01.08.2010 - 04.08.2010 30 °C
After getting off to a shaky start due to disruption over my flights to and from Japan, I feel I finally have my stride back.
Japan is a country full of contradiction and contrast- it is wonderful! I spent the first couple of weeks city hopping around Honshu and Kyushu; from the metropolitan jungle of Tokyo, to Kyoto, the countries cultural capital, Fukoaka the Kyushu beach city and to the A-bomb site of Hiroshima.
I must admit, I think I did experience a bit of a culture shock coming over from Sri Lanka, from traveling by my self, always on guard and in a developing country, to traveling with Mike, having to make decisions together and in a country which is extremely developed. Everyone looks immaculate at all times, people tap away of their iphones, ipods and ipads. The material wealth did take a few days to adjust too- now I stare enviously at their clothes and gadgets!
Though there are shopping malls, neon lights and gadget shops on every corner, the 'old culture' is still very visible. People are extremely respectful of one another in their interactions, and the bopping bowing ritual happens everywhere, with suited businessmen trying to out bow one another to show their respect. I've seen a girl bow to a deer after feeding it, and numerous train conductors bow to their carriage when they depart it. The latter scenario is part of the huge emphasis the country places on honor. Workers must be proud of their work and honor their employers. A conductor will bow to the carriage (not the people in it) as it represents his employer, so demonstrating his respect.
The stereotypes of the businessmen and giggling school girls are definitely true. Women still work around in light summer cotton kimono, and teenage girls get out their brightly coloured fashion kimono for festivals. I've even spotted a few elusive geisha whilst wondering the alleyways of Kyoto; in their white face make-up, they are always escorting businessmen. Women, geisha or not, still accompany, escort and entertain men. I've not seen many 'friendships' between the two genders. Men stick together in packs, and women float around in groups. Speaking to several people I've met out here who live here, there is a huge pressure for women and girls to appear 'cute' at all times. They don't raise their voice, always wear heals, giggle and eat with their hands covering their mouths. Needless to say Japan, though the 3rd largest economy (taken over by china 3 days ago) and one of the worlds most developed countries suffers one of the worst gender wage gaps.
This country has been fascinating to people watch, especially in Tokyo, I LOVE this city! Scratch beneath the urban jungle of the city, and you see groups of people practicing performance art on top of roofs, in alleyways and in parks. The lack of space forces people to perform in public. Galleries, cafes, amazing restaurants, boutiques, bookshops and manga outlets are hidden away. It has been wonderful to finally eat fresh healthy food- that's not curry! It is comparably cheep to eat here, which has allowed me to try some of the freshest sushi in town for breakfast, at the fish market at 6am.
I have been amazed with the architecture here. The average Japanese town looks pretty dull, with poor town planning, just prefab, gray boxy buildings. But then you will stumble upon a temple or shrine, nestled away half way up a mountainside or in the middle of a city business district, dripping in opulence and design. Coming in summer, though extremely humid, has allowed us to stumble upon many religious and cultural festivals which are celebrated this time of year. From the Gion Matasur festival where 35 giant floats are pulled by local men in Kyoto, to the O Bon festival (festival of the dead) at a controversial temple in Tokyo which commemorates the WW2 Kamikaze suicide fighters. The Japanese don't do festivals be half's either; fireworks, drums, dancers, floats, food and music fill the streets and and skies on festival nights.