I plan to post at least one piece that thinks through what I have learned from my week in Japan, but I want to get back to North America and ponder a bit. So, this post is about a few things I noticed along the way.
- For a country that has been economically stagnant, the place seems to be doing well. Far fewer shops closed than in many shopping centers and malls in N.A. The people seem to be deeply engaged--in work, in commuting, in play (loud, drunk crowd at the restaurant last night), and on and on. It just does not feel like an economically broken place ... even as the central bank ops for negative rates this week.
- Perhaps the stagnation has overwhelmed everything else, but this trip reminded me of the Japanese reputation for efficiency. Everything was incredibly well organized by everyone we met. The Foreign Ministry assigned a travel agent to us who accompanied us everywhere. Every train/plane/car was on time and got it us to where we needed to be. Every restaurant on the tour was excellent, and the ones we found on our off time (five nights) were great as well.
- Far more kids and young people for a place that is de-populating, which means that point number one should be taken with a grain of salt--anecdata is no match for the hard realities ahead here.
- Let it Go sounds great in Japanese. We were in a Kyoto pub for lunch yesterday, and the music ranged from Japanese Let It Go to various forms of Japanese rock (alternative, classic-ish, etc).
- Too much figure skating on TV.
- The sidewalks have yellow lines with slightly raised bumps to guide the blind. Never saw that before--good idea.
- The topography is pretty amazing--the mountains are so close to the bullet train (heaps of tunnels).
- Speaking of topography, I noticed that our hotels all had flashlights, and I noticed that the buildings under construction seemed to have a heap more steel support--definitely earthquake country.
- Tokyo is navigable for me because the subway is well signed in
English. The surface? Not so much. I think I will mostly be walking
along the major roads that have numbers, because most streets do not
have visible names.
- The bowing is real and strange, may be better than shaking hands, but can get over the top sometimes.
- About 10-15% of the people wear surgical masks on the streets and trains. Why? Germ-ophobia is one reason, but also apparently to keep their colds to themselves. Still freaks me out a bit.
- I probably will not become quite as much of a Japan-ophile as Burt Cooper in Mad Men, but I can see the appeal.
I will be returning to Japan twice in the next year--a research month in the fall and then two weeks in the winter to get the interviews I missed and to present my findings. I am very, very lucky. I asked a research acquaintance for some contacts last fall, those contacts led to a person who will be a terrific collaborator here, and my contacting the embassy led to this trip. Oh, and the affiliation my contact gave me helped to get me that fellowship that will provide for the support I need to do the two trips. Funny how these things work out.
Love these observations. Definitely a country I hope to visit some day.
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