Stories from One Month in Japan
This post is also available in: Français (French)
I’m a star
Osaka Castle is very impressive and you can even see it from a distance. As we walked towards it, we discovered the wall and towers that surround its grounds and we stopped to take some pictures. A group of men in their early twenties came towards me and started talking in Japanese, one of them pointing at his phone on camera mode. I obviously thought they wanted me to take a picture of their group so I nodded. As I was reaching out to his phone, he walked closer to me and started posing while one of his friend had his own phone ready to take a picture. I finally understood that the guy actually wanted a photo of me, with me! I burst out laughing, said no politely and walked away to Simon who unfortunately didn’t see a thing of the scene that had just happened!
The same thing actually happened to Simon a bit later in Hong Kong, where two women just grabbed his arm and pulled him towards them to get a picture with him. They didn’t even mind that I was right there!
Are we in trouble?
We’re still not sure what exactly happened on that day in Osaka. We had just taken a train away from downtown to visit the Asahi beer factory. Before heading to the factory, we decided to sit down in a large open pedestrian area to eat the few things that we had packed. We took our time on that square, just resting, until two police officers, a man and a woman, walked up to us from the police station across the square from us. The man started talking to us in Japanese and went on for a little while before we were able to say we didn’t understand and ask them if they spoke any English. The man didn’t but the woman asked us for our passports in a broken English. It hadn’t been a habit to always have our passports with us so we didn’t anything more than our French and American IDs to show them. After warning us and saying we should always have our passports with us, the back and forth went on for a while as we were trying to understand each other. Every now and then the policeman would jump in the conversation again, as if we were suddenly going to be able to understand him. We asked if there was anything wrong and they answered they were only patrolling the neighbourhood. We eventually had to give them our full names, home addresses as well as our address in Osaka and our phone numbers. They meticulously wrote it all down. When they finally left, we were a bit confused, wondering what kind of patrolling they were doing since it didn’t look like they questioned anybody else around and went straight back to the police station they came from.
Of the kindness of Japanese people
It’s well known that Japanese are very polite and respectful. Far from being just a cliché, that’s a fact. But they’re also uncommonly kind (or is the stereotype about French people being rude true and clouding my judgment..?)and that’s one of the reasons why I loved the country so much. Over a month, we experienced this kindness many times despite the language barrier and especially on our first day in Kyoto. We had flown to Tokyo the previous afternoon and had caught a night bus to Kyoto a few hours later. We had some instructions about how to get to our accommodation but we quickly got confused when we were looking for our train. Two trains seemed to have the same destination or the same name so we hopped on one, crossing our fingers. We still decided to ask a woman that was standing next to us. She didn’t speak any English so Simon showed her his phone with a map and the name of the stop we needed to go to. She still didn’t understand and we even wondered if could read our alphabet. It was only when Simon tried to pronounce the name of our stop that she confirmed that we were on the right train, phew. Focusing on our map, we were counting the stops left as the train was getting busier and busier. The nice woman suddenly reached out to us through the crowd to tell us that we were at our stop when we thought we needed to go a bit farther. We would have figured it out by ourselves eventually but our host was waiting for us at the station and we were already late, not to mention tired and overwhelmed from being in a new country so this woman trying hard to help us out brightened our day.
The chicken vegetable curry
Japan is definitely a country for meat lovers. As a vegetarian (actually pesketarian but I couldn’t have fish ever day), I had to make my researches before going to a restaurant, which I didn’t always do at least in the beginning. It happened more than once that I ended up “watching Simon eat” because there was nothing for me on the menu… I’m making it sound bad but the truth is I wouldn’t leave the restaurant because I didn’t want Simon to miss out on anything new that looked good to him. One safe option for a meatless meal was going to Indian restaurants. Simon loves it and they always offer at least one vegetable curry. I guess I became too confident though and I regretted it when we went to the Indian place that was just down the street from our flat in Tokyo. After eating a couple of bites of my vegetable curry, I spotted a UFO (unidentified floating object) in my food…. chicken! After asking a waitress (without us speaking Japanese or her speaking English) and making her understand that I was a vegetarian, the chef came in person to confirm he did add chicken to my dish (although not mentioned on the menu) and he apologised. As long as I am in Asia, I will never eat anything else without asking if there is any “kind of animal” in my food!
The earthquake that hit the south of Japan last April was bad enough to be all over the news everywhere. During that time, we happened to be 100 kilometers away for that region, in Fukuoka. We woke up in the middle of the night feeling the flat (5th floor) and the whole building shake. We felt several shakes over 24h and I was equally scared every times. As a foreigner in Japan for the first time, this feeling of being totally out of control is new, frightening and it’s easy to immediately imagine the worse. We quickly realised though that people in the street didn’t seem to be afraid and they actually probably didn’t even feel anything. As unreassuring as it is, feeling the ground shake is actually almost part of Japanese people everyday life.
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