Terry and PJ’s Adventures in Japan – May 2000
Thursday, June 1, 2000
Terry and I went to Kamakura to see some of the temples and the Great Buddha. The Great Buddha was huge, and it was easy to see why it is called the Great Buddha. When we were at one of the temples, four or five Japanese girls came up and started talking to us. They were around 13 or 14 years old, which is a giggly age in Japan, just like here. The girls had a school assignment that was a list of specific questions to ask if they saw anyone that might speak English.
The girls wanted to know where we were from, and if we spoke any Japanese. They also wanted their picture taken with us. Some guy who was not part of their group took everyone’s pictures for about 10 or 15 minutes. We had him take some with our camera, as well. One of the girls asked if we were in love. We told her yes, and showed her our wedding rings. That set them all off giggling and chattering again.
When we were at the other temple, another little girl was trying to take our picture. But Terry caught her, so she got embarrassed and wouldn’t take it. He quickly took a picture of her without really aiming. Unfortunately, our picture did not come out very well due to the lighting. Once Terry shot the picture of the girl, she felt better. We told her to come to us, and she could have her picture taken with us. So, she gave her camera to a friend to take the picture.
After the girl left, a young woman asked if she could take our picture. She had been taking other pictures with this coke bottle that had a marble in it. She put the bottle in the picture with us, too. We thought that she might be a photographer or photography student, and the bottle was her “signature.”
It was somewhat odd being almost a celebrity. We only saw 5 or 10 other non-Japanese people the whole time we were in Japan (excluding the Navy base). For the most part, Japanese men do not have facial hair, and Terry had a beard part of the time.
We certainly didn’t do anything that would entitle us to that much attention. However, they were curious about us, and it gave us a chance to talk to them, so we welcomed the conversations. Everywhere we went people, especially middle and high school aged children wanted to talk to us. Not everybody speaks English, but it really was not a problem.
Dining out is not a problem, even when the restaurant workers do not speak English. There are plastic models of the food outside most of the restaurants. When we needed to, we had the servers come outside and we’d point at the food we wanted to order and then hold up one, two or three fingers to tell them how many to bring. These models were perfect and the dinner looked exactly like them when served!
The Hasedera Temple in Kamakura was for children who had passed away. Every statue had been placed in memory of these children. There were thousands of statues, which tore a hole in my heart.
Some of the general things that we noticed over the time we were there, was that kids are the same everywhere. They will find a way to rebel and express themselves, no matter where they live. The young adult women wore outrageously tall heels in odd styles. We got some pictures, but not of the best examples unfortunately. One style had the heel about 8 inches tall, with the front about 5 inches tall, all in one piece. In addition, it had a heart cut out of the base.
Another thing we saw were Asian’s with Rasta braids and dread locks. We also saw grandmother aged women with colored hair. And by colored, I mean vivid lavender, green and purple. The lavender haired woman matched her clothing to her hair color.
The schoolgirls wore loose socks with their uniforms. The socks were typically pulled up to the knees and glued there, but are baggy around the bottom. The uniforms were standard with a white or blue cotton shirt, a sweater vest and a blue pleated skirt. The unusual thing about the skirt was that it often was a miniskirt. Some areas seemed to enforce a longer skirt, but most of the skirts were very short, probably too short for school attire.
The department stores are huge, on the scale of those in New York City. They have floor after floor of merchandise. They had whole floors devoted to food. It made the food courts in our Florida malls look like a joke.
The shinkansen (the bullet train) was incredible. The first time we saw one pull through the station; it was an express train and did not stop. It blew by us, and all three of us were like “Holy S%*t!” We looked like hicks from the sticks, because we reacted so strongly. We happened to be talking to another American who had been in Japan for a while. He told us something along the lines of, “and they slow down to come through the stations.”
One of the most hilarious things we saw was actually on TV. They had a Japanese version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” They had a Japanese guy who looked like Regis asking the questions. Everything was in Japanese, except “Final Answer.” This guy did a great impression of Regis. He had the expressions and the speech cadence perfect. We watched nearly the entire show, just laughing at the similarities, even though we couldn’t understand the questions.
The gas stations were full service. The guys wore uniforms with bow ties. Two guys filled the gas, washed all the windows of the van and then stopped traffic in the road to let us out.
The whole time that we were there, we always felt safe. The crime rate was very low. In fact, it was so safe that children as young as 6 years old rode the trains unsupervised on their way to school. They even made transfers, when necessary. I can’t imagine any decent parent in the United States letting a 6 year old anywhere near the mass transit systems that exist here without supervision.
The people really stood out because of their kind and helpful attitudes. We usually had someone come up to help us get where we were going when we were in the train stations. Usually, they altered their routes and took us where we needed to be prior to continuing with their own travels. One lady told us which route to take and then went to find out the time for the express train and tracked us down to tell us the best option for getting home quickly.
In all, we covered more than 2000 miles while we were in Japan. We saw a lot of the county and met many of the residents. Every single one of them was nice and helpful. I wish I could say that the people in the United States were as friendly and helpful, but typically, we are not. But, even with its flaws, the U.S. is still a wonderful home to us, and we were glad to be back.
Terry imitating the Japanese exit signs, as we are out of there.