Okay, now here is Japan.
My first impression when I arrived in Tokyo was the delightful toilet in the airport! Combo toilet, bidet, bum spray (with settings) and dryer. I was to discover that these toilets are the norm for Japan; houses, restaurants, public parks, gas stations, every where. (And they have the old timey squatters too - I had to use one once when all the western style were occupied and I couldn't wait). We first stayed for three nights at the Palace Hotel in Tokyo right across the street from the Imperial Palace. Cherry blossom season had just begun. It was to be mainly overcast with periods of rain and in the 50s temperature wise for much of our time there.
1. They are the politest people in the world - such kindness, manners and respect, at least as far as I know.
2. They bow to you from the waist to greet you, speak to you, acknowledge you, say goodbye to you and serve you.
3. Everyone dresses very nice everywhere you go. Most professionals, men and women, wear navy suits. The girls and women dress up no matter where they go - most seemed to be in skirts. The young girls wore a lot of skirts with converse or adidas type sneakers. I saw no weird hair colors (except for a very few teen boys who went orangey blond), practically no tattoos nor multiple body piercings. No one walks around in "ath-leisure" unless they are jogging. All the women and girls wear makeup. (Now I am saying "all" a lot which means very few exceptions). And beautiful makeup - eyeliner and lipstick especially. I loved all the different school's school uniforms - the students were so fun to look at too! The people seem to consider their outside appearance just as carefully and honorably as they do their gardens and homes and public places. It was glorious to behold and I took many pictures of just people and how wonderful it was to be to see pride of appearance. It made me realize by contrast how grungy and sloppy my country and many others are in dress, hair, property etc.
4. Japan is the cleanest country I have ever seen - if you drop your ice cream cone on a parking garage floor you can wipe it off (just to be safe) and eat it - ha! - that's how clean that place is! I never saw one cigarette butt, one plastic bottle, one tiny piece of trash on the ground - EVER. And I looked! The rivers, the canals that seems to run along the streets of so many cities and towns - no trash. We were waking across the street in Tokyo's "Times Square" and it was a sea of people, thousands of people crossing the street with us (and there were no crazy, grungy people wandering about), not a spec of trash on that incredibly populated street. There were many foreigners visiting to see the cherry blossoms but even they (and us) honored that pristine culture and did no littering. The country is very heavily populated and so the houses are built very close together but still you see only neatness; no piles of stuff in the yards, no garbage, no kid's toys, half empty bags of potting soil, no bikes laying around, cars on blocks - you get the idea! Oh how easy on the eyes it was looking at everything and everybody (except the weird food in the markets).
5. The Toilets! Dan and I are looking to install one in our bathroom or the powder room on the first floor for "public" use.
6. The gardens! The gardens seem to me not so much about flowers but more about trees, shrubs, moss, stone, water - places of peace, order, composition, texture and of course beauty. The cherry blossom trees grow along all rivers, all canals, yards, public streets, parks, lots, dotting the hills, everywhere. I imagine autumn must be just as spectacular because there are japanese maples planted everywhere as well and they show incredible color.
7. The Japanese eat really weird food - especially sea food. I don't mean to be disrespectful - the feeling is probably reciprocal and not to be taken personally. Many food items in the markets were unidentifiable to me especially the dried foods. Rice of course, lots of seaweed, pickled vegetables, and fish, fish, fish! And their beautiful pastries are filled with sweetened bean puree. Beans - cooked, sweetened and pureed and placed within a rice paste shell - exquisite to look at but a strange sensation to eat. I couldn't appreciate the two that I ate. At one of our hotels where we ate from the international breakfast buffet, there was an area for local foods - one of the dishes looked like a big bowl of tiny gray worms. The card below it said "white-bait". I looked it up later in the day and white bait (thereafter I saw it in dried piles at markets everywhere) are teeny tiny immature schools of fish (small fry) caught and dried whole. Dan and I stayed at an authentic Japanese inn called a Ryokan for a couple nights in the city of Kanazawa and our room included breakfast and dinner. Meals were to be served to us by one woman (who served us on her knees) in our own little closed off room with low table and cushions. I was stunned at our first dinner - nine courses and eight of those courses were fish - mostly raw accompanied by pickled veggies and seaweed. I was so stressed out during that meal because I really am not crazy about fish in general and I don't care for raw fish at all. I don't care for sushi. The dessert was a lovely looking sweet bean filled pastry that just didn't taste right. Breakfast the following morning was very similar and I truly started to cry and feel panicky because I didn't want to offend our hosts. We got out of dinner that night (we ate fried noodles and vegetable pancakes instead downtown) though we had to pay for it anyway and the second breakfast was a little more rice and egg along with fish - I did better with that one.
8. When you make purchases, they are wrapped or bagged so beautifully and then presented to you (with them bowing of course) - it's an art.
9. Banks of vending machines are everywhere - in the most unlikely places too. That's how I bought my Coke Zeros throughout the days. They don't serve much soda at restaurants.
10. I'd guess that one out of every ten or dozen Japanese people were wearing surgical masks that cover the nose and mouth. Masks were everywhere - on students, restaurant workers, people on the subway, walking down the street, helping us in shops - one young woman gave a talk at our church on Sunday morning and she work a mask while she spoke. I read that it's to keep yourself from spreading your illness or catching someone else's thereby preventing productivity and attendance at work or school.
11. I said "everywhere" a lot in the above summation - sorry.
And that's your glimpse into Japan, folks. Thank you for enduring all the pictures, though that's just a handful of what I took. I complained about the food but I really loved loved Japan!