Sunday, October 26, 2008

First few days in Tokyo

Itsumi has been showing me a wonderful time in Japan, and making me very comfortable in her apartment in central Tokyo as well as teaching me how to navigate this city, where I am illiterate and unable to understand the language. Not a small task!

We have been eating delicious meals, at home and at restaurants. Yesterday we went to a revolving sushi bar! You sit at a bar, and in front of you is a conveyor belt lined with plates of sushi that revolve around the bar, and you can pick up whichever ones you want. The cooks keep adding fresh plates, and at the end they charge you by the number of empty plates in front of you. We ate quite a lot, and our total came to $5 each. Yum, I could eat sushi all day!

I have been studying basic Japanese through a Pimsleur course that my mom bought for me, and this along with some hand signals helps me get by. Today will be a bigger test as it is the first day that Itsumi is going to work since I arrived.

It's funny to be completely illiterate. Itsumi's clothes washing and drying machine (yes, it's really just one machine with one compartment where the clothes are both washed and dried, in one cycle if you choose) operates with a digital screen with writing that I of course can't read. So Itsumi has taped English instructions onto the wall.

Yesterday I learned my first two kanji, or Chinese characters! Toilets here have two different levels of flushing, depending on whether you are flushing pee or poop. This is a great water saving feature, but confusing if you can't read the kanji for pee and poop. So Itsumi explained that the character that looks like a person with outstretched arms means "big" and the other character means "small." Based on these first two characters, I learned about ten more while walking around yesterday.

The grocery stores here are not like Asian stores in the US, where the products contain English writing. If I'm not with Itsumi, I have to choose based on the pictures on the packages! I am going to try to shop for and cook dinner today, and we may well get an unexpected surprise!

Japan has many beautiful and painstakingly pruned trees and plants! Above are cabbage flowers (they are not for eating) and a bush pruned to an amazing shape!

In Tokyo, it's common to see people walking around wearing surgical masks. I thought they must have asthma and be protecting themselves from pollution, but Itsumi explained that there isn't an air pollution problem in Tokyo, and that the people with masks have colds and are trying not to spread their germs to other people! When Itsumi was studying for her PhD in Colorado, she was shocked that sick people don't wear masks in the U.S.!

Speaking of politeness in Japan, we visited the busiest subway station in the world and I was amazed that everyone was polite and orderly. Nobody budged or pushed or tried to get ahead of anyone else. On the escalators, everyone politely stands on the left side so that those who want to walk up the escalator can do so on the right side. Of course, coming from the U.S. where we drive on the right side of the road I am always tending to stand on the wrong side. I also have to be careful when crossing the street, remembering that the traffic is coming from the direction opposite of what I'm expecting!

Yesterday we visited a famous temple and were lucky to catch it on a big opening day when there were people everywhere, and traditional dancing and music performances! The picture above is of a dance in which a man is trying to catch slippery eel.

Growing up with a Japanese name in the U.S., I have never met anyone else named Kimi, and I have never seen my name on any key ring or other such thing. But that's not the case in Japan! Yesterday I got some stickers and a little decorative fob that say Kimi, in Japanese kanji! What fun!

I'm really enjoying Japan so far, and am lucky to have my good friend Itsumi as a guide. I've included a few pictures here, and the rest of them are at

Thanks for reading, and sayoonara!


cooool said...

ronacii rememeber Marlon Brando and Red Buttons in the movie Sayonara. It was one of his failurs.
Politness is a sign of a culture that knows its inportance. Be polite every mother tells their children and then some of them grow up to be meanies as i have found out on Yahoos political Questions and Answers. Some of those republicans are full of venom and are bitter. i put things on the site to bait them. It's fun. Then when they reply with their abuse. i send them this; Lighten up. Here's a good joke. A woman was using a weed cutter in the backyard when she accidentally cut off the tail of her cat.  She scooped up the cat and with the tail in her hand started to walk quickly to her car.
  Her neighbor called to her "Where are you going!?"   
  She hollered over her shoulder. "I'm going to Walmart!
  "What are going to Walmart for, you should go to a vetenerian!"
   "Haven't you heard!" she hollered back, "Walmart is the nations biggest retailer!


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your first post from Tokyo. It brought back a lot of memories from my time in Japan.
How wonderful you will be in Vietnam/South East Asia. I wish I was there to show you around the places I know.

Jaime said...

Nice to know about You and your fantastic trip. Enjoy and let us know how are you doing. Regards to Gary

Anita and Jaime

Al Comanchero said...

The audacity of hope carried the day. Now we have a lot of work to do. Glad you are learning more about Asia; you can use it to help launch your political career when you come back.

El Com

Lisa said...

Hello Kimi, I am Eileen's sister, she mentioned your blog to me, and I have greatly enjoyed reading it. It has been such fun 'seeing' these places through your eyes. The manner in which you experience these countries is charming.

Take good care, safe travels,