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Published: September 29th 2009
One Year! It went so much quicker than we could possibly have imagined. We are so excited (and have been for a month) to return home to our friends, family, dog, house, football, and everything else that we love about Georgia. At the same time, we're getting nastalgic already about things we will miss most about Tokyo. Japan is, if nothing else, completely different than any other country we have been or will ever go. If there is a bizarro United States, it is Japan. The people here are thin, unassuming, peaceful, ritualistic, spiritual, friendly, intelligent, and so much more. The country epitomizes Asia. Its lovely terrain has it all, from mountains to ocean, from city to country, and everything in between. It is steeped in a rich history that is savored and reveered, and directs every movement that its current generations make. To outsiders, this makes it complicated, unaccessible, confusing, and wonderful. While we're incredibly tired and weary of being foreigners, it is exactly the unique, alien aspect of everything Japan that makes it so special. Japan is like Popeye. It is what it is. And if you don't like it, you can kindly remove yourself, but I promise you,
you will NOT change it.
There are a few things that we we will not miss, some are little annoying idiosycracies, while other larger habits drive us absolutely crazy. There's the smell at 7-11 cooking oden (boiled veggies, eggs, fish, etc.) that attaches itself to you, and won't leave you until you shower. The logical thing to do would be to avoid 7-11, but when you don't have a bank in Japan, it is the only place where a cash station will take foreign cards (for a large international fee). Restaurants refuse to give doggie bags, because if you get a stomach ache the next day, they would feel guilty and take responsibility (falling on their sword). You may think it's your food, that you're the one who paid for it, but you aren't leaving the restaurant with the food you bought. Lord knows I protested this profusely to no avail.
Japan drives on the left side of the road. You would think that this would translate to the side of the road that they walk on. It doesn't. The Japanese have zero idea which side of the sidewalk to choose. It's chaos. Pass on the right or stand on the right. The escalators are all dislexic. Some go up on the right while others lean democrat. This anarchy creates numerous bumps and bruises. But in an odd twist, this is one area in which the Japanese lose their politeness. Not one person has ever turned around to apoligize for bowling us over.
Slingbox is one of the greatest technolgical advances that a foreigner could ask for. It has allowed us to watch our U.S cable box and with the 13 hour difference, we could record our favorite tv shows and football games and watch it during our 8-10 pm down time. The one problem is that slingbox sometimes decides not to work, stops and freezes during 4th and 1 with 32 seconds left as Ole Miss beats Florida in 2008. On top of this, you're watching it on a 15" computer screen instead of your HD TV. We won't miss this, AT ALL.
You would think it is wonderful to have your house cleaned twice a week, but trust me, it is really annoying. Every Monday and Thursday, 2 very nice japanese women would come to change our scratchy sheets, provide us with clean towels and wipe down our counters. The annoying part was not knowing what time they would show up. Not having all that much to do, Maureen would have to find places to go for 3-4 hours on those days. Communicating with them was also frustrating. Even if I tried to speak Japanese to them requesting them to come back in a hour they'd look at me like I was crazy. And really, this sums up our frustration. Our inability to communicate (wholly our fault), caused so much entertainment, but also led to hours of consternation.
Of course there are several things that we will miss. At 5:00 pm everyday, bells ring throughout the entire city. We were told that it is to make sure the PA system works in case of earthquake disasters (we experienced 5 earthquakes and they are something we will not miss). Regardless, it's a really nice touch to the city. It certainly does not symbolize the end of the work day. That comes around 8:00 p.m., we think. We can't be sure as we weren't at the office when everyone else left.
Tokyo is one of the cleanest places on Earth. It's unreal. Everyday, around 27 million people converge on the city by train and auto, half of them leave, but they take everything with them. There are 4 trash cans in the city, and all of them are empty.
Tokyo may be the safest place in the world. Everyone ignores one another. Clueless of what the next person is doing, it makes it nearly impossible to steal, rob, or cheat.
It is a wonderfully oblivious society. If you need help, forget it. But, if you trip, don't worry. No one saw you, and definitely no one cares. It is as if the entire society has no peripheral vision. You need help dragging that 40 pound stroller up the staircase? I would, but the 100 of us don't really see you or care. Ignorance, Bliss, it's nirvana.
We got screwed, guys. Women have had bidets for as long as I can remember. I've often looked at that nozzle with curiousity and envy. In Japan, there is an alternate button; one made for men. And, It's Awesome. Go, it's a cleaner. Can't go, it's an initiator. Why can't we have this in the U.S.? This toilet bliss extends all the way to the shower where alternative heads and nozzles await to blast your sins away. They love their baths, showers, and tubs. And, they should.
Some other things: I walk to the office. 5 minutes. no traffic. and coffee along the way.
We have a gym in our basement. Attached to the gym is a pool. We have exercised 4 or 5 days a week for a year because of this convenience. This extends to the Emperial Palace 4 mile run from our apartment. Running around a fortified castle, while no capital city club, is still pretty cool.
Snow skiing is an hour by train away and is a wonderful day trip. The powder is every bit as good as Colorado.
The known history is 3000 years old. The U.S. is 600 years old. The extra time has added a lot to history, art, culture, and attitude in Japan.
We haven't driven a car in a year. I think we've taken 15 cabs while in Japan. The transportation system is absolutely unbelievable. I think every square mile in Japan is covered by a train line. There's a reason the Japanese are punctual. Everything is timed to the second, and unless there's an earthquake, it's as smooth as silk.
But the number one thing that we're going to miss about Japan: Each other.
We were both thrown into a situation that we were completely unfamiliar with, and I think we both took on an "us vs. the world" mentality.
Without family, friends, and outside influences, we had only each other. As a result, Mo and I grew extremely close. All of the little things became inconsequential. We didn't have an argument in the last 5 months of our journey. When asked what my favorite thing about our year overseas is, it's not even close. It's Mo. I hope she would say the same thing.
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