I was reminded by a friend lately that not everyone is on Facebook, so quite a few people are in the dark about my latest adventure. Apologies.
I left Svanholm at the end of June after a fulfilling four-month stay, volunteering once again in the kitchen and feeling embraced by the community. How I wish I could be in two places at once. I so love Svanholm and also love my life in Saint Paul.
The feeling of over-consumption upon my return was moderated this time by the fact that I was joined by my Japanese friend Chika. And, in fact, my daughter Bryn, Chika and I all arrived on the same day and my son arrived on the following one. The kids were home for their cousin Kirstine’s wedding and spent a week and a half welcoming me home. Four people in my condo was cozy and I loved it.
Chika and I settled into somewhat of a rountine over the next 6 or 7 weeks. We found a free English class for her, which met from 10 – 12:30, Monday – Thursday. I would get up and go exercise, and she would generally be headed out the door or gone by the time I got back. When she returned we would have lunch and work our way through the list of attractions I had put together. We also spent a couple of days in Duluth, a couple more in a cabin near Ely, and a couple at my friend Beth’s cabin near Cold Spring. All in all, it was a good Minneosta summer.
After the State Fair at the end of August, we packed our bags and flew to San Francisco. We enjoyed the hospitality of my cousin and friends up and down the coast, renting a car and staying in Alameda, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Carlsbad. Here we are in Disneyland, meeting Mickey Mouse with my son Dane and my friend Mark.
On September 9th we boarded a Singapore Airlines flight bound for Narita, Japan!
Chika has taken extremely good care of me in Japan. I simply follow her around and enjoy myself. No worries about which train or how to buy a ticket or what food to eat. I feel very fortunate. Fortunate also to be visiting other friends that we both made during our stays at Svanholm. It is very special to reconnect and cement these relationships instead of allowing them to fade.
Because of our rigorous travel schedule, lack of internet connectivity, and placing a priority on socializing over posting, I have been quickly uploading photos to Facebook when I have had a chance. A Journeywoman blog posting takes a little more time and though, hence my silence. I am currently taking advantage of a train ride to do some writing, but am not quite sure when I will be able to upload it, or if I will have time to add photos (they are the best part, I know).
Some thoughts and observations about Japanese culture while I am underway:
1) There is a strong food culture here. Every town and region has a dish or two or three for which it is known and when the Japanese travel they like to make sure to sample these local foods. In spite of Philly cheesesteak, Chicago style pizza, and San Francisco sour dough bread, the United States does not have a highly developed food culture.
2) The train network is incredible: multiple train companies provide service that reaches far and wide. And what is even more incredible is that the trains run on time. There are trains leaving every few minutes on multiple tracks, on time and full. Which gets me to my next point.
3) It is crowded here. Population density leads not only to efficient transit options, but also generally smaller houses and apartments as well as busy sidewalks and highways. It is noisy, too. There are recorded voices at the train stations, in department stores (“The escalators can be crowded. Stand two abreast. Parents hold onto your children. Do not walk on the escalator. “), even on public streets (e.g. announcing festval events and times).
4) The Japanese have an affinity for cartoon characters. They are EVERYWHERE. Each town has its own chacter mascot, most museums and tourist attractions have them, too. They appear on buttons, cookies, zipper pulls, towels, socks, you name it. Which leads me to my next point
5) The Japanese may be even bigger consumers than Americans. There certainly are more shops, more vending machines, and more opportunities to shop than I am used to. There are shops surrounding most temples and the train stations are packed with retailers. In fact, many train stations are fully incorparated into large shopping malls.
6) The Japanese are warm, friendly and generous. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness I have been shown by my Japanese friends and their families and I hope that I can return the hospitality in the future.