Friday, 5 June 2015

Turning Japanese: Innovation and Idiosyncrasies


Bleston Court Hotel, Karuizawa

This was not the Japan I'd expected to discover.


The first thing you'll see in Japan from the moment you get off the plane is that rubbish bins are virtually non-existent. So forget about eating your Mo's Burger outside or finding litter on the streets/public transport - which is refreshingly considerate, let's be honest. At the risk of oversimplifying facts, despite its foodie reputation, just because of this social custom, the svelte figures of the Japanese immediately make logical sense.

The first thing you'll hear in Japan will be a greeting , an apology or both that sounds quite nice. Get used to it. Japanese people are so painfully polite it's probably in their DNA. No matter where you go, you will feel slightly inadequate, a scratch rough even. And as a result you will consciously or otherwise find yourself acting on your most ladylike/gentlemanly behaviour - nodding, smiling a lot more and questioning your home country's manners for improvement.

It's been 13 years since my last and this time, apart from a packed 5 day tour, attending a summer wedding in Karuizawa was the main agenda. Although I was staying at mountain resort getaway popular with the 35 million urbanites living in Tokyo, I did not prepare for this little thing called no access to WiFi. It took a while for my brain's fried up nerves and itchy fingers to be relieved by other means - the crisp lakewaters passing through stones, the cadence of birds chirping (we're still looking for that evasively over-confident woodpecker) and whistling while we explored forest paths. Even the wooden cabins we slept in made us feel like we were creatures from the Sylvanian Families.

It was admittedly a bit of a backwards shock - I'd psyched myself up to be blown away by the innovative technologies, striking urban redevelopment and cutting-edge trends from the country that gave us the joys of anime, Nintendo RSI and instant noodles. I'd even planned to research a podcast of Japanese inventions to surprise my friends Tom and Al at The Innovation Ramble. But I soon realised I was going to be significantly underwhelmed in that aspect.

This was not the Japan I'd expected to discover. This is not the travel piece of Japan I expected to write. This is a recollection of Japanese idiosyncrasies, interesting facts and cultural observations that delighted me no less. 

From the revelations of imports/exports, the clapping votive tablets and soothing windchimes at Meiji Shrine...to the cashier assistant at Prince Shopping Plaza unabashedly humming to Carly Rae Jepsen's 'I Really Like You' (annoyingly a big hit there). 

I hope you'll find a reason to stay tuned on the blog over the next few days! :-)

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