Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ten Lessons Learned in Japan

Since I returned from my 10-day (8-day without traveling) vacation, things have not been the same.  I haven't had a lot of time to process things, as I returned on a Sunday afternoon, returned to work Monday, blew through four holiday meals (without running at all), and am just coming up for air.

Things haven't been the same, because going on vacation for that long had not yet happened in my adult life.  The longest I had been off of work is 5 days , and I took 6 off for this one.  Also, this was my first time outside of the country.  That alone is such an eye-opening thing to do, and I can't believe I've waited so long to do it.  My world used to be so small because I was extremely sheltered, but that has made me appreciate everything so much more.

Anyway, I really miss Japan.  I know I only got a limited glance of the country, but already, I could see the stark differences between there and my home country, differences that make me long to be back there as I go about my day-to-day life back at home.  I'll elaborate more about this below.  Hope this doesn't seem antagonistic in any way... just observation.

Lessons Learned in Japan

1.  TMI alert! -- This didn't quite happen IN Japan, but en route.  So, this being my longest flight ever (~10 hrs), I prepped to be comfy -- glasses, Kindle, provided bedding.  Usually, when I feel nauseated during take-off and landing, I pop in a cough drop.  I was feeling fine and was even able to eat, but we hit an hour of turbulence, and no cough drop was able to keep me from getting sick (multiple times, mind you).  Since I had never been sick on a plane before, I wasn't prepared and used an inappropriate bag... which leaked.  Although I managed to miss my stuff, clothes, the bedding, and other people, I felt like the most vile person ever.  The rest of that flight was what I imagine when one would feel like in hell -- cramped, smelly, hungry, and dizzy.

Lesson learned: no matter how well you prepare, or how many shorter similar experiences you've conquered, your body can rebel.  Oh wait... I already learned that with running!

2. Japan is a place with endless beauty, a mix of the old with the modern.  We could all learn to bridge tradition with everyday life... an eternal struggle.

View during breakfast one morning: Atami, Japan.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kyoto

Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Kimono Show @ the textile district in Osaka!

3. Ramen.  Need I say more?  Speaking of ramen, check out the eggs that I ate in Japan -- the chicken yolks are SO orange and tasted GREAT.  It seems that something is definitely wrong with the U.S. food supply, so we're planning on switching to organic eggs after we run out.

Found this gem at Tokyo Ramen Street

EGG (Ichiran Ramen in Kyoto)

Hot spring egg at the Imperial Tokyo Hotel

4. Japan is SO clean.  You'd think with so many people living in a country the size of California, it'd be riddled with ickiness, but that simply wasn't true.  There was hardly any leftover gum on the floors, no dirt-covered cars driving around, no trash on the floor, and public places/things were... clean!  Even the homeless kept to themselves and didn't smell of urine and weed.

It seems like littering and such is just in bad taste over there, and people have so much more respect for property than in the U.S. (I was told crime rates there are pretty low)  Take note, Americans -- "freedom" doesn't mean you should make a mess!

Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
Also, even in crowded places, there was order in the madness.  It seems that people understand that rules exist FOR A REASON.

5. Going out of the country means trying new things.  Although meat is not something I willingly eat, I decided to try Kobe beef, knowing that this was probably the best and everything is "downhill" from that.  Again, something is wrong with the U.S. food supply.

Kobe beef

6. That being said, in spite of my theory that I would one day return to meat-eating permanently, I don't think I'd want that.  Yes, I had actually considered it for a while, but for one thing, meat is generally fraught with yucky things, so I'd only eat it if my parents made me or if it became medically necessary.  And even then, I'd limit it to necessity.

Todai-ji Temple: Nara, Japan

Besides, Kyoto (a region in Japan) has AMAZING tofu -- and tofu soft-serve.  I mean, the stuff in the U.S. is just not the same...

Tofu at the Miho Museum in Kyoto

Tofu soft serve in Arashiyama, Kyoto

7. Try new things.  Going this far away was new, but I'm referring to everyday things.  Like putting on a necklace to work, which I never did because I thought it'd give muggers on and en route to the train yet another thing to grab me by (seriously). In the short time since I've returned, I've met up with an old colleague that I didn't know very well, got into skin care masks, bought an AppleTV, and started eating rice for breakfast.

Oh, and singing karaoke in a yukata robe is definitely a new thing.

8. Simple things... are great things.  We stayed in a ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) for a few nights, and although sleeping on the tatami floor wasn't reminiscent of a Sleep Number bed at all, my back did like it at times, and on one of those nights, I was sleeping to the sound of waves crashing.

And let's face it... I can sleep practically anywhere.

You also don't need a zillion pieces of pasta to feel satiated.

And when it's just you and your food, you can focus on its inherent flavors so much more.

Ichiran Ramen (Kyoto)

9. I will always be a child at heart.  I don't have a huge number of pleasant childhood memories (not that it was all horrid, but generally mundane), but as an adult, I can still get excited about going to a Pokémon store and pose the original "starters" together for a group shot.  I wanted to take a lot of these home, but I've been so anti-clutter these days that this did not happen. =/

Pokémon Center at Osaka Station Mall

10. At the end of the day, or when you wake up in the middle of the night, it's nice to have a warm place to go.  Enough said.

(On a related note, I did use the non-Western style toilet, and it really wasn't that bad.  Kind of more natural, actually.)


I'm so glad I had this opportunity, and I will try not to stew over our pesticide-ridden food, dirty trains, or lack of manners too much as I await my return visit.  I will treasure my vacation photos (these were just a small percentage of the 1100 I took!) and the few souvenirs that did make it home as a reminder of something I will look back on when I'm on my deathbed.

And you can bet that I won't be littering any time soon (not like I was, but now I'm extra-conscientious).

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