Sunday, July 15, 2007

Japan --- Part V

I felt sorry for K's wife, Y, because I am sure she was drafted unwillingly to accompany the foreign wife around for the day. I don't think either of us knew what to expect when we met up at the train station. Well she knew for sure that I didn't speak Japanese and she also knew that her English left a lot to be desired, despite having lived in the States for a year. I suppose I assumed she would be self-effacing and shy and wondered how awkward the whole situation would be.

In fact we spent a very delightful day together and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There was much laughter and despite the language difficulties, with both of us thumbing through our respective dictionaries and pointing at various words, we managed to communicate very satisfactorily. I know I learned something about her world and I hope she learned something about mine.

Y was the mother of two daughters, one of whom was in University with the other still in high school. Consequently she was at a bit of a loose end since they no longer needed so much attention. When I asked her why she didn't think of taking a job, even part-time, she indicated that married women in Japan did not work outside the home on the whole. Don't forget this was 16 years ago, so this may have changed. She seemed very surprised that I worked full time. Her eldest daughter was studying physics so I wondered if she would continue to work after she married, since it seemed that she was on the path to graduate school. I didn't like to press this point too much.

She also rather wistfully asked me if I travelled much with my husband when he went to conferences. I told her that I did if the destination was interesting and that I certainly never considered not coming on this trip to Japan. She said she never went with K and in fact she did not accompany him, when he came to Vancouver for the exchange. I don't know if it was a money issue, since, although my husband had travel money for conferences, I always had to pay my own way on these jaunts.

We saw several elderly people, both men and women, wearing the ordinary everday kimono of blue cotton over the course of the day. So I asked her about wearing a kimono. She said everyone now wore Western dress or yofuku. She told me that she only owned one kimono, which she wore on special occasions, however her two daughters did not have one and she told me that it was unlikely they ever would since the cost was so prohibitive. I talked about the cost of a kimomo in the previous post about the Yokohma Silk Museum so it was interesting to have it confirmed.

So where did we travel on this day? First of all we visited the area Asakusa, to the north east of Tokyo. Formerly this was the district which contained the notorious Yoshiwara or licensed pleasure centre as well as the kabuki theatres. But today visitors flock there to see the famous Buddhist temple, the Sensoji. The oldest temple in Japan, it was completed in 645 AD, however with the bombing of Tokyo during the Second World War, all the temple buildings were reconstructed in the late 1950s and 1960s.

There are several gates to the temple and between the first and second gate is a street called Nakamise, which is lined with shops selling typical Japanese souvenirs and snacks. This merchant area has existed for over two hundred years and above you can see Y standing in front of a display outside one of the stores.

Above you see the Hozomon Gate, with its giant lanterns -- this is the main gate to the temple itself

The Sensoji Temple itself

A five-storeyed Pagoda which is next to the main temple. The original purpose of a Pagoda was to house relics and sacred writings in the Buddhist religion

A statue grouping in the grounds of the temple

This collection of outdoor shrines appealed to me but I know nothing about them

After we explored this area we stopped at a Japanese noodle house to have lunch. Fortunately you are not expected to eat noodles in broth with chopsticks and we continued our conversation over ramen noodle soup. As an aside, ramen noodles are of Chinese origin, however now they are a Japanese staple. Y's next plan for the day was a cruise on the Sumida River which departed from the pier at Asakusa and made a leisurely journey to the downtown Hinode Pier. She pointed out Tokyo's famous wholesale fish market, Tsukiji, which was now empty since it was the afternoon but was a bustling place much earlier in the day. We also passed the Kokugikan Sumo Wrestling arena which holds 10,000 spectators for its thrice yearly tournaments.

This photo was taken from the cruise on the river and shows this little oasis of peace among the other tall buildings and shoreside activities.

When we arrived at the Pier we were not too far from the Ginza shopping area, so we set off to explore a little. Everything in Japan was very expensive, but the Ginza was the epitome of expensive, with many exclusive Japanese department stores as well as stores for the well-known brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Gucci, and others which the Japanese are so fond of. We did go into one of these large stores but after looking around for a time we decided to go for coffee and cake in their tearoom. As I recall, we paid the equivalent of $6 for a cup of coffee with no refill and I was totally shocked, since that was incredibly expensive by North American standards at the time. After that we caught the train back to Yokohama and the lovely day was over.

I hope Y enjoyed that day as much as I did. I still have wonderful memories of our trip to Asakusa and looking through my photos brought back the pleasure of the day.

This post is rather long I'm afraid, but I couldn't quite see where to break it without disrupting the story of this day for you.

I'm sure that you are getting temple and shrine overload, but when our time in Yokohama was over we took the shinkansen or high speed train to Kyoto, so the next part of my Japan story will feature some of the best-known temples in Japan.


Lee said...

It's wonderful how sometimes language causes no barriers....communication is far easier than many believe it to be. I had a similar experience with a group of Italians I had to entertain for a day, once...I spoke no Italian and they, no English...but we had a marvellous time.

Good post, jmb. :)

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
Glad you made it to the end of the long post.
It's amazing how sometimes things just gel, despite the language barrier. At least Yspoke a little English.

Janice Thomson said...

I love the architecture of the buildings there Jmb...there's something so soothing about the designs although the living and business sections are like any other modern city.
It just goes to show doesn't it that language doesn't have to be a barrier for we are all just ordinary people, no matter our culture, with the same wants and needs and desires. Thank goodness for dictionaries though! LOL.
Another wonderfully informative and interesting post Jmb.

Ellee said...

Hi, and what a lovely woman Y is. The buildings look stunning and your travel reports always give me itchy feet.

Anonymous said...

Strange people the Japanese - I have been to Tokyo...very odd place.

jmb said...

Hi Janice,
They are beautiful buildings with many similarities of course no matter where you are. Next time I'll show you some houses which are so distinctive too.

jmb said...

Hi Ellee,
I found Y to be a very lovely person. How brave of her to take me, a total stranger, around the city.
I get itchy feet myself just thinking about it.

jmb said...

Hi Mutley,
I only spent the one day there so can't comment too much about Tokyo. The people are certainly different and their spitting and heavy smoking got to me.
Thanks for coming by

lady macleod said...

wonderful day. you do such a delightful job with the descriptions, and the photographs are lovely. thank you for sharing.
I certainly know what you mean when you say you can have a meaningful conversation in spite of the language barriers; I do it here every day. It's wonderful is it not, I think it says something basic about communication - it only takes the will and openness to achieve.

jmb said...

Hi Lady Mac,
It is wonderful that if we wish to we can communicate with others despite language barriers. It often makes for some fun times while you both try to figure out what the other wants or is saying.
I'm glad you enjoyed the photos.

Josie said...

JMB, the photograph of the little oasis on the river is so beautiful, I felt as if I could step into it. Well, I suppose I would fall in, if I did... What a lovely time you must have had. K's wife must have enjoyed showing you around, and feeling pride in all these beautiful places.

I have a Japanese friend who has come to Canada for a year to learn English. He's a linguist in Japan, and says the best way to learn a language is just to jump right in, the way you did.

What a shame that people don't wear kimonos anymore.


jmb said...

Hi Josie,
Thank you, it obviously appealed to me since I photographed it.
We did have fun together and the spots we visited were lovely.
Many Japanese people learn English in school but they do not speak it very well.
I have a Japanese friend who was here for 2 years and when she went back her linguistic skills were still very poor. But she was so charming we all loved her and made a huge effort to communicate with her.
I don't think kimonos are very practical garments so I assume that's why they don't wear them, at least the cotton ones.

Lord Straf-Bilderberg said...

I felt sorry for K's wife, Y, because I am sure she was drafted unwillingly to accompany the foreign wife around for the day.

Then you say, JMB, that you spent a wonderful day and that's borne out by the post.

You do do this, m'lady - assume people won't be interested or won't want that and all the time we're hanging on your every word and photo.

Lord Straf-Bilderberg said...

And by gthe way, JMB, dear friend, who cares whether your post is long or short or how it's composed. If your subject matter is interesting, which it is or even if it's not, in which case your perspective is interesting, it's entirely your bag how the material's presented. Long post? OK. Short and pithy? OK.

Voyager said...

How wonderful to spend a day with your Japanese counterpart. A very special experience. Thanks for sharing it with us.

jmb said...

Hi Lord Jim,
I did mean that this was how I felt in advance of the event, which probably surprised us both by being so enjoyable.
Don't scold, I won't do it again.

The next one is long too. And not even about Japan.

jmb said...

Hi Voyager,

It was a special day which I still remember. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

RUTH said...

I love those temples so ornate. I have always had the impression that Japanese women don't have the freedom and independence that we do.....glad that a the language barrier didn't get in the way of enjoying each others company.

ipanema said...

What I love with your travel stories is precisely my reason why I travel: sightseeing. I do this if it's the first time I visit a country. Shopping will come next. I am more interested in cultural visits. When they [whoever i am travelling with - family or friends] want shopping I go for those interesting places I only read in books, magazines or travel brochures.

she indicated that married women in Japan did not work outside the home on the whole. Don't forget this was 16 years ago, so this may have changed.

A couple of months ago I blogged about how Japanese couple adjust to retirement. It is sad that this is the time they find that the house is too crowded for the two of them. A wife who is so used to having the husband away for most of the day, feels uneasy. She has developed a certain kind of routine without the husband. This has caused couple to divorce at that age. There's something to be learned in that phase for most of them or the culture itself. Men are used to working long hours including night outs with clients without the wife.

However, there are some men who are trying their best to adjust. They enrol in cooking class and some found a hobby. This made them closer to their wives. Now they include their wives in their activities.

Slowly perhaps there are changes.

Sorry for the rant. :)

YTSL said...

In response to an earlier comment: I don't think the Japanese spit -- or cough either! -- so much any more.

Also, re Tsukiji: I'd like to recommend that anyone who finds him or herself with a morning to spare in Tokyo go over there for a sushi breakfast. Truly delicious and one of the highlights of a thoroughly enjoyable visit I made to Japan this time last year. :)

Ian said...

Another in your series of very enjoyable travels posts. I have never visited Japan, but would like to one day.
Please don't apologise for the length of the post, your stories suck us in and before you know where you are, you have reached the end wanting more.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

We never get overload with you, jmb! What a nice lady Y looks. Very interesting to learn about the kimono - how expensive they are and that her daughters didn't own any - and liked the aside about the noodles. Fabulous, atmospheric pictures, too. I like the one of the oasis on the river best. Keep 'em coming! Auguri.

jmb said...

Hi Ruth,
Aren't the temples neat? No I don't think Japanese women have the freedom of Western women although I didn't want to delve to deeply but just let her talk.

jmb said...

Hi ipanema
I'm afraid shopping is way down my list of priorities when I am travelling. I get frantic at the end when I realize I have to buy people presents to take back with me.
I hadn't thought of the problem of retirement. The accommodation is so small and they would not be used to being together so much. Of course this is true in lots of cultures, when women find their husbands underfoot all day after retirement. Luckily we have a big house so it's no problem, each of us has our own space if we need it.

jmb said...

Well I didn't notice the coughing (perhaps it's smoking related) but I could not get used to men nicely dressed in suits spitting all over the place, so if that has disappeared I'm glad.
I'm sorry I missed Tsukiji in full swing.

jmb said...

I hope you get to Japan, one day Ian, I found it very interesting. Thanks for the kind words

jmb said...

Thanks for your kind words too. Y was indeed a very nice person and although she was shy, we got along just fine.
The little park probably has a very long name in Japanese but if I ever knew it, I don't remember it now.

Clare said...

Hello, I've found my way here via Liz (& Harvey!). I was in Japan in March 2006, and found it fascinating - it's been really interesting reading your posts about places I have been (and some which I haven't, or haven't properly explored).
Clare x