Japan: With Eyes Wide Open

Aug 3rd, 2008 by Diane Seymour | 0

Image by hII!H

I promise to never again ask my husband why he is taking another picture out an airplane window! I finally realize that each time he flies; he recovers, at least for a few moments, a child-like curiosity and wide-eyed wonder of what he sees. You can’t always tell when those moments will find you.

Softball games, county fairs, picnics, berry picking, swimming in the creek, riding down hill on sleds, ice-skating on the pond, deer hunting, high-school plays…all scenes from my childhood in rural Pennsylvania. My grandparents, parents, other relatives, friends, and neighbors and I lived quiet lives revolving around family, home, and community. Trips to Florida and Canada were monumental adventures, exciting events celebrated with slide shows and stories of new sights seen. Only local service men experienced exotic lands across the oceans.

My limited knowledge of Japan followed me into adulthood: samurai, sumo, geisha in kimonos, rice, Mount Fuji, and green tea. As time passed, new images of Japan pushed their way forward – Japan as a powerhouse in technical innovations and top-notch manufacturing. And then, the real lessons began with my first flight west to the land in the east.

“I can’t believe I’m actually standing in Japan!” I thought, gazing out my high-rise window at the Keio Plaza. “It just doesn’t seem possible. Who would have ever believed that I would make it from the farm on Sugar Hill to Tokyo! I wish my Aunt Belle were still alive so that I could tell her I’m here doing business with…”

Japan! Where trains run on time and people politely wait their turn in line… Where taxis have pure-white starched headrest covers and people sensibly aren’t embarrassed to break into a run when late… Where simple lunches are served with care on real china and “set” meals are served without choices of side dishes… Where toilets make cheering noises and shoes are taken off in restaurants and placed in perfect alignment at the door… Where fish guts are actually listed on the menu and every meal challenges the I-don’t-like-seafood eaters of the world!

Japan! Where a westerner stands out like a red cherry in a bowl of bings and rules for bowing are somewhat baffling… Where clerks and waiters shout “welcome” and “thank-you” and wrapping up everyday packages is an art form… Where in business, a smile isn’t always a positive and a frown isn’t always a negative… Where centuries-old temples sit peacefully among high-rise office buildings and young people grow much taller than their elders… Where 3.5 million people pass through Shinjuku train station every day in such a rush of humanity that I have to look down at the floor to keep from getting motion sickness!

Japan! Where Mount Fuji looms off in the distance and bullet trains fly low through the countryside at 186 miles per hour… Where rice fields grow right up to back doors and no land is wasted on oversized lawns… Where the heaviest people would be among the thinnest at home… Where giants Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Fujitsu develop the latest have-to-haves and massive electronics stores hawk these wares with a lights-flashing, beautiful-girls shouting, loud-speaker blasting, wonderfully-chaotic style!

Japan! Where…

Even after making several more business trips to Japan, that moment when I gazed out over the rooftops of Tokyo for the first time remains forever etched in my mind. In today’s fast-paced and over-exposed world, we’re lucky to find occasional spontaneous moments of joyful wonder. Take another picture out the window, Gary. I know how you feel.

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