Temples, Temples, Everywhere

One of the things that I noticed almost immediately when we got to Japan was that even amongst the sprawling cityscape, there were little traces of efforts to preserve Japan’s traditional culture.  Sasha and I were amazed to discover a little temple outside of our hotel room!

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When we were en route to Kyoto, it was really amazing to see things like this in more residential areas.  Traditional Japanese houses were mixed in with tall apartment buildings.  We saw a few more temples and shrines on our trip, including the famous Kinkaku-Ji, “The Temple of the Golden Pavillion”, and the oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-Ji.

It might be because it was around the beginning of the New Year, and it might have also been because of its status as a tourist destination, but Senso-Ji was PACKED.  Regardless of what direction we were walking in, we felt like we were salmon swimming upstream.  We saw a few women wearing their traditional kimono, and many people were rushing to wash their hands in the purification fountain near the shrine itself.

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Japan is moving forward at a rapid pace, there’s no denying that.  Technological developments such as faster shinkansens and robots that can perform different tasks are coming from Japan on a regular schedule.  However, I was impressed to see the efforts that have been taken to preserve temples and promote the preservation of the nation’s culture.

The Fine Art of Slurping

Some tasty noodles with fresh veggies and a fish cake. Yum!

Some tasty noodles with fresh veggies and a fish cake. Yum!

             I was aware before coming to Japan that noodles were a staple food source here, but my previous conception of what noodles are has been completely dispensed of.  Noodles are not served as pasta, nor are they some plain and boring affair simply served beneath the main dish or on the side to provide carbs; noodles here are served in a variety of broths with a mix of veggies and sometimes meats.  It is best likened to chicken noodle soup, but with a much more intriguing mix of flavors and textures provided by all the seasonings, somewhat chewy seaweeds or greens, crunchy stalk vegetables, and of course the soft noodles themselves.  These noodle soups do have one thing in common with all other noodles dishes though; you can’t fit their expansive lengths in your mouth, so you are left with slimy tentacles plastered to your chin. Fortunately, in Japan, the age old dilemma of whether to awkwardly chew off the ends of the pasta or suck them up and sound like a dying vacuum cleaner has been decided for me!  In fact, enthusiastic animal noises while eating your noodles are considered a sign of appreciation and it is rude not to make them!

            Despite manners no longer inconveniencing my noodle consumption, this noisy technique is not without its pitfalls.  Over-aggressive slurping can turn your eating companions into a confectionary splatter painting, while too much caution can result in an wholly underwhelming performance.  I have thus decided to describe a few different strategies for producing appropriate slurping noises without creating the messy catastrophes that likely prompted the Western ban on such.

We all sit down to some noodles at a temple. Not some expert use of chopsticks in preparation for slurpage.

We all sit down to some noodles at a temple. Note some expert use of chopsticks in preparation for slurpage.

            First, simply drinking the simple act of drinking broth straight from the bowl is an easy way to produce pleasing slurping noises with minimal risk.  I think my proficiency with this technique arises from years of not so subtly downing all of the milk in my cereal bowls before anybody could stop me. With just a little more finesse, I can apply this to my broth drinking and effectively show my gracious host or chef that they have the best noodles this side of the Pacific (or anywhere really).  Of course, there are some pitfalls to such slurping that one must be aware of.  Multiple times now I have taken on a bit too much broth and incidentally reversed the roles of my trachea and esophagus. Don’t do this, it hurts.

            If the broth is too hot to risk pouring the whole bowl down my throat, or I am just not feeling very adventurous, it is not out of the question to use a spoon (the spoons here are much deeper and hold more liquid).  While not as dramatic, this safer approach still allows for a short slurp that gets the point across.  You really can’t go wrong with spooning.

A nice bowl of Curry Noodles.

A nice bowl of Curry Noodles.

            Of course, slurping the noodles themselves is the main event.  Mastering the art is actually fairly tricky.  Simply creating a vacuum and sucking up the noodles creates a crazy daisy situation complete with wildly thrashing noodles and showers of hot, salty broth.  On the other hand, attempting to collect the noodles into your mouth using your tongue is both slow and sadly insufficient in the slurping sound category, even with some lip-smacking accentuations.  Rather, I have found that a practiced slurper alternates between these methods to achieve the full effect whilst still maintaining some dignity.  Having figured all of this out, I believe that my noodle consumption has become an enjoyable event for everybody involved, which is good because I have eaten a lot of delicious noodles and plan to eat a lot more.

Homey Feeling in a Foreign Country

As an immigrant in the United States from India, I have had many experiences of culture shock and continue to have them. I was a ‘double foreigner’ in this new country called Japan; I was fortunate enough to have this opportunity due to a grant given from the Japan Foundation and a collaborative effort of professor Armstrong and professor Takahashi. Before going to this trip, I had a very clear image of how the culture in Japan would be. Although the real situation of Japan economy did not resemble the image in my mind, the image in mind of the culture in Japan turned out to be reality in many aspects. While I was in Japan, I felt that the Japanese culture is very close to the Indian culture.

DSCN0869 My first morning in Japan started with very delicious ginger tea, which made my day    and reminded me of chai from India. Eventually, the wending machines were like a gift from heaven to me.  They were very convenient as you are able to get hot drinks and cold drinks from the same machine including beer cans. I believe the invention of these machines must be for efficiency reason and to sustain the cultural test in today’s fast running Japan.

 

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Then we had another great cultural experience in the evening when we went to this very homey restaurant run by a very friendly couple. They both made really decent home-style food and even offered us  free soup. We were very delighted with the food and the hospitality from the couple. That is what I call traditional Japanese hospitality which I have missed at times after leaving India. I also enjoyed drinking soup through the bowl; because I am more used to of not using utensils to eat. Then, the real challenge came when I had to use the chopsticks for every meal. Using chopsticks is a very interesting tradition in Japan but I believe this tradition must be very old and started before the invention off utensils to eat. This truly is cultural sustainability.

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It seemed like that modern westernized clothing took place of the traditional Japanese clothing among the majority of Japanese people. In a huge crowd of Japanese, even in temples, it was hard to find people wearing traditional clothing. It was hard to find a place where you can buy the traditional clothing in reasonable price. This was very different than the situation in India; the traditional Indian cloths are very easy to find anywhere in India. However, the Japanese traditional clothing pattern has not been influence by the modern designs, unlike to Indian designs.

 

 

Influential Minds Part 2

This post is about our meeting with Takayuki Mori. I wrote part one about my impressions of our meeting with Hiroaki Koide, it loosely ties into this writing, and can be found here.

A disclaimer at the beginning of this writing that my facts are from memory, and it was a very long day at Mori-san’s house. There isn’t much to be found on the internet in English about Takayuki Mori or his business Aightowa(literally: “the definition of love is” in Japanese), presumably this is the official site, and facts gained from a google translation of it will be dodgy at best.

Takayuki Mori is well known in his local part of the Earth’s surface for being, among other things, really different from the people around him. He is a 74 year old retired local ecologist, living in Arashiyama Kyoto and running a business out of his grandoise(for Japan) energy efficient house and living mostly(entirely?) off of subsistence farming on a very large(for Japan) piece of land. According to the website, it’s 1000 square meters, about a fourth of an acre. His wife is a famous doll maker, creating beautiful traditional-Japanese looking dolls that can sell for as much as two cars, and running regular classes teaching her doll making, with over 60 people drawn to the craft. Mori-san gave us a long lecture in two parts and showed us all the wonderful things around his estate.

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I’ll begin with what he had to say about his home. The first thing that comes to my mind is the solar panels on the roof and a design using sunlight for as much free heat as possible. He had also planted many foreign deciduous trees in his yard, so that leaves would block sunlight in the summer keeping it cooler, and then fall off and allow sunlight in the winter making it warmer. He pointed out a shrub over the stall he built for his car – also there for a similar reason of seasonally affecting the car’s temperature favorably. We gazed in awe at his garden of subsistence farming, he mentioned that they had a planting and harvesting schedule that ensured the foods they liked were available year round. He boasted this was an efficient use of a small amount of land, saying that large machine driven farming with same-crop fields might be efficient for the amount of work done by a single person, but it’s wasting space(space is very precious in Japan, even graveyards are crowded) and preventing the employment of many. We walked around his garden and he showed us an outdoor pizza oven he built.
Every five steps he had some home made ingenious cool thing to show us, all of it having some purpose toward efficiently living easier. His two part lecture, if I can possibly summarize it, was about consumerism back to the beginning of human history, his studies of present day primitive cultures(people making a lot of use out of very little to live), and his idea of a new age of society where we have integrated minimalism and efficiency with science and technology for the sake of sustainability. He took the lecture down many winding directions, describing how people are taught by society to buy, people defining themselves through buying, a “trap of consumerism”, whether to choose hope or despair in the face of today’s society, and on and on.
More than anything I was in awe of a person living their convictions and successfully living life their own way, trying to change the culture through leading by example. It’s something I find beautiful that I don’t see very often. Toward the end of his lecture and through the questions asked he was talking more about the treasure that is art and creativity. He mentioned, in response to a question from another group member about where the money for his place came from, that his wife was originally teaching people to make dolls for free, but the students insisted on paying, and that created the class. It struck a few bells in my head, “hey, I’m an artist living life my own way, maybe I could ask him about my methods and he could give me a thought to take with myself” I thought.
How to phrase it though, what am I even trying to ask? Through Professor Armstrong’s translation, I gave him the following preface and question. I’m a painter that’s been giving my work away for a long time. Sometimes people offer me money for my art, and even without knowing all the information you’ve presented(I was referring to his concept of a trap of consumerism), it hurts my feelings when people offer me money. How do I reconcile?
His answer was straightforward common sense, the conventional wisdom. The same sort of thing my yoga teachers have said in past conversations. The same sort of stuff any adult will say over the counter to me while I’m making them espresso and milk at work. His version was a tad more elegant and elaborate, but the points were the same. “You have to decide for yourself what to do and do what makes you happy. Making money doesn’t mean making happiness, but if you don’t make money you have to deal with not having any.”
It’s the same stuff but it’s different hearing it from someone that’s unique honest and successful, as opposed to it coming from the average passer by that just seems to know everything about someone else’s life. It’s the same stuff anybody else says, just coming from him it seems more like a true story that a person can be successful with this attitude, more like experiential knowledge, empirically proven. Do I have anything about myself to change after that? Not at all, just now the idea of doing what makes oneself happy has even more validation for me.

Aightowa-An Inspiration in Living Sustainably

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Welcome to Aightowa

            Our first full day in Kyoto we took a trip to visit Professor Armstrong’s host parents from her time as a student in the city.  The visit to Aightowa (the name of their property) turned out to be my favorite event of our tour of Japan.  Morisan Sensei has spent over fifty years creating a sustainable lifestyle that I found truly inspiring, and has further developed theories to apply his philosophies to communities and businesses.  His wife is a master doll artist and not only sells some of the finest dolls in Japan, but runs classes and doll making groups.  Between the incredible stories this couple had to share, the beautiful property they lived on, and the stunning landscape surrounding us, I would venture so far as to say this day changed my life.

I love being in the mountains. A lot.

I love being in the mountains. A lot.

            I was first struck by the beauty of where we were on the walk from the train station to Aightowa.  Getting off the train was the first time I felt like we were actually in the mountains, and immediately I felt at home. Ahead, the earth sprawled majestically skyward, while behind us the valley revealed terraces of rooftops extending toward more mountains in the hazy distance.  The neighborhood we were passing through was a bit more suburban then the densely packed concrete and neon jungles we had previously spent much our time in, and I found myself highly appreciative of the more traditional architecture and more frequent appearances of nature. Along the way, we ventured through a small bamboo forest, and I found myself completely shocked at how tall the stalks grew!

I love being in forests. A lot.  I now know that bamboo forests are no exception

I love being in forests. A lot. I now know that bamboo forests are no exception.

            When we arrived at Aightowa I instantly felt like this was somewhere I belonged.  The seamless integration of nature with the living space was exactly what I had envisioned when I thought about sustainability in Japan and was inspired to apply for this trip.  As Morisan Sensei described to us his vision and how his property reflected that vision, I was constantly reminded of the life my Mom created for my sisters and I at home and became increasingly convinced that this was the lifestyle I wanted to return to.  The general idea is that one produces as much as possible to meet his or her own needs.  Morisan Sensei was the first Japanese citizen to purchase solar panels for his own personal use nineteen years ago (an act that first brought him into the spotlight as a pioneer of sustainability).  A moderately sized, self-tended garden provides a significant amount of the food consumed at Aightowa, some of the plants are used to shelter the car port, and other deciduous trees are used to provide shade in the summer and sunlight in the winter.  Dead or trimmed logs are used in the fungal garden or as seats, multiple compost piles allow for disposal of all wastes effectively.  Everything has a purpose.  The woodstove provides heat for the house as well as cooking, although it does not live up to Mother’s six stove top woodstove.  I wish I could list all the incredible innovations Morisan Sensei had come up with to create and reuse as many of his own resources as possible, but it would take hours (our own tour took nearly two hours, and that was with visual aids)!

A portion of the vegetables grown at Aightowa.

A portion of the vegetables grown at Aightowa.

            What I can do is relay some of the philosophy Morisan Sensei shared with us as we gathered in the house.  The key to sustainable living, he claimed, is combining older modes of living as generalists and in strong communities with modern technology.  I have always envisioned Japan as the epicenter of such blending of ancient tradition with modernization, hence my interest in traveling there, so I was taken aback to learn that Morisan Sensei is unique among the Japanese for having such views.  To demonstrate how his style of sustainable living makes sense, Morisan Sensei divided human history into three ages: Primitive, Agricultural, and Industrial.  He had a lot to say about each of these ages, but the takeaway point was that in the industrial age we had developed the technology for mass production, but no longer held regard for the finite resources provided to us by the earth that we had in earlier ages.  He posited that if we re-attained an appreciation for and cognizance of these limited resources, we could combine that with modern technology to enter a fourth age, which he dubbed the Age of Awareness.

The Shinto religion worships the myriad Gods that exist throughout the natural world

The Shinto religion worships the myriad Gods that exist throughout the natural world

            The way Morisan Sensei proposed this society shift should take place is what really changed my outlook on life.  Simply put, he suggested that if we began to draw our happiness from what we create, rather than what we consume, we can reach the age of awareness.  This seemingly simple idea seemed to sum up a philosophy I have been trying to form for years, but was unable to put into words; our standard of living has far exceeded what we need to be comfortable and happy, but we remain dissatisfied because of our need to consume more.  Of course, such a shift in perception in impeded by layers of media portrayals and corporate motivations plastered on so thick it is hard to see the other side, but I believe it can be done.  I can look up to my mom, and the happiness she draws from her small farm, even when it requires five hours of her attention after a nine hour workday.  I can take ideas and inspiration from Morisan Sensei and his wife, who use profits from selling dolls (some of which go for upward of $10,000!) to become more sustainable, because it is artistry and self-reliance that make them happy. I can make changes to my own life and share it with others and start making these societal changes.

Some Beuatiful dolls wave hello or farewell as you enter or leave Aightowa

Some Beuatiful dolls wave hello or farewell as you enter or leave Aightowa

            Ok, so maybe I am being a bit idyllic, but these ideas really gel with my life philosophies, and have helped me to solidify some of my beliefs, and I really do intend to start living by some of them.  I have already reached out to my friends Tara and Craig about their work with eating healthier and more sustainably (you can go read their awesome blog The College Greens).  I probably won’t go vegan as they have, but I can certainly start finding foods grown locally and by companies not driven by profit to the cost of the future (Craig and Tara, hold me to this).  Anyway, I wish I could convey everything I learned in my five or so hours at Aightowa, but I hope I was able to convey how cool this lifestyle is and how it has influenced me in this (somewhat) short space!

Looking down the mountain from Aightowa provides a host of stunning views!

Looking down the mountain from Aightowa provides a host of stunning views!

Food!

One of the key aspects of a culture is its customs with food. Luckily we had PLENTY of opportunity to try all sorts of culturally typical Japanese foods.

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“Parent and Child” Chicken and Egg over rice with Soba Noodles

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A typical japanese fast food breakfast – Miso, rice with raw egg, beef and tea!

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Sushi and Sake for Lunch!

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Shrimp Tempura Soba

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Bento box for dinner on the Shinkansen

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Spicy three cheese tofu in Kyoto

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Japanese Omelet

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Dumplings

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Matcha (Green Tea) Ice cream

 

I think he best way to learn about another culture is to completely immerse oneself in it.  One way of doing this is through a cultures food.  Luckily in Japan we got the opportunity to try many different foods.  I felt like by experiencing the food of Japan and the customs surrounding food, I better experienced the ancient Japanese culture.

 

 

 

Sustainability

Does ability to fluently speak a language mean that you will not have any troubles and misunderstandings communicating with people from a culture where this language is native? Neither of us can really speak Japanese yet, but even without knowing Japanese perfectly, we clearly understand now that the answer is no.

Cultural Sustainability

I have heard about specifics in Japanese culture several times, but never had a clear idea of how exactly all this looks like. It is hard to say what is more important in this country – to know the language on an appropriate level, so that you can say what you want to say and understand what people tell you, or to be aware of cultural peculiarities, social norms, and unspoken rules. Such peculiarities are very important in every culture, but I believe that in Japanese culture they have their own, special place, and people of all ages value them a lot. We, foreigners, can be forgiven for not knowing and thus unconsciously violating them from time to time. However, the impression that we make in such situations is not the best one. But Japanese people are really delicate and tactful, so they may never tell you that you are doing something wrong. Japanese people themselves, on the other hand, can never be forgiven for violating the rules and norms that they are all supposed to know.

All this may sound too complicated and completely unnecessary, and yet it is not so at all. I personally see some kind of charm and specialty in this subtlety of communication. This shows that Japanese people have brought their own traditions and customs through ages without being completely influenced by other cultures. They have not lost their mentality, which I find worthy of great respect.

Cultural Sustainability

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Language Sustainability

But mentality is not the only thing that Japanese people have been keeping for ages. I find Japanese language magnificent as well. There is no surprise that it is difficult to learn for non-native speakers, but I am certain that it is worth learning. Though kanji characters may sometimes seem complicated, if you look at them closer, they all make perfect sense. Besides, the characters are not meant to be written in a hurry, and that is why each of them carry special atmosphere of calmness and concentration in every stroke. Exceptions are common in Japanese language, the amount of characters is enormous, but all this is an essential part of the whole Japanese culture, and it cannot be replaced by any other type of language.

We talked to a lot of people during our trip, and most of them did not know English, which is known as an international language. It may be seen as an inconvenience in communication, but for me it is clear evidence that Japanese people value their language very much and do not want to change it for any other, even if it could open lots of new opportunities to them. It is an illustration of self-sufficiency, rather than estrangement.

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Environmental Sustainability

The self-sufficiency which I mentioned above can also be seen in a way how environmental resources are used in Japan. Land of the Rising Sun is small, especially considering such big population, and the situation with resources can be tough. But our visit to Takayuki Mori’s environmental friendly house left a deep impression on me – not only because it was very cold in it (which is not surprising, as Mori-san does not waste the energy when it is not necessary), but mostly because it showed that people in Japan know how to efficiently use what they have and how to live in harmony with the environment that surrounds them. Using solar panels, reusing, recycling, and consuming only the amount of energy that they need without wasting it for nothing – everything mentioned is clear evidence of wise usage of resources that Japan has got.

A lot of places that we visited, both in big cities and in the countryside, were surrounded by strong green trees, crystal clear water of lakes and rivers, and were full of fresh air. On the other hand, everything is made for people’s lives to be convenient. The recycling system is greatly developed, and no garbage can be seen on the streets. Even when me took a local train (which I cannot call a subway train as it is not underground), we could see beautiful mountains most of the time, which fascinated me a lot. People and nature are neighbors in Japan. They are friends, not a consumer and a prey, and not rivals.

Golden Temple

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Nuclear Sustainability

Another thing that I found surprising was a lecture on nuclear sustainability in Japan given to us by Professor Hiroaki Koide. I am strong in neither biology nor chemistry, so there were things that I did not completely understand, but I got the main point from the very beginning: most of what I had thought about nuclear power is not true at all.

First of all, nuclear power is not as sustainable as it is believed to be. It uses uranium, and we do not have a large amount of it left, so soon enough people will run out of it. Second, nuclear power does not prevent global warming; rather, it makes it worse by heating the oceans and the whole atmosphere. So this is just another myth about the benefits of nuclear energy, which is not actually true. Also, the harm caused by radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants is enormous. And the worst thing about it is, there is no safe way to dispose it.
All this, along with most people’s unawareness of what the nuclear power plants really are, is not just a problem that needs solution. It is a disaster that can by no means be ignored, but yet it often is. And this is really frightening.
I, however, believe that the way out of this situation can and will be found soon. During these eight days, I saw myself that Japanese people care a lot about environment of their country, and nowadays they tend to use more and more environmentally friendly resources and products, which shows their deep concern in what is happening in their country. This not only gives me hope, but also assures me that the solution will be found soon.

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In conclusion, I can tell one thing: after visiting Japan myself I realized that I had had no idea what this country is. And this is normal, I guess, as I barely can imagine the whole country with its people, nature, and language by only reading my textbook and searching information on the Internet. After all, it is better to see something once than to hear about it hundred times, right?
But actually, there is one more thing that I know for sure: I will definitely visit Japan again, when I have an opportunity to do it. Eight days are enough to have some adventures and to form an idea about the culture and current state of Japan, but it is definitely not enough to explore this fascinating country.

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Space – January 6, 2013

Japan and America have very different ideas of space usage. In America, we have a bigger landmass, so there isn’t as much pressure to fit in (literally). However, in Japan things are different. When we first arrived at the Kinuya Hotel, we noticed that the doors were very small. As we entered our rooms, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were two beds that were smaller than twin size, and very much closer to the ground. Don’t even get me started on the bathroom.

80% of our hotel room is represented in this picture. No, that is an exaggeration... more like 70%.

80% of our hotel room is represented in this picture. No, that is an exaggeration… more like 70%.

Usually small rooms get cramped and crowded, but these rooms weren’t uncomfortable at all. After this experience, I began to notice other slimmer accommodations. The roads and the cars that drove on them were much skinnier. An American Hummer car would actually cover the entire road here, that’s no joke. Beyond this, business have less cubic feet of space per floor, but make up for it by having multiple floors; a video game arcade with five or six floors is pretty common. Space costs a lot of money here, and that’s not just Tokyo. Fukushima is a smaller city, and the tight architecture was still there. As Armstrong-sensei told me, Japan grows up and America grows out. The trip is still young though, I might see something different later on!

A Large Crowd of Polite People

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It isn’t as extreme as I’m about to put it but imagine yourself working a busy convenience store and saying to every customer who buys as much as a pen “Thank you so very very much for shopping here we appreciate the business goodbye take care of yourself!” and meaning every word of it. Hold the enthusiasm in place, but reduce it to a normal-sounding amount of words, and you’ll have an impression similar to what I’m getting from people in Japan. Working at Bucknell’s 7th st cafe I often get a sense of how well knit the community is – how the school’s organizations and the students parties seem to be a powerful driver for making as many social connections between them as possible, and how they seem to share a collective mindset. I’ve also seen a group mind at work when working in previous food service jobs. A powerful negativity caused by stress and reciprocal feedback among the employees.

I have never seen before, a culture that has internalized consideration of others so deeply. Crowds, I’ve seen before, but not polite crowds. They apologize, they welcome you to go first, they’ll hold your camera and take your picture for you if you so much as ask. They don’t litter! The massive crowd in the picture above and I saw no trash laying in the street, not even a cigarette butt.

When the group entered the place in the picture above, Sensoji, we agreed to meet at the end of this long row of shops. The crowd was so massive I had lost sight of all the group members halfway through. I’m embarrassed to say I forget the details, I think this was a new years celebration of some sort, the majority of the crowd walking toward the temple at the far end for some ritual of cleansing and prayer, stopping to look in shops along the way. Moving in one direction but they didn’t push or force, and one could move the other direction without being trampled. Often I would stop my feet to let my camera focus and take a picture, and then get bumped from behind and apologized to. A few days and a few more crowds later, I’ve learned to look behind myself before I stop, not because I don’t like being bumped, but because it hurts my feelings being the only rude one.

Many of the places we’ve been I’ve felt myself standing out in the crowd because I don’t know the motions of it(and because I’m tall, white and pointing a camera everywhere). Yesterday when walking onto a train platform after arriving in Osaka, Professor Armstrong was leading the group, which had functioned up to that point by walking in a line and cutting through the train platform crowds, and I saw a gap rapidly form between myself and the group members in front of me. Dr. Takahashi, who was at the rear of the group, quickly provided me the information “Osaka people are more aggressive, these are not Tokyo people”. I suddenly became aware – the people in this crowd, many of them walking on a perpendicular path to the train, were working harder to take the space in front of me. The perception of personal space was different here, a few inches between people was enough to put oneself in it, like interstate drivers who aren’t afraid to tailgate.  I continued observing this as we switched trains and switched trains again. People in Japanese crowds look at me before they walk in front of me, and even these “more aggressive” people will let me walk my path first without hesitation if I simply provide the nonverbal signals of changing my speed or direction to say my intention and make eye contact to ask. Another day and now I’m politely offering to let others go before myself because I see a space I can take behind them. Massive fast moving crowds and somehow everyone is so polite that movement through them feels like a karmic net positive.

I’ve been told before that Japanese people are polite, that they never steal and that the crime rate is really low, that they are very considerate. I’ve read folktales from Japan centered around putting others before the self. I find it very hard to observe much with my drastically limited ability to understand or be understood with speech, and I have to ask myself if there isn’t a degree of confirmation bias in my unconscious collection of information, but what I see is what I feel is what I know, what’s been said is true to me, the people in Japan are overwhelmingly kind.