Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Everything You Wanted to Know About Japan, But Forgot to Ask


(Feb. 7) In case anyone woke up this morning wondering whether a can of coffee bought from a machine can come out hot, the answer is, “Yes.” Whether Japanese bikes have the same kind of built-in sliding half-circle lock as the bikes in Salzburg? Yet again, “Yes.” Is there a Chinatown in Tokyo? You guessed it. Do some Japanese cafes serve pesto and play Charlie Parker recordings? They do. Do some mothers ride bikes with a baby strapped to their chest and another kid behind them? I have photos to prove it.

And I know you’ve all been curious about the plastic bag situation in Tokyo. Are there too many? Yes, there are. Did one restaurant offer whale meat? Sadly, that’s a yes.
Is it really true that the school year ends in February and begins again in March just a couple of weeks later? And that teachers only get four or five days off between the two years? Apparently, that is a yes. And come on, is there really a festival to bless sewing needles by sticking them in tofu? There is.

On another note, if you ever need to know whether a Niji pen can go through a laundry wash cycle and still write, I can report, “Yes.” (But not before some ink gets released into the cap that will then stain your hands.) And while we’re reaching beyond Japan here, might as well throw in this forgotten tidbit from Korea. Apparently, everyone’s age advances one year at the Korean New Year (Jan. /Feb.) instead of on their birthday. Thus, a baby born in December will turn two a couple of months later!

And speaking of birthdays. Back around 32 years and 40 pounds lighter ago, I finished a year-long trip around the world in Tokyo on my birthday, turning 28 on July 28th. I have a photo of me blowing out a candle stuck in a donut in a Tokyo park (wonder which one?). That same day, we flew home to San Francisco and crossed the International Dateline and I had my birthday twice. One of those little-big-moments that I’ll always remember.

So farewell to the all the subway lines and a large-hearted domo arigato go sai mas to Tokyo, my wonderful hosts and students and friends, the Ryokan owners, Japanese baths, udon noodles and the legacy of Zen Buddhism. And on to India, where it all began.

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