Of all the things I’ll miss about Japan, I embarrassed to admit that number one is their exceptional:
I’ll never forget the welcoming embrace of a heated seat; nor the myriad of options available to the user while seated: rinsing, spraying, drying, deodorizing and sound. Some toilets had temperature controls, not only for the seat, but also for the bidet or “posterior” rinse; while the speed of the spray and the manner of spray could also be adjusted; as well as the volume of the “buffering” sound.
Whether I was in the airport or in a hotel or in a public restroom on a street corner, one feature was ubiquitous: privacy. Instead of “stalls” the Japanese provided “rooms” with floor to ceiling doors to support that most intimate of needs; and for that, they have my undying admiration.
2. Consideration of Children
I was dismayed to see that several infants and toddlers were to share the same cabin on my overnight flight to Tokyo. Instead of fussing, however, my attention was directed to how carefully these young families were nurtured by the flight attendants who could be seen heating up milk, providing pillows and blankets, delighting babies in their arms and frequently checking in on their mothers.
In the airport, there were mini-playgrounds to be found and specially equipped nursing rooms with cribs and rocking chairs and even cots. Well done Japan!
3. Passion for Detail
There are countless testimonies to the Japanese aesthetic, but one unexpected consideration stands out for me: the welcoming morning sight of a beautifully folded pink paper flower placed on the corner counter of the JAL airline bathroom after 200 of us shared its use for 12+ hours. (And check out the fresh flowers that line the walkway in the airport terminal.)
A box and bag and all kind of container lover like me is in heaven in Japan. The box lunches that I’ve experienced at Chinese restaurants only approximate the creative way in which the Japanese contain and present almost everything, especially food!
Every Japanese meal was a feast for attention–from the ceramic bowls, to the miniature spoons, to the varieties of pickles and rice and even salts. Breakfast included! Check out these rolls (the black ones are charcoal; the orange pumpkin.)
As I ate my way through Kobe, and Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo, I kept thinking, my doctor will be so proud of me: seaweeds, fermented foods, miso, rice and always–vegetables.
Even when ordering a decidedly Western breakfast of eggs and toast, they can’t help but draw our attention to better balance: adding a large salad to the plate of only a single egg.
Every Japanese meal was finished by miso broth–to enhance digestion. Even on the plane. On the return flight, they served us Clam Chowder to better prepare us for Boston; but along with it came a mustard green salad, pickles and bean paste (and miso broth.) Most notable were two delicate pink rice crackers shaped like flowers–with directions given to each passenger to crumble them into the soup. (Step aside, oyster cracker.)
7. Language & Kindness
I went to Japan (ashamedly) without any language; but even so I was able to travel on my own with the generous help of so many Japanese–who went so far as to leave their shops or offices to show me the way to another market or to a shrine or to point me toward home.
Of the few phrases I picked up there, my favorite was what they said as they answered their phones: “Moshi, moshi.”
I was only in Japan for two weeks and mostly for business so I’m sure to make many assumptions that may not prove to be entirely true, but what I witnessed in the Japanese was a consolidation of living instead of a separation of it.
While traveling on the subway, for instance, many (of all ages) used the minutes to catch up on sleep (respectfully using only the space beneath their chin instead of drooling on a neighbor’s shoulder.)
Even when working, intensely, most seemed to allow room for humor, for kindness, and for moments of connection; even in the most demanding situations.
It’s difficult to capture this orientation toward life, and it’s foolish to assign a glimpse to an entire nation, but there was something about the people, from all walks, which was precious to me–in their willingness to be available to so much more in each moment.
9. One-ness, continued
Perhaps another illustration of the above is this: in my explorations of Kyoto, for instance, I would stumble upon ancient shrines and temples smack in the middle of shopping streets or back alleyways or intersections.
The Japanese seemed able to evoke reverence no matter what the surroundings–even in a bar where they shoes were to be removed.
10. Kelly san
Imagine a world where everyone bows to one another; and what it feels like the first time your Japanese colleague calls you, not just “Kelly”–but “Kelly san.”
Kelly Salasin, May 2012
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