Many of you are familiar with my younger sister, the Nose, so nicknamed for her savant type recall of maps, ability to identify geographical landmarks, and unsurpassed skill at navigating around a place with which she has no familiarity. In an unusual turn of sisterly responsibilities, she was able to visit Japan without being encumbered by another sister or two desperately clutching the back of her shirt.
Here are her impressions:
1. What were your favorite aspects of Japan?
Hmm. Well, Ouiser-san was there with a ready-made itinerary, slightly better than marginal command of the Japanese language, spoken apparently with an unintelligible accent (thank God for the offspring), and a purse full of yen when I ran out of cash and couldn`t find an ATM willing to take my card.
I loved Kyoto, Buddhist temples and the crazy monks that run them, tempura, ramen, tiny smiling ancient Japanese men, the cab drivers all wearing suits and white gloves, gaggles of schoolchildren waving and saying “hall- oh!!!! Hall-oh!!” because we were the only Westerners they`d seen, green tea, pottery, the toilets (yes, but not the squat kinds- the ones with the fancy bidet, lights, auto lid lift etc)…
Japanese design aesthetic.
The Very, Very, Sweet Japanese People.
I’m having a tough time narrowing it down.
2. What was hardest in Japan?
Eating eyeballs and boiled tofu at every meal (almost). Complete inability to order my own latte at Starbucks, the heat and humidity (and the resultant feeling of being the fat, sweaty American tourist). Inability to exchange money or use my ATM card.
3.When did you feel most out-of-place?
Well, look at me. I have red hair, blue eyes, and a large bust. No wonder all the cooks left the kitchen to get a better look at me. Of course, the places Ouiser-san took me may have never seen a non-Asian person before. Or. They may have seen my pallor combined with the sweat stains on my clothes and thought they should call an ambulance.
I also felt out-of-place (frustrated really) feeling helpless, unable to figure out the Tokyo subway system (I am the Nose after all), unable to remember the simplest and most used phrases (please and thank you anyone?) I just hope a sincere smile and hopeless look express the feelings I was unable to express with a diatribe of kanji.
4. When did you feel most at home?
I felt most at home when we were laughing together (oh shit, now I’m crying), drinking coffee, hanging out with my sweet smart niece and nephew, and digging through your closet.
I also felt strangely at home at the Buddhist temples in Kyoto.
5. What were your favorite foods?
The inner noodle ramen shop (Ouisar-san- that is Koh Men ramen in Omotesando across from TGIF`s), sashimi, Sapporo, tempura, cold soba noodles, magic cabbage (how do they make it taste so good??), (Ouisar-san-That would be the monja in the last post) Japanese pickles especially the pink ones alone or with rice, manga (Ouisar-san Umm- manga are cartoon characters, but monja is what we ate )cooked by Andretti-San.
6.What is Ouisar-san`s most annoying habit?
Hmmm this will require a few subdivisions as she has many.
A. Her history and cultural lessons delivered while The Nose is trying to pray at a 1500 year old Buddhist Temple. And her assumption that I was not praying at the next 100 or so temples because, well, I already prayed that day, so new lessons came with every temple. Thankfully I learned to let her get all her talking done outside before going in.
B. Dragging The Nose on not one but two 4 mile runs through Yoyogi park AND actually expecting conversation at a sub- 10 minute mile pace and 85% humidity.
C. Realizing while raiding Ouiser`s closet that during the past year she has lost two inches off her waist and they were magically deposited on mine— greatly limiting my outfit choices ( Tunics and leggings anyone?? )
7) What advice would you give someone visiting Japan?
A. Stop at the currency exchange booth at the airport and get as much money exchanged as you can afford.
B. When taking random cabs have the address of your destination written in Japanese. Don’t assume that the name of the site said in Japanese (or English) will suffice.
C. At least taste every food placed in front of you. You may think it looks unappetizing or has ingredients that you don’t like but 9 times out of 10 you will be pleasantly surprised. Next to being polite and speaking the language, the best way you can truly show interest and appreciation of another culture is to show an interest in their food. If you don’t like it, smile and keep your mouth shut because someone around you will understand enough English to know you just insulted the cook at their favorite neighborhood noodle shop and that reflects badly not just on you but your host, and your country.
D. If you can’t use chopsticks you better learn before you leave or bring a fork.
E. Carry toilet paper and a handkerchief (see dabbers) with you at all times.
Finally I would like to thank Ouiser-san for taking me on what was truly a trip of a lifetime and thank my sweet hardworking husband for not only paying for it but taking care of three homesick for Mama kids while I was away for 10 days.
Much love. The Nose