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Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Gregory Maguire


Home away from home last week. You can't tell, but that bed is made out of GRANITE.


Sunday, April 17, 2005

As I sit here to write and say hi! I missed you! and to recap the week I had in Japan, I realize I would never make a good travel journalist; I should have taken notes, the days blurred together so quickly and now I can't remember the name of that pickled turnip dish thing I liked or the area of Tokyo we were in on Wednesday or what that one shrine was called where I got admonished for taking a photo of someone praying (was focused on building and did not notice devout worshipper. Am dumb, rude American).

Here are things I do remember, little experiences from an amazing trip:

Japanese restrooms are a marvel to behold. Many of the bathrooms I visited had western-style toilets that included heated seats, recorded waterfall sounds to camouflage any, um, noises of your own, and a plethora of complicated NASA-style button options. I was too intimidated by those buttons to ever push one, there was always a separate flushing mechanism that I chose instead of taking the chance on causing my toilet to start firehosing water up my ass, loudly playing music, etc. The one traditional Japanese toilet I used was spotless (as they all were) and well-stocked, but it did require more quadriceps action than I'm used to.


Apparently, 1-2 earthquakes per month is not uncommon in Tokyo. So said the bellboy who came in to deliver my breakfast on Monday morning about twenty minutes after our hotel shook and shimmied and generally scared the holy bejeezus out of me. Later that same afternoon, while we were in a meeting on the 54th floor of another building, we had a brief aftershock. It was all very exhilarating, but also maybe just a wee bit on the terrifying side. I like my earth movement to be undetectable, thanks.

Street scenery
I had a vague idea in my head of Tokyo looking like images from Bladerunner: neon signs, big crowds, tall buildings as far as the eye can see. And in some places this is true, it's like visual overload to take in all the corporate logos and store signs and everywhere, always, hundreds of people on the move.


We stayed in Shinjuku, but we traveled by subway to downtown Tokyo, Ginza, some other areas. We moved around quite a bit, actually, and I was glad for it - I'd wondered if all the sights I'd see would be limited to my hotel and an office building or two, but that wasn't the case. I don't think I'd be any good at navigating the train system without a local's help, but it was really interesting to get around that way.


There wasn't enough non-business time to do very much touristy sightseeing activities, but we did walk through a beautiful park with a shrine, and also visited the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa, a hugely popular area with tons of little shops on the way to the temple itself.

For the most part, Japanese women dress beautifully. So do most of the men, in their crisp suits and ties, but women have the fashion thing down. Younger people wear hip combinations that I never see here in Seattle - well, most of us in Seattle live in jeans and fleece jackets, so that's not too surprising. The stores I walked through had floor after floor of gorgeous clothes, everything high quality, designer stuff that to my Old Navy-wearing-eye looked different and fresh. Maybe it's the same collections that you can buy in New York, I don't know, but if I had a couple, say, BILLION more yen, I definitely would have outfitted myself with some swanky new duds. If I could find things in my size, that is, which probably wouldn't have been easy.

As it was, I bought a pair of pretty black maternity pants for which I justified the cost by telling myself they will be a dressy, comfy option both now and in later months, and I bought two baby kimonos.

Oh god, the food. Was so good. I felt very adventurous and tried everything, with the exception of raw meat. We had recognizable items like tempura and sushi and noodles, but also exotic things like food cooked at our table - "Shabu Shabu" one night - and weird root vegetables and all kinds of unidentifiable objects that almost always tasted great. The eating alone was a fabulous experience, and each meal took hours and involved tens of dishes, one coming out after another, until everyone was stuffed and groaning and happy.

It seemed like about a tenth of the population was outfitted in white masks, the kind that cover your mouth and hook over your ears. I heard two explanations for this: that Japanese are very conscientious of spreading germs so they cover up when they have a cold, and that some people are allergic to the cherry blossoms so they breathe through filters to minimize the effects.

Either way, it was freaky to observe, since I'd been re-reading The Stand (you know, the Stephen King book where 99% of the world dies from a plaguelike flu?) during my trip. Also, I brought home a miserable head cold, so maybe I should have worn my own mask.

Restaurants don't give you napkins. You have a nice hot towel at the start for cleaning your hands, but no napkins - cloth or paper or otherwise - during the meal. I saw some people using their own small washcloths for this purpose, which I had seen for sale (hundreds of decorative options) in stores.

You've probably heard this, but the exchange of business cards in Japan is a very big deal. It involves holding your card with both hands, bowing, and trying to keep your card lower than the person you're exchanging with out of respect. Business meetings in general are far more formal and longer than what I've experienced, and in our case involved so much translation each appointment took 2-3 hours, regardless of how short the topic might have been.


Overall, it was a wonderful trip - exhausting and fast-paced, but offering so many unique experiences I feel privileged I had the opportunity to go. And I am SO GLAD TO BE HOME, because even though I had a good time I am ready for bad American TV and Skippy peanut butter and my husband and my dog and even my evil cat and definitely my soft, soft big bed.

P.S. Unless it was a never-before noticed type of gas sensation, I am pretty sure I felt the baby's first movements yesterday. Sort of a tap-tap-tap bubbly thing happening in my lower belly. I haven't felt it since, so it's possible I got all mushy over the prelude to a fart, but I choose to believe that was our peashooter, kicking away. What a week!

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