It’s actually pretty surprising how quiet it is.
I always thought my apartment had fairly thin walls; if there was a vacuum cleaner or loud music or an argument in an adjacent apartment, it could definitely be heard.
In Osaka, the walls, well… I don’t want to use the term ‘paper thin’, because that has different connotations in Japan, where traditional walls really were made of paper. But they did not block sound at all. If you rented a room there, you could hear quite clearly what the people in the next room were talking about, or what they had on the television.
The silence, now that I’m back in the States, is almost disconcerting.
My sleep schedule is somewhat off. While I am not sure where I stand with regard to sleep, I suspect that my current sleep schedule is to fall asleep somewhere between 4 and 6 in the afternoon, and wake up around 2 AM. Hence why I am writing this early on a Saturday morning.
There’s a concept in the Midwest colloquially referred to as ‘Minnesota Nice’. The idea is this: You may think the person in front of you is a complete jerk, or an idiot, or a monster, or whatever. But… you still treat that person with courtesy, even though you hate their guts.
There’s something similar, but if anything even more pervasive, in Japan: the concept of humility. It colors their language, it colors their actions; society expects that you humble yourself before others in your actions and behavior. You show gratitude toward others; you bow to them, acknowledge them, thank them. When you have a country the size of California, but with twice as many people, you have to learn to work with each other on a daily basis without killing each other. How that is done is with humility. You learn to live with each other by dialing yourself back, and by ultimately appreciating the person in front of you as a person, even if it’s through the smallest gestures. When I first got back to the States, I was having to restrain myself from saying “Arigatou” or “Gomen nasal” to people for what Americans would think of as everyday things. Doing your job; passing through Customs; driving the shuttle bus. It’s acknowledging what they do as a human being, and thanking them for it.
We Americans aren’t that good with the concept of humility. Just look at our politics right now; is there any humility out there, on any side? Even worse, is there any desire on any side to learn to live with ‘the opposition’?
Humility works because it acknowledges several things. First, that the other human being is a human being, worthy of respect. Nothing can happen if you don’t at least recognize another person’s right to exist. Second, that, while we may have pride in our strengths and in our intellect, while we may not see any fault in our logic or our position, we recognize that we don’t have the full story, and that other people, who have lived lives different from our own, have different information, and come to very different conclusions based on them. It’s not because they’re evil, or because they’re flawed somehow. They have walked down their road, and gone to a different place. Humility acknowledges that walk. Keep in mind, it doesn’t say that you have to bend to what they want, what they demand; just that you have that common ground, that you make a concerted effort toward building that common ground.
Also, just as an aside, humility also works from a strategic point of view. There’s a saying in Japan: A capable hawk hides its talons. In other words, you don’t present all of your skills, so that adversaries don’t know what they’re up against.
It was interesting seeing politics from seven thousand miles away. Away from the tension, with an ocean of distance, it felt like just a bunch of gossip being thrown around. Which, by the way, is exactly what it was, what it is – just a gossip column, people with their own views and biases talking about other people who have their own views and their own biases. (The opposite of humility, if you will.)
I’ll listen and read transcripts of speeches by politicians; I’ll read bills, summaries, executive orders, etc. But I’m done with the press. It doesn’t matter which side you support; the press of that support has become the Enquirer with a thin veneer of respectability.
And wouldn’t it be nice if there was a news outlet that didn’t report what they thought, that just posted transcripts as is, that posted videos of speeches and bills and executive orders as is, unedited? That, to me, would be the ultimate humility: simply presenting the information, and trusting in the abilities of the people themselves to come to their own conclusions.
I have an ‘official’ method of measuring my weight. Basically, at a particular time in the morning preparations, I weigh myself. I’d weighed myself “unofficially” on a scale at the hotel I was staying at in Osaka, so I had an idea of what was going on, but scales will be different, and the circumstances of the weighing were different.
My ‘official’ weight once I got back: 221 pounds. Just over 100 kilos.
Why this is significant… at the beginning of 2018, I weighed 295 pounds. I’d gotten down to 222 pounds back in 2014, but stresses between 2015 and 2017 had me not thinking about my health, and my weight ballooned back up. I’d been at about 225-228 lbs. by the time I got to Japan, but I lost a few pounds while here. In summary, it has been well over a decade since I’ve been this thin, or this healthy.
Here’s the thing. I never dieted in Japan. Not once. I ate what I wanted to eat; the only concession I made to any sort of diet was that I didn’t eat shellfish because of allergies, and I drank plenty of liquids. It’s just that I walked everywhere in Japan. Stops for public transportation were roughly a kilometer apart, which meant walking even if you used the trains or the subway. As a result, my physical activity shot through the roof.
In the US, unless it’s a big city like New York, it’s geared more toward cars. Cars are more sedentary by their nature; you have to sit down for awhile and just be there as the car moves. Moreover, you can just pull up right to your destination; instead of walking a kilometer to where you need to go, you’re right there.
I am trying to find a way to integrate that activity from Japan into my life. Some people just walk, but I generally like to have some purpose to where I’m going.
Yesterday afternoon, I did something I’d commonly done in Japan. I opened up Google Maps and found out how long it would take to walk from my apartment to a nearby deli. About a mile-and-a-half. I went out, took the walk, went in and ordered coffee and toast. The coffee was percolator, so there was no helping that; the toast was cut far more thinly than in Japan, but was deli rye, so it had that going for it.
The plan for Saturday – today – is to go to a place I’d mentioned in earlier posts and walk around for awhile: Cooperstown, NY. Cooperstown is fun – and it’s not a tourist trap outside of summer, because they’re wanting for business during this time. Also, having been to Cooperstown, I know just how easy it is to get some walking in there.
A fun moment after getting on the shuttle bus between terminals at O’Hare. There was a line to get on the shuttle bus. When I finally got on and saw the empty space in the middle of the bus as it pulled out, even though there were handrails available for people to stand, my thought was, “We could fit 8-10 more people on this bus easily!”
So. One thing that I think has to be asked is “Would I do this again, and would I change anything for next time?”
First, this would not have happened without Airbnb. This trip probably should have happened twenty years ago, but it would have cost too much. I saw a lot of younger travelers in my journeys, and I couldn’t help but envy them the opportunity. If I’d been forced to stay in hotels at the usual rates, I would not have been able to afford this trip. So yes, I would do something like this again.
As for length… Five weeks, I think, was about the limit; four weeks might have been better. By about October 25 or so, I was starting to run dry with regard to energy and patience. I was getting tired; my legs would hurt at the end of the day; my nerves were starting to get frayed.
Next trip almost certainly won’t be Japan. I suspect the next trip will be somewhere in Europe; maybe Scotland, maybe Toulouse, maybe Norway. It won’t be for a few years; I suspect the next opportunity for such a trip would be the summer of 2022.
I will miss Japan. It was a good place to be, and at a good time. I needed time away from where I was to think about some things, and it provided. It was a great experience being in this culture I’ve had such interest in for so long. So… Japan… thank you for being an excellent host.
Finally, If you’ve been following this, if you’ve been reading this, thank you. Be well and take care.