David and Lili's World Tour


November 2010 - Narita, Tokyo, Kyoto, Minakami, and Nikko

This was my mother's first visit to Tokyo, where her brother Bob has lived for 30 years. We had a delightful family reunion under auspicious circumstances: my cousin Nanae's wedding. It was fabulous. Nanae was the most stunning woman in all of Japan that evening, and her husband, Konishi-san, was the most handsome.

With my lovely aunt Mutsuko as our ichi-ban guide, we toured Tokyo and Kyoto. One highlight was a ceremony for Maduka in a Shinto shrine. Words cannot describe the harmony of colours with chanting, drums and gongs, as incense smoke danced with the spirits of the wind.

Lili and I also visited a traditional hot-spring resort (fantastic), plus an ancient city called Nikko, home to the former Shogun's temples of power. We did our best to speak Japanese poorly. 20 years ago I lived in Tokyo briefly, working as a computer programmer, and back then I studied the language just enough to make our adventures even more fun.

Japan was never colonized by Europeans, nor influenced much by missionaries, so it has managed a unique adaptation to modernity. Here are some observations:

Greater Tokyo is the world's largest urban area with 30 million souls, but it is clean, safe, and friendly. Group harmony, a defining characteristic of the people, makes this possible. But individualism is on the rise, easily observed in young women's clothing. Nearly everyone is fashionably dressed.

The public transportation system works so well there is no need for a car. People walk and bicycle a lot. Nearly everyone is physically fit.

Some of the food we encountered was weird sea goo. We tried everything, including worms and slime. The majority was delightfully delicious, but not so much the worms.

We woke up one morning at 4am to witness the tuna auction at the Tsukiji market, where some fish sell for more than US$100,000. With such demand, the only way to save species like the endangered bluefin tuna is to enforce fishing bans.

Japanese people love gadgets and robots. Even some toilets are electronically controlled; push the wrong button and your backside will get a surprise washing.

Vending machines everywhere sell hot and cold coffee.

In Japan, religious freedom really exists. Our friend Peter Frankl, who lives in Tokyo but grew up in Hungary under an antireligious communist regime, says he feels comfortable living where people don't talk about religion and don't care about other people's religion. Indeed! Shouldn't we care more about Science?

The Japanese people are disciplined and hard working. Children study beyond the requirements of their schools to get ahead. Consequently, literacy is nearly universal. Some people work so hard, however, that depression and suicide rates are high. I'm told that most Japanese woman prefer their lives of raising children and keeping house to that of "salary men" who devote themselves to work.

One of the best ways to control the population explosion is to lower birth rates by educating girls. The Japanese population is shrinking. In the short term, this will be a problem as fewer young people will have to support more older people. But long term, this will improve Japan's ability to maintain a sustainable economy. I wish the whole world could educate their girls as well as the Japanese!

Two words in Japanese speak volumes about the culture, tatemae and honne. Tatemae means "facade" and refers to one's public face. Honne refers to one's true feelings, usually kept hidden except with one's closest friends. I found this frustrating when I lived here 20 years ago, as I was nobody's closest friend, but now I find the Japanese people to be universally polite, and generally charming.

Japan is expensive, but deals abound, so get a guide book and go!

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