I think I said before I might show you more pictures of our trip to Japan last month. This one above here is from the window of the departure lounge at Inchon International Airport.
As always, click on any images if you want to see them a bit larger.
Is it true that Japanese people are more polite than people from elsewhere? It might be. When I took this picture, I was standing across the street and to the right outside the frame is an intersection with a stop sign, perhaps a half dozen meters away.
As I was lining up the shot, a middle-aged man in a minivan was driving along the street toward the spot where I was getting ready snap the shutter. He saw me, apparently had some respect for what I was trying to do, and stopped his vehicle just outside the frame – and waited for me to lower my camera from in front of my face. I don’t recall that ever happening before, anywhere.
The more heavily traveled sidewalks in Fukuoka are every bit as crowded as the busier parts of Gangnam or downtown Seoul, but not once did anyone bump into us, even when we were carrying suitcases from the train station along the short distance to our hotel. The rare times I witnessed Japanese people bump into each other were followed by hasty exclamations of “Sumi-masen!” (“Excuse me!”) from both sides.
The same was true on the subway, and while no one initiated help as we studied the route map on the wall next to the platform – that’s happened to me many times in Korea, and it has never occurred to any such people that offering help when it isn’t asked for or required might be annoying – but in Japan, when we needed to ask a passing stranger to help us avoid getting on the wrong train, there was no reluctance at all, despite the language barrier.
So, yeah, Japanese people are more polite. And while that might seem to have nothing but plusses to it, along with it comes an excessive regard for rules and regulations and making sure that things happen precisely so and in no other way and with no exceptions. I’ve never experienced so much officiousness and bureaucratic idiocy as we witnessed gong through customs, both arriving and departing. They were highly confused that my wife was traveling on business and I was traveling for pleasure, and by the way, if you do travel to Japan for business purposes be prepared to submit a list of each place you’ll be visiting and each person you’ll be meeting with, along with phone numbers. In fact, if you are there on business, unless you are with some very large conglomerate, it might be better off not to even mention it when crossing borders.
Other people probably know that already, but it was the first time either of us had traveled for any reason than tourism. We had similar problems on the way out. Don’t get me started.
Contrast this with a story related to me by a friend whose father ran into a snag at Incheon while on his way into the country to visit a few months. Seems the fine gentleman had brought a bit too many bottles of whiskey along with him on the flight over from the UK, and he risked some sort of fine or confiscation. My friend had sent his father a t-shirt as a gift that read, “I ♥ Dokdo,” and by chance the sentiment was on display that afternoon across the torso most directly involved.
The upshot? The customs official made a command decision in the field that anyone with such enlightened views ought certainly to be entitled to carry a bit extra single malt into the Land of the Morning Calm.
(The single largest problem foreigners seem to have in Korea is that contracts for employment are seen as flexible statements of intent – what I always say is that this can work for you if you figure it out and work with it.)
As I mentioned before, we saw several sumo fellas in the Tenjin part of the city, one in the lobby of our hotel, actually. This guy was in the bar around the corner, and he really is that big, but also the bartender is quite small. He’s drinking beer, if you must know, and I’m pretty sure he ordered a very popular brand that starts with the letter A, and when ordering it he used only two syllables instead of the usual three – then again, I suppose it might have been a sneeze.
Or maybe he was tired. Or sad. Maybe it was just a sigh.
At the moment, I’m thinking there might have been some kind of event going on in the city while we were there, because others have told me that despite visiting the city a number of times, they’d never seen any of these guys.
Apparently they go everywhere in their robes, advertisements for their profession. If you do see them on the street, they will happily pose for your camera. They seem to like it, in fact, so no need to be shy.
This one is just to illustrate that Japan also contains cluttered and dirty-looking back streets and alleys, even if you have to look a bit for them.
Have I mentioned that I like cities? I like cities.
I like crowded, noisy, dirty, smelly cities, with all the health risks they can throw at me. I like the hustle-bustle, and I even like the hurly-burly. Okay, I admit, I like the hurly a bit better than the burly, but I realize others might have a different preference here.
I like the fact that any city – every city – demonstrates the species’ Fall From Grace and Expulsion From the Garden. I like that part, especially. I like to walk among sinners and feel that we are all complicit in something that everyone knows but few are so gauche to speak of. And every one of us sure in our hearts that we are the Last Honest Man to walk the face of the planet.
I like finding the secret places that are quiet and neglected. And sometimes cluttered and dirty. Make that, usually cluttered and dirty. Yeah, I like that, too. I even go looking for them.
But people always recommend you get out of the city for at least a little while don’t they? Supposedly, this is where the “real” people live.
The town of Yefuin is a hub of an area chock full of volcanic spas, about which again, I spoke of previously. We were only there a few hours so I won’t speak ill of it, except to say that what I saw reminded me somewhat of the Napa Valley, in Northern California, where I grew up – after I had grown up and it had become a tourist destination. Which is fine and probably better than a lot of what America is going through lately.
The clouds you see here poking among the hillsides are rainclouds, but if I had pointed off in another direction you might have seen steam being vented from among the numerous onnsens scattered about. Or perhaps dragons were nesting up there and I missed something cool.
Naw, probably not.
And while you might not find anything impressive about a picture of Japanese cars, let me hasten to point out that these Japanese cars are IN Japan.