Voluntarily Lost in Translation

 

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We mingled with Scarlett and Bill in the Tokyo Park Hyatt where Lost in Translation was set

After very nearly deleting the e-mail from the international office in Malmö, dismissing it as spam (the subject was: ‘CONGRATULATIONS’), I got an excited, correction over-excited call from my course friend (and real-life friend) Caroline proclaiming that we both got INU Summer School scholarships to go to Japan. Japan! Wow. The country conjures up contrasting images of traditional houses, powerful geishas, delicate temples and incomparable green nature onto a backdrop of colourful anime, cutting edge technology and competing neon signs. Which Japan would we find? We headed to Tokyo a week before the school started to find out.

 

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Cute (evertything in Japan aspires to be cute or Kawaiii) hints on how to behave on the metro

Landing in a city of 14million when you’re used to 300,000 strong Malmö you’re mentally prepared for chaos and being permanently lost. But we found that although the metro map looks like colourful spaghetti and there are multiple railways companies owning various lines on the metro, everything is amazingly logically planned. Most signs are in English, colour coded and numbered.

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Commuters

If you ever find yourself lost and can’t speak Japanese then gesture where it is you want to go and the upmost will be done to make sure you get it! Form what we experienced Japanese people are very private and great lengths are gone to not be an inconvenience to others for example

 

no-one pushes or shoves on the metro, no-one coughs, space is made for everyone with minimal touching and there is absolutely no loud talking on the trains. Maybe it’s these principles that make it possible to have such a high concentration of people without it spilling over into chaos?

 

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Smiles all round in Ginza, Tokyo’s playground for the rich and fancy (and us for a night).

 

Not knowing Japanese many of our experiences happened by chance. We adopted the habit of just pointing at random things on the menu and hoping for the best (all yum!). Much of the action if hidden from street view in Tokyo either underground (cooler and saves space) or up high in department buildings. So if you can’t read Japanese you can’t read the billboards advertising what’s inside but nothing stops you from taking the steps down to see what yummy restaurants can be sampled there, or going up to find men playng betting flipper in a trance (Pachinko). Fancying a cocktail in late night Ginza we acted on the ‘press a random button in the lift’ tactic and ended up in a bar- where the staff were as surprised to see us as we them! After initial excitement and confusion we all got into some old fashioned karaoke (we murdered Country Road), we all exchanged details and mingles with the suits and kimonos.

 

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Tokyo is a sensory overload with music blaring, bright colours and many new things for a Malmö accustomed brain to take in and understand. But maybe understanding shouldn’t be the objective- go with the flow, press the lift buttons and if you get lost there will most likely be a Japanese person who will politely help you out.

Impressions so far.

I (Nadja) just arrived at Green Hotel Morris in Higashi, Hiroshima. It has been a long flight for me and Lea, which is also attending this years student seminar in Hiroshima as a participant from Malmö University. Since we mostly have been stuck inside airplanes and airports before arriving at our hotel, our impressions of Japan are limited. However, the things we have noticed is that both Tokyo and Hiroshima are super clean – there is nothing left behind anywhere which even applies to the public bathrooms.

Speaking (or writing…) of japanese bathrooms, they are quite different from the swedish ones. Several colored buttons near the toilet indicate different activities such as getting sprayed with water. I have heard that some toilets also have a button for singing, which I look forward to hear, try and see!
Besides being a clean country we have only so far had great interactions with people. Even if our knowledge of the japanese language is extremly limited we have managed to buy bus and train tickets and order really good food. For a vegetarian as myself it might be a bit tricky to find the “right” food even if we have noticed that restaurants almost always have pictures of the food on the menu. Sometimes it can be hard to actually tell if a dish is vegetarian or not, but at Hiroshima airport we managed to order a completely vegetarian (at least I think it was) noodle soup. Our chopsticks skills were not satisfying since the cook gave us forks after a while. However, we will not give up our attempts to eat food in Japan the japanese way!
Now it is time for some sleep before having a japanese breakfast in the morning and exploring Hiroshima!

Konichiwa

11:33 AM

Greetings from Japan,

After 3 days in Tokyo I am now on the Shinkansen train towards Kyoto and I am utterly impressed with the Japanese transportation system. The trains are remarkably clean and nearly always on time (if not, you will receive the information, including an explanation behind the delay, on the live feed available on all public transport vessels), but the best must be the music played when arriving at certain stations. The tune varies depending on the stop but its generally an upbeat bitpop jingle, which always makes me smile. The purpose of these tunes is to ensure that daydreaming travellers, or sleeping commuters, wake up and don’t miss their stop.

Despite knowing about the Japanese appreciation for neat and tidiness prior to my trip, I am thoroughly amazed by the overall cleanliness. The safety of Japan stretch from the overall low crime rate to the extreme safety measures taken when public works are carried out. They usually employ a person, whom’s sole purpose is to guard the publics’ safety. The other day I was walking across the wonderful park located to my place of stay and despite walking several meters away from the park workers, who was trimming the lawn, surrounded by warning signage and blocked off by cones, I was asked by a uniformed man to kindly walk even further away from the works, in case I was going to be hit by grass. Every roadwork usually have such a guard, who simply watches the whole in case someone would remove the blockade and step into the whole. Health and safety measures to the top!

During my stay in Tokyo I have been fortunate to know people who live here, whom have guided me around town and provided answers to all my silly questions, like why people are wearing face masks (which is not, despite what one might think, to protect themselves from polluted air or bacterias, but to protect others from the bacterias oneself carries). My friends work colleague was wearing one the other day, due to a light cold, and he explained that it would be awfully embarrassing if he was to cough in the office. Good manner is also to clean your hands everywhere you go. Disinfection agent, or sanitary towels, is provided at mosts counters, such as at the post office, shop and restaurants. One does not generally eat or drink in public, again in order to show consideration for others, whom might not want to watch you eat. I made the faux pas by eating my Onigiri in public, when I should have gone to a hidden spot or a park. This could be one of the reason behind the absence of public litter. Another reason is the general prohibition to smoke outside, which the odd naughty smoker ignores. This results in no butts on the ground! Same goes for take away cups. Despite serval Starbucks I have yet not seen a single person drinking coffee from a take away cup. This also stems from the tradition of setting time aside for food and drink, it is not meant to be consumed in a rush.

However, the absence of smokers outside does not stop them from smoking inside, in connection with a meal. Whilst dining in the Ebisu area I found most people, and kitchen staff, smoking. It appears that behind the cleanness frenzy facade lies little filthy secrets. Japan is not particularly Eco friendly with little green energy and recycling.

Another backside is of the great organisational machinery, that represents the Japanese society to well. According to some non-Japanese friends it can be very frustrating for foreigners to work in Japanese companies at time. When suggesting new ideas, they are consider to have an attitude problem according to their superior managers, since it is not their place to voice opinions. As a ordinary worker, in contrast with managers higher up in the hierarchy, one is to follow all rules to precision at all times, regardless of whether the rules are efficient or not (many are not since great value is placed on the tradition of how things is to be done, which can be most ineffective at times) and without questioning. This of course results in some very good things as well, like the impeccable service one receives, or the genuine quality of production and food. To carry out ones work with the highest precision and accuracy appears to be equally important at all levels of employment. Nothing is done on a whim.

The consideration taken of others benefits me as a visitor greatly. Everyone is astoundingly polite and possess great manners. In the company of Japanese I feel terribly clumsy and rude. I have yet to learn the difference between the numerous levels of politeness when greeting, depending on to whom you speak to. The only skill I master is Japanese table manners. Despite the difficulty eating a whole fish with chop sticks I managed to wipe all the meat of the bones, for which I received paise from a Japanese friend.

If ever visiting Tokyo, make sure you stay or visit it’s old town, Yanaka, which survived both the great fire of Tokyo in the 30s and the WWII. The neighbourhood is very quaint, with a strong community feel. Before I left my traditional Ryokan, I signed the owners petition for preserving an old local tree, currently in threat of being torn down. The locals also worry a great deal about the widespread housing development in Tokyo, where the tall buildings leaves the elderly stranded on the top floors, unable to go out and about.

In a few short hours I shall join the monks and experience some zen through the daily meditation practises. At the temple I shall abide strict rules for sleeping hours, eating habits and silence. Per request my friend telephoned and organised my stay, and since there is no English spoken or website providing any information, I am somewhat nervous about not following the procedures correctly and offending the monks by doing something wrong (like sticking your chopsticks in the rice bowl is only done at funerals). However, regardless if I do or don’t they probably won’t tell me off since it would be impolite to do so. Despite Tokyo being surprisingly still, at least in comparison to hectic London where people elbow their way forward on the tube and police sirens constantly roaring, I long for the calm of the Myoshinji temple village of Kyoto.

/ Hedvig

1. Tatami, 2. Tsukiji, 3. Yanaka Cemetary, 4. Okonomiyaki

Tatami

Scallops

Yanaka

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