Japan March 2001

Konichiwa! Greetings from Japan. I arrived at Tokyo's international airport on Friday March 2 after a very easy flight from San Francisco. My fear of boredom on the 11 hour plane ride was quickly relieved by the individual video screen located in the seat back in front of me. There were very few Westerners on the flight and everything was in Japanese. Everyone was really polite and seemed to speak English (although I kept trying to thank them in Japanese).

I got in to Tokyo about 20 minutes late, which made me nervous because I only had 3 hours to clear customs and change airports. I was needlessly worried however as I was whisked through the most efficient airport system I have ever experienced. As I boarded the airport shuttle to Haneda, the domestic airport, I was already impressed with Japan.

I arrived in Fukuoka at about 8 pm local time which is 3 am back home. I was reunited with my friend, Michelle, who had graciously made the half hour trip to the airport to meet me. It is a good thing that she did because unlike Tokyo, nothing in Fukuoka is written in English. She got us on our way though and soon we were heading to Munakata where she lives with her husband, Barin. We had a lovely Shabbat dinner Japanese style on the floor of one of their tatami rooms. Unlike the common stereotype of Japanese living, they have a quite spacious apartment with nearly all the amenities of home.

On Saturday we got up fairly early and rode bikes over to Joy Yama, a local mountain that overlooks the ocean. Bikes are a very common means of transportation here, but they are a far cry from the 12 speeds we have in the States. Often times people will steal a bike to get where they need to go and then just leave it by the side if the road. People also tend to throw perfectly good things away because they got a newer version. That is how my friends happened to obtain 3 free bikes, a heater, a chair and other small items. Trash is actually a problem in general here as you can only throw away trash in special bags that cost a fair amount. In addition to that there are no public trash cans, so people tend to just drop things as they go.

The hike up Joy Yama was very pleasant and I had the added bonus of being able to practice my Japanese with over 100 school children who were on a hike that day with their parents. The Japanese here seem to have one of two reactions to gaijin (foreigners), they either do a "deer in the headlights" face and stare as you pass by or they are very animated and try to communicate with you in English. I have found that the people who are friendly are very friendly and a lot of fun to try to talk to.

That afternoon my hosts had to teach classes so I got to see one of the schools where they work. It is very small school and the students range from young children to the elderly. It is quite expensive for them though so learning English is much more common in the middle and upper class. I left and took a walk around the area on my own. I ended up at a huge supermarket called "Osada" which is kind of like Target, Safeway and Walgreens all rolled in to one. If was fascinating to see all the different foods. I even did some price comparisons and have learned that tooth brushes are a great deal in Japan. I ended up buying some cold medication because I had to admit that I was sick. Even that was a fun adventure though as I tried to ask the pharmacist if it would make me drowsy. He WAS able to tell me to take it twice a day after meals.

That night the 3 of us had a fabulous traditional Japanese meal at a local restaurant. The whole thing was set up by their boss at the school. We didn't have to communicate at all. They just kept bringing food to our private dining room. Lots of tasty sashimi and sushi. Between the 3 of us we were able to figure out nearly everything we were eating.

Well, that's definitely enough for now. I am only able to get online between 11 pm and 8 am so look for more adventures in a few days.

Kampai (cheers) - Drea

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