This TL was written on March 25, 2007. Please see the link for accompanying picture.
Well, it's been an interesting few weeks in Japan and I continue to enjoy. I can't believe that on Monday I will have been here for one month. Where did the time go? I'm already lamenting the end of this tour.
Now, let me tell you about two outings I had in the last week. Last Sunday, I went to the Tokugawa Art Museum here in Nagoya. When I hear 'art museum,' my eyes start to get heavy because looking at paintings all afternoon can be a little boring. But, when I went to this museum, I had a pleasant surprise. It holds an art collection from the Tokugawa family who reigned in this part of Japan. They are an ancient Samurai family whose ancestor unified Japan as Shogun in the late 16th century. Essentially, he is the historical equivalent of Toronaga in James Clavell's 'Shogun.' Anyway, during the tour, we saw so many interesting things. For example, we saw Samurai armor, weapons, and even some spoils of war. As for the more genteel side of Japanese life, we viewed a tea ceremony in it's natural setting. We were there about two hours, but the time flew by.
At this point, you may want to look at the picture that I've attached. It was taken in front of the museum. Believe it or not, these are some of my colleagues and no, I haven't had a growth spurt in the last few weeks nor have I aged that much. The people here take really good care of themselves and look younger than their actual ages.
The second outing was with some of our trainees. These particular students are pilots and they wanted to take me out this week since some of them are graduating next week. I agreed to go, but also must admit to some misgivings about the event. I still remember my time before in Asia when I went out with colleagues and the night would never seem to end. However, this outing was exactly the opposite. We met at 7pm and went to a restaurant that served chicken wings and other assorted side dishes. The food and drink were great as well as the company. It all ended at a reasonable hour (1030) and I felt great the next day. I look forward to the next invitation.
One thing, I expected most of the conversation to be in Japanese, but they spoke English for most of the evening. As a matter of fact, their English improved dramatically as the evening went on. I can't say what the catalyst was for this, but I'm happy it was the case.
At this point, I'd like to point out some elements of Japanese culture that have intrigued me. To illustrate these, I'll use real situations from my time here. I hope you find this as interesting as I do.
(1) A friend of mine had invited me to view some temples outside the city. When I asked her when we would go, she told me 'sometime next month.' When I asked her why so far in the future, she told me that she needed time to do research. At first, I thought that maybe she had changed her mind about the trip and was putting it off. But then, I realized that she was being quite literal when saying she needed to do research. Apparently, the Japanese don't like to do anything without covering all the details. Another westerner told me that this is common and the person wants to be ready to answer all my questions about temples, etc. If I say I'm in the mood for Moroccan food, they want to be able to take me to the nearest Moroccan restaurant. If I say that this food is from south Morocco and I prefer the northern cuisine, they want to know (in advance) the fastest route to the alternate restaurant. I think this cultural feature explains why those Toyota cars are so darn good!
(2) In Japan, sometimes it's important to speak in an indirect way to get what you want. For example, a few weeks ago, I asked for some supplies for my office. The person I asked got a little nervous because she was not in charge of the supplies and didn't want to exceed her authority by getting them. Because of her nervousness, it made for a slightly uncomfortable situation. Since then, I don't ask for things directly; I just ask for them indirectly. I might say something like, "hmmm, I could really use a new eraser because I keep making so many mistakes." Then, I drop it and at some point in the near future, an eraser magically appears on my desk. I think it's a good system. I guess my biggest fear is not whether I can adapt to Japanese culture but adapting too much. I fear that when I return home, I'll have 'reverse' culture shock. Imagine when someone asks me to help them out with just a few minutes notice. I may say, "I need a few days to prepare for that if you don't mind." Or, when it's time to get new supplies, I may just tell the person that it would be great to have some pencils and then be surprised when they're not delivered to my room in a few minutes. Ohhh, I'll probably find a way to cope. Okay, I know I'm thinking out loud here, but if I accomplish one thing in Japan, it must be this. I have to find out who keeps topping off the paper in the copy machine. Somehow, the paper is never below full level when I make copies. Still, I never see anyone putting paper in the machine. This efficiency is driving me crazy! Ha, ha, ha! As always, feedback is appreciated . . .
Your loyal correspondent from Japan, Russ