A friend who is visiting Japan and posting pictures on Facebook made me think of my first visit to the country and all the things that surprised me about it.
Taxi drivers wear black suits and white gloves. The fact that Japanese cab operators dress very formally was just one of the unique and surprising things I learned about the country of Japan when we visited. Whether we were in Kyoto, Hiroshima or Osaka taxi drivers wore white shirts, dark ties, business suits and snug white gloves.
Even more intriguing was the fact that the seats of every taxi were covered with white lace. The headrests and seat backs were adorned with spotless ‘doily-like’ material. There was never a stain or a mark on the fabric. How could the drivers ferry customers around all day and keep their cabs so impeccably clean? It was a mystery to me.
Another intriguing thing about Japan was the plastic food. Every restaurant displayed colourful plastic versions of the dishes they sold. These were attractively arranged in cases or on tables in front of their establishments. I was curious to find out how these ‘plastic versions’ were made. I found out they are created by ‘food artists’ who look at photographs of the original food. They dip some of the actual items in silicon and then carefully arrange them on a plate adding artistic details till the plastic model looks exactly like the actual dish. Apparently, Japanese food replica artists train for two years to perfect their craft and charge up to $100 Canadian for one of their creations.
“Take your shoes off.” Of course, I’d seen old movies about Japan where people removed their shoes before entering a home but I thought that was a traditional custom from the past. No way! At the hotels we stayed at in Japan we were required to leave our shoes at the door. Granted, slippers were provided for those who didn’t want to walk around in stocking feet but no street shoes were allowed.
This was also the case in some of the museums and tourist attractions we visited.
I’d read the book Memoirs of a Geisha before visiting Japan but I thought geishas no longer practised their profession. I was wrong.
According to the guide on a walking tour, I took of Kyoto there are still a small number of geishas. Our guide pointed out the special symbol on certain teahouses that signified they were licensed by the civic government to serve as geisha establishments.
Apparently, there aren’t many geishas left since few young women are willing to devote themselves to the years of practice it takes to learn to perform the dances, play the musical instruments, read and understand the literature and poetry and carry out the lengthy tea ceremonies geishas must master. Also, the older women skilled at these things are dying and there are no new geishas to take their places as teachers.
The most memorable thing about Japan however was how thoughtful people were. Women in kimonos happily posed for pictures with tourists.
If a waitress made a mistake she’d apologize profusely. We got lost our first day in Hiroshima. We asked the owner of a camera shop for directions. He put the CLOSED sign in his window and left his store to walk us to our destination. As we left our hotel in Kyoto the owner stood at the door to personally say good-bye and give us a small parting gift. People couldn’t have been more helpful and polite.
I learned many interesting things about the country of Japan. I may forget some of them, but I will remember the polite and kind reception I received everywhere I went.
Other posts about Japan……