Thursday, 2 April 2015

what's it all about?

Gayle's looking through leaflets in the train station tourist information office. I'm in the concourse watching four businessmen who have just walked in.  Two are holding small suitcases while the other two are carrying small but elegant paper bags - the kind you would be given if you bought fancy perfume.  There then follows what could only be a sketch from Monty Python - the Kow-Tow Off: each pair taking it in turns to bow.  Some words of thanks and the gifts are presented. The receivers bow.  The givers bow.  The receivers bow back. Some words of thanks.  The listeners bow.  The speakers bow back. A slight pause and then words of farewell? The departing bow.  The staying bow back.  The departing bow lower.  The staying bow even lower.  Then one of them throws a dummy, feinting a bow but staying upright at the last moment and everyone is suddenly thrown off rhythmn and chaotic bowing in no particular order ensues, until finally the stayers manage to back away and out the door.  The two guys catching their train take out handkerchiefs and mop the sweat off their brows.  It was a close match but I guess they came out of it without losing any face.

Around the hostel are some small shopping arcades and streets with bars and small shops selling bric a brac, clothing, vinyl records.  The record shop has covers on display of Lee Morgan, Billy Bragg, Freddie Hubbard and The Jam.  It looks like my record collection. But what's missing? Mmmm.  Soul. We half wonder what the nightlife is like in the cities.  But we're not that interested and we don't have the cash anyway to find out.  I guess that's one downside of visiting a country as penny-pinching long-distance cyclists - there are some aspects of Japanese culture that will just pass us by.  The main one is the food - as it's cheaper for us to self-cater.  

At the hostel there's a mix of Japanese travellers of all ages, including a Japanese man so large he just has to be a sumo wrestler.  We chat to a young French couple, Xabi and Ivy, and Gayle asks them why they have come to Japan.   Xabi has been a big fan of manga and wanted to discover the country behind this art form.  Manga is art? Discuss. The hostel is full of books - comic books.  Each convenience store features a man of indeterminate age standing at the magazine counter reading a manga book.  The books are full of women with breasts like balloons and waists that disappear and make us wonder what it's like for young women to grow up in such a world.  The "girly" magazines that are prominently displayed in the convenience stores also seem to feature young girls showing their knickers - creepy. Xabi is thinking through a theory about how the Japanese are trying to perpetuate a state of infantilism. Picure fantasy books are part of this.  But why? What's it all about? (A fortnight after this conversation my sister wrote to us and mentioned going to see an anime from the Ghibli Studio with our nephew, the Tale of Princess Kaguya.  She commented on how their films nearly always feature a little girl as the main character.  I can only assume that she isn't always flashing her knickers. The princess I mean, not my sister.)

Another night we talk to Jorg and Viviana who are on a bigger trip visiting several countries in too short a time.  Jorg wants to know when we have been camping where do we put our rubbish.  I laugh.  This began in Taiwan and is probably a Japanese thing - there are no public litter bins anywhere.  But there is rarely any public litter either.  As we cannot take it home, we tend to use the recycling bins outside convenience stores or next to vending machines.  And what's with the face masks?  We've gotten used to seeing so many people wearing face masks but actually, when you think about it, it's really quite alarming.  I can think of nothing more alienating than not being able to look at someone in the face when I'm talking to them, even if I don't understand their language.  Or especially when I don't understand their language.  All we see are eyes.  Shop staff mainly, but we see people driving around wearing facemasks, postmen, little old ladies riding bikes, kids on their way to school.  I don't want to go all Jack Straw, but it really seems a disurbing aspect of Japanese society.  But for the Japanese it's probably thought of as highly practical and simply effective preventative measure in a crowded country.  If you have a cold and you don't want to infect others, or you don't have a cold and you don't want to catch one, then wear a face mask.  Someone has pointed out that in a country where sick leave from work is frowned upon, and at times when you cannot afford to lose your job, then wearing a facemask is a small price to pay for job security. Unionize!

On the way to the post office we walk past a hairdresser's.  There's one for every 50 people in Japan. In some villages we've seen two hairdresser's and no food shops.  This one is called "L'Oeuf".  It reflects another srtiking trend in Japan for all things French, regardless of what it actually means.  There is also a huge amount of signage in English - the American kind.  We are surprised - it feels slightly less disorientating when you can read shop names on the city streets.  Our favourite is the book chain "Book Off". Très drôle.

did I mention the cherry blossom?

I am posting my passport to the UK to get a new one - it's the quickest and easiest way to renew - because I have only two clean pages left.  I have kept a colour photocopy of my photo page and Japanese immigration stamps. The woman at the post office looks only briefly appalled that I want to post my passport to the UK and then promptly produces an EMS card envelope for me.  It costs £7 and will take four days to arrive.  When I walk out of the post office I feel rather appalled myself.  Am I doing the right thing?


  1. Hi Gayle & John, this blog is really interesting and you, Gayle, are true wizard of photography. The flowers... I can't tell you how wonderful this is.
    Is spry the cherry blossom?
    Thanks for the beatiful postcard...

  2. Caro Mario,
    siamo molto felici di sentire da voi. Non abbiamo idea di cosa lo spray è per !! Desiderate Giappone - tante isole. Il nostro amore per voi e Eliana.
    Il Bradipi.