Since it is lashing rain today I will take the time to tell of some more observations we have made.
We are in deepest rural Japan now but some customs and rituals are pretty universal.
- Removing your shoes when entering a home or other building is pretty universal. But then comes the whole slippers ritual. In most guest houses you remove your shoes in a small sunken area at the entrance. Slippers are usually lined up in a row on the upper level. In some places there are racks on which you place your footwear, in others you just leave your shoes lined up in the sunken area. Since I have only boots with me I have to unlace these every time I enter a place and re-lace them up on leaving. The slippers are then worn on any surface other than the rattan mats. The rattan mats are usually on bedroom floors and often on restaurant floors. Here only bare feet or stockinged feet are allowed. You might think this is complicated enough but if you visit the toilet you leave your house slippers, which you have donned at the main entrance, outside the toilet door and just inside the door there will be another pair of slippers which you are expected to wear in the toilet area…. Barry and I have both discovered ourselves en route to our room still wearing the toilet slippers!
- Then there is the Yukata – a dressing gown made of light cotton. The Yukata is worn when visiting the hot baths or onsen. In some ‘onsen towns’ such as Togura, where we are now, you can wear your Yukata out on the street! Normally a Yukata jacket is worn over your clothes. One is also permitted to wear this garb at all times in resort hotels, like the Kisoji Hotel, where we stayed. Almost everyone came to dinner in these Yukata. It makes a weird picture to see dozens of people all sitting at their table wearing identical outfits. It eliminates fashion competition. It is sort of typical of Japan, a mix of the flashiest modernity and tradition if you ever saw the picture Last Year at Marienbad you will understand.
- Thinking of fashion we are struck by how the young girls dress. Teenagers adopt a, to us, very childish style. They wear ankle or knee socks with lowish heels. Their skirts are like those I wore in the fifties!! Men going to work wear dark suits and white shirts. Young, working women, often wear similar black skirt suits with white blouses. Very, very occasionally you will see a man in sports jacket and trousers.
- About ten percent of people wear facemasks in public places. The supermarkets have racks of these on sale.
- We were fascinated by graveyards. The headstones are packed tightly together. So we asked Dr Google about what happens when someone dies in Japan. If you are eating while reading this please stop now!!! Japanese are almost exclusively cremated, makes sense in a crowded country. The family then retrieve the bones in a certain way using long chop sticks and place them in an urn. The bones are often passed from one family member to the other – grizzly stuff. But this is why you NEVER pass food from one person to another using chopsticks. We were also a little surprised to see headstones in the corner of some rice paddies. These would be the family plot. Graves contain the deceased’s ashes
On to less dark stuff!
- Instead of open and closed signs, shops and restaurants use curtains to indicate if they are open for business. Curtains in place means “we are open for business”. At the end of the business day the curtains are taken in. These are called Norden curtains.
- For a country, we consider, as the epitome of high tech, the electricity distribution network is a poor example. Generally the voltage is a low, 100volt, although there are car recharging points of 200v. But, almost all the distribution is on poles in the street, a festoon of interwoven wires, interspersed with transformers and isolation units all on poles, even in central Tokyo. The telecom network is on the same poles. We assume this is because of earthquakes. Putting wiring underground would be too much of a risk. There is universal wifi, everywhere we have been there is free access. Just in case we rented so-called pocket wifi, available everywhere, in the street, on the train, etc., for 100€ for the three weeks, bliss. You can also recharge the gear on the train.
- We mentioned the cleanliness of cars, but the range of models is bewildering, and a lot are hybrids. Given the closeness of everything the majority of cars are tiny, smaller than a Smart. The politeness extends to driving. If you approach a crossing that is not light controlled the cars stop instantly.
- We haven’t done much shopping, just the basics. 7-11 is everywhere, offering an ATM that actually works with Irish cards! Food, including for eating on site, booze, basic stuff like loo rolls etc. all available in one store. There are more specialised shops selling all sorts of stuff, supermarkets of course, some really classy ones, clothes shops, the usual international collection of brands. Japan is moving towards universality of brands, more is the pity, but their very specific character set restricts the advertising. However, just this morning, we managed to find a packet of Daz, by “reading” the Kanji script, same sort of style, but in the recognisable Daz colour scheme.