Japanese people tend to wear oversized shoes. And considering that high heels and even higher platforms are very popular in this country, the fact that the shoes are SIGNIFICANTLY too large (at least by one if not two centimetres!!!), it must be a very hard task to walk, I guess. That’s yet another reason why watching the wild nets of pedestrian crossings is kind of a spectacle. Now, the oversized shoe phenomenon doesn’t concern girls only. I’ve seen a significant number of boys dragging their feet in a funny manner (Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks seems almost boring next to that), trying very hard to no leave their shoes behind. If it was an isolated case, I’d ignore it as a funny one-off incident. But is it possible that this has some deeper cultural meaning?
But let’s start from the beginning. I’ve arrived to Tokyo at sunset and left at the sunrise (luckily, not the immediately following day). Tokyo bay sunk with sunrise, as you land almost on water (Haneda airport is literary built upon the sea), is truly breathtaking. My first amusement waited for me before I even officially entered Japan, namely: at the airport’s toilet. This all-in-one transformer device is more sophisticated that all my technology taken together. It can sprinkle you from the back, and from the front. It can just spray at you gently. You can adjust the temperature and the strength of that experiment, and you can make your toilet play some noise-reducing sounds. Ah, it can also dry you here and there once you’re done. Needless to say that the toilet seat has a built-in heating. And just to warn you, I haven’t explained even half of the buttons you find in this incredible device. I imagine it must come with a pretty thick user manual.
It seems like the personal hygiene is significantly valued in Japan. Sauna and typical bath seem to be an absolutely indispensable element of everyday’s life. The place which was my Japanese home for the time of my stay there featured hot-watered swimming pool with oranges floating in the water, and a very much appreciated sauna with a… TV behind a glass wall! Luckily for me, it was a time of sumo tournament, and it had a main coverage on the TV, if you don’t count some samurai stories. So I gladly watched the amazingly strong sumo fighters among the steam (on my side, don’t forget I’m in sauna), and sweat (that would be on both sides, I guess), before I went to see the final day of the sumo tournament live.
But Japanese people seem not only very clean, but also very helpful and gentle. One day I was desperately trying to find the Japanese sword museum, which was on my must-see list, despite of the warnings on every possible guide that it’s extremely difficult to find. I tend to ignore these kind of warnings (they say: it’s an hour walking, veeeeeeery far away, and 10-15 minutes later you are there). Not this time. I will immodestly admit that my navigation and orientation skills are pretty damn good. So I went there with confidence. But even with my iPhone help I was walking in circles. According to the map I was already there, at the museum, when in fact I was underneath some rather unattractive bridge! At some point I started to suspect that it was some sort of hidden museum, so I began to look attentively at the men walking by, trying to notice if they have some swords on them. Tokyo is quite crazy, it could be a live-mobile museum, couldn’t it? In act of desperation I was forced to make the use of very few polite expressions I managed to learn in Japanese, and ask for help. A girl, not much older than I, took the map and the phone from my hands, and started to turn it round and upside down, like most females do (forgive me girls, but how could you not be able to IMAGINE the way the map works without having to do these ridiculous upside-downs repositioning?!). It was clear she was more confused than I. She’s never heard about the museum and her finger was travelling dangerously far away from the district where the museum was supposed to be. I was expecting to hear polite ‘I’m sorry I don’t know’. But noooo, that wouldn’t happen in Japan. She stopped a man who was approaching us. He took his own phone out, and all three of us were trying to comprehend why the museum is not where it’s supposed to be. So we started to walk, trying to resolve this puzzle. One street, second, third, finally I saw a sword behind the shopping window. Hurray! It turned out to be the shop of the swords craftsman (oh, what a feeling to see all these beauties he was working on…!). The museum turned out to be two blocks away. I thanked my helpers multiple of times, and multiple times the answer was ‘Oh, that’s not a problem AT ALL!’. Once they left me at the very museum’s door, I saw them both running…! They must have been late to where they were going to, having wasted good 15 minutes trying to help me.. What an incredible kindness…! Oh lord, I knew I was about 5937 miles away from home…
But let’s not be fooled. This amazing culture of gentle people has it’s surprises. One day I found myself in the public transport during rush hours. Yeah, nobody likes rush hours, I know that. But what I experienced there was totally shocking and unexpected. First two stops were ok. A bit crowded but nothing major. Then it got a bit busier and someone rushed into the train violently pushing the others. ‘What a brute!’, I thought. How strange that nobody said anything. The next stop got even worse. The wave of ‘pushers’ didn’t seem to be human. There was no consideration for anyone and anything inside of the train. Two stops later I could barely breath (from the pushing and near-panic attack). My limbs were scattered between some other parts of the body belonging to my co-passengers. At each turn of the train, the crowd dangerously moved from left to right, smashing noses and whatever else it encountered on it’s way. I am really glad I have survived that. Later on I have learnt that at the bigger stations they hire profession
al ‘pushers’ to make sure no leg or hand sticks out of the train when it gets so busy…No wonder they need sauna and toilet-transformers after such experience…!
They do not say anything about the pushing on the train, but there is lot’s of shouting and voice raising at the Kabuki theatre. A unique experience. And despite of the visual side of it normally being explored, it’s the vocal part which completely astonished me. Kabuki theatre and sumo tournament deserve a separate entries in this blog. So does the story how I nearly murdered a young Japanese receptionist to make him express some emotions when he made a mistake which made my blood boil… Till then!