Saturday, July 16, 2011

Coming Home from Japan: Culture Shock

This is the shirt Brendan wore for our departure from Japan :)  As departures & traveling go, it was a pretty easy day. We had done the bulk of the packing on Thursday evening, so all there was left to do was clean up, look around, & stuff a few last-minute things (mostly food to go) in bags, & then zip it all up. The front desk called us a cab around 10:15 in the morning & then next thing we knew we were heading through the heavy Tokyo traffic (Brendan & I counted 39 Priuses during the 30 minute trip!) to Ueno Keisei Station. We bought 11:40 am tickets there for the Keisei Skyliner to Narita Airport, & had only 15 minutes to wait before boarding. There were hardly any other people in our car, which underscored the lack of tourist travel to Japan these days.
The trip took just about an hour. Here's a look at the train from a curvy part of the line.

And here are my beloved blue tile roofs:
They just sparkle in the sun & feel so Japan to me.

We were sad to leave, but somehow, traveling has it's own momentum, so we went with the flow. It was a great relief to get rid of the luggage at the airport, especially after waiting nearly half an hour in a huuuuge line to check in. Then security, where laptops come out of bags but shoes stay on :)  And then waiting near the gate for about an hour & 1/2. We bought lunch at McDonalds (it's become a tradition when we leave Japan), but I don't think I'll find the excellent ebi fry (fried shrimp) sandwich I had for lunch at Narita at our local McDonalds, even if I was inclined to go...

We had decided to upgrade our seat to "economy comfort" ones after the very cramped airplane ride to Japan, but that meant that we weren't sitting together as we usually do. Brendan & I had the window & middle seats right behind Charlie, who was at a bulkhead in the middle seat. The person seated in our row at the aisle wasn't very much fun to be near- he jiggled his legs a lot, which shook mine, & he wouldn't stand up when we wanted to get up, but made us climb over him. Sigh. But, it was only 9 hours to St. Paul, Minnesota, our jet-lag stop, & after flying 13 hours to Japan, anything less is really close to heavenly. It was a very lively flight, with a lot of kids, & just about every time I looked up they were feeding us (& Brendan & I did get our veggie meals- yay!), so we didn't really rest much at all. Brendan read & I knitted (hat #9 for my Nerd Wars dissertation!) & played Bejewelled. The time passed.

Then we landed in Minneapolis/St. Paul, & then we were going through customs, got our bags, back through customs with the bags, & then we were looking for a taxi. Even at my brief stop in the rest room at the airport, culture shock kept making itself felt. I automatically looked for a stall that had a western toilet because in Japan they have traditional toilets (basically a porcelain ditch with a flusher) everywhere, sometimes they're the majority & there's only one western one... but here they were all western! Duh! Plus, there were paper towels in the bathroom, something I only found once in Japan. All of the escalators were running, which was another difference, since in Japan, in most places, at least one elevator or escalator is shut down to save electricity. And the airport was cool, rather than on energy-saving mode like most public places in Japan. Plus, there was such a diversity of body-shapes & colours of skin & clothing being worn- we were definitely not in Japan any more.

 Charlie does internet searches for neat places to stay & he found a doozy this time in the St. Paul Hotel. It's a grand, old place in downtown St. Paul. Just gorgeous! Brendan has an airbed in our room & it fits just fine, we're not squooshed at all, even with all the bags.
Here's Charlie reading the paper this morning in our 4-poster bed. I feel like I'm climbing into a treehouse when I get in bed :D Kind of the opposite of a futon on tatami floor, I guess.

We found an italian place to eat last evening, although our bodies thought it was the wee hours of the morning, we were a bit hungry. Then we showered & hit the beds about 8:00 pm Minnesota time. I was awake again by about 2:30 am, & Brendan followed me about half an hour later. We read quietly until about 5:00 am, when Charlie woke up. I was starving!! I snacked on green tea cookies I'd bought in Uji & waited until 7:00 for the hotel restaurant to open. We all had lovely big breakfasts, explaining to the waitress that our bodies thought it was dinner time :)  Now we're just waiting for the nearby Minnesota Science Center to open at 9:30 so we can walk around & get ourselves tired enough to sleep again. It's supposed to be really hot in St. Paul today, but after a week of Tokyo's heat & humidity, I think it'll feel kind of familiar. Tomorrow we fly back to Upstate, New York & our usual lives.

I can't help but feel that my usual life will never be the same, though, having spent these 3 weeks traveling half-way around the world. Living in a place, even for just 3 weeks, that is so acutely aware of electricity usage has got to have an effect on my thinking when I get home because it became such a habit in Japan. Brendan discovered a bunch of new foods that he'd never eaten before, such as zaru soba, so I know we'll be enjoying some of these together when we get home. If I carry a tenugui around with me all the time at home, like I did in Japan, then I won't need to use the paper towels in restrooms, even if they have them :) I think the thing I'll miss the most, though, will be the time we spent together as a family, doing & experiencing things together. That's a pretty precious thing, & probably one of my best memories of all of this trip. Tomorrow- home!

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