Chapter 105: Ten things I learned in Japan

I’ve had a extremely hard time summarizing Japan, both conversationally and Chaptorally. It could be that the trip was so multifaceted it defied description, or perhaps Japan just stepped outside my comfort zone into a realm of new experience. Maybe I’m just not as good as I think I am.

1. A culture of non-immigrants
I’m used to the melting pot. Never in my entire life have I felt like the outsider as blatantly as I did in Japan. Something around 98.6% of the country is Japanese, and us whities and blackies and brownies stick out like Wizards in the Shire (though they’re not as short as implied). When I walked into a restaurant it occasionally felt as if the hostess would mouth “What is HE doing here?”

2. Japan has never been introduced to the Twinkie
“Jesus, there are a lot of really hot girls here!” I initially became worried that I had become inflicted by the Asiaphile virus that often besets white males with engineering degrees. However, there exists a much simpler explanation: the Japanese are just all very thin. Chase argues that it’s the diet, that culturally the meals are healthier and also tend to encourage smaller portions. In any event, the girls are incredibly skinny.

3. Recycle culture or “Someone stole the Trash cans”
There are very few public trash cans in Japan. By few, I mean that you walk around for 30 minutes carrying your empty fast food cup before you find somewhere legal to drop it. It’s a remarkably effective passive measure to force you to conserve and reuse your trash, or at least sneak into more restaurants.

4. Repressed sexuality and the objectification of women
Imagine the US where the 60’s never happened, or at least the feminist movement was a joke. Love hotels, masturbation motels, porn at every turn, creepy men on subways grabbing peoples breasts. And yet, the women just sort of smile passively and look the other way.

5. Japan has stereotypes of which you haven’t dreamed
There are roving bands of girls dressed up in a cross between full authentic victorian formal wear and Little Bo Peep’s outfit. Be careful when walking in crowded areas lest you be surrounded by a Group Of Guys Who Look Like Elvis. Also, we once wandered down an alleyway to find 30 teenage girls wearing tattered rags as fashion statements, sitting on the ground poking each other laughing.

6. Public transportation is the future
The train system is incredible: fast, clean, reliable. The subways are smoother than babies bottoms (we’re talking a constant acceleration between start and max speed, every single time). For being the largest city in the world, Tokyo’s transportation system made travel easier than I could have imagined (though stay away from the buses, good luck figuring them out).

7. You can do fine without much personal space
I had originally been worried about being surrounded by so many people at all times, but I found it was easier than I had thought. The scary parts of Japan for me had more to do with confusion and being lost than not having room to breath. Chase’s apartment was quite small, but after a couple of days you just get used to it. Arriving back in Alexandria felt like returning home to a warehouse.

8. I’m still learning as a trip planner
Vacations are incredibly important to everyone, and not everyone speaks up when group decisions are being made. It’s incredibly important to talk individually with your trip partners before you leave to get an idea of what they want out of the trip as a whole. Otherwise stuff just gets left out.

9. It took me about 15 minutes to become desensitized to the sight of a penis
Goldie and I went to two different authentic Onsens (bathhouse) while in Japan. I never had a shared shower experience in high school, so at first being surrounded by naked dudes was a little shocking. At the beginning I covered my package with my little hand towel timidly as I moved between different hot tubs, but by the hour and a half point I walked around with my hands on my waist and my hand towel thrown haphazardly over my shoulder. We’ve all got ’em, and judging by experimental observation they’re all *about* the same size, so what’s to be embarrassed about?

10. Anything to the exclusion of all else is bad
Japan was a long trip for me, the longest I’ve done without my parents involved. It wasn’t homogenous at all, changing gears and settings frequently. Context shifts are incredibly important with long vacations; you (specifically I) can’t survive doing the same thing for too long, so moving between cities and travel partners helped keep the trip interesting. If I had to do it again, I’d head further outside the cities into smaller towns and try to find some way to spend more time with Japanese people my age (too many Gaijins for my taste).

I’d go back.

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