in the US.
By Gee Kin Chou
The Tokyo Fish Market is renown for the sheer size and intensity of activity. While it was a bustling area for Japanese merchants, the tourist industry discovered the novelty and impacted the neighborhood, creating a conflict between business and pleasure. The market is scheduled to move to new quarters in the Fall, so this location will no longer be operational. It feels like the SF Flower Mart, except scaled up a twenty times.
After standing in line for the freshest sashimi at a vest-pocket diner, I perused the retail vendors and decided to invest in a Japanese-style kitchen knife. The long, narrow blade that looks like a carving knife is designed for paring fruits and vegetables.
1. This market scene will be a relic after September, 2016, when the Fish Market moves.
2. Edamame Beans on the stems
3. Fresh Wasabi root
4. One of several Teeny tiny diners serving only sushi and sashimi. I waited over an hour to get a coveted place.
While the advanced state of civilization is apparent everywhere you turn, there were a couple of exceptions. I had to go to the Post Office in the Fish Market to use the ATM. After a lot of searching, I found the building very old and deteriorated. The other antiquated structure was the University of Tokyo library. Some aspects of culture that we regard with respect are not obvious here. Granted，our post offices have become obsolete，but investing in higher education shows an investment in the future.
Note: the above device is found in a fast food restaurant. When you are ready, you push the bell and the wait staff will come and take your order!