Letters From Japan: To Borneo from Tokyo
*** LETTER FROM CASSANDRA MUENKS ***
1 February 2019
Hello from the future! Quite literally (I am time zones ahead of you) and figuratively; in all my travels, I have never discovered such a technologically advanced atmosphere as I have in Japan.
Although I have had several intense cultural immersions, I don’t think I have ever experienced a place with this much deep-seated respect for their history and past, yet such a distinctive modern culture.
There is an individual cultural history in each European country, but when looking at modern history and development, many of these countries have a similar baseline as far as present technological advancements, social movements, music, and pop culture tastes/influences, etc.
Japan has managed to preserve its past similarly to European countries, if not more intensely. In my sightseeing, I came across a saying that became a theme during the Meiji era (a late 1800s period beginning the significant development in Japan), “Western techniques, Japanese spirit”.
This perfectly explains the balance of the yin and yang; the country’s ability to maintain a strong, rich culture yet be a global leader of social and technological developments. They kept this “Japanese spirit” whilst reaching (or surpassing) the development of other western countries in such a unique and individual way.
I have never been in a place that feels quite like this country! The order, structure, cleanliness, and respect that are characteristic of historic and modern Japan allow you to tour cities like they are well organized and tidy museums; yet the warmth and generosity of the people give this country heart and life.
I will let you in on one of my favorite Japanese secrets: in three weeks, I have sat on one dumb toilet. ONE. Every other toilet has kept my buns warmed to perfection, washed and dried every bit of my underside, and some even sang to me, or made waterfall noises for my privacy! Quite encouraging for the bathroom operations I assure you.
Honestly, I am not going home until my mother installs one. I don’t think I can ever sit on a normal toilet again without feeling my heart drop a little – I need this in my life (maybe this will be how I am tricked into marriage, install a smart toilet and buy me a series of fancy coffee makers and a Vitamix…).
Japan was never a country at the top of my list of travels, probably because I had a few misconceptions about the country. However, per my past few weeks of travels, I am going to debunk some of them so you don’t fall into the same trap and wait as long as I did to come to this magical wonderland!
- Japan is expensive: FALSE! Okay, I am not living in a luxurious Balinese guesthouse with breakfast and an infinity pool for ten dollars a night, but you can stay in a hostel and eat what will quite actually be the best food of your life at every meal for the same price or less than many major western cities.My number one fear coming here was I would have to start funding my trip by selling my underwear on the streets when I ran out of money, but alas, I’ve been saved by the best seven dollar ramen meals of my life! This brings me to…
- I cannot find one panty vending machine. I mean I’m not sure if I’m interested in purchasing, but I’ve scoured the streets of Tokyo for this phenomenon that I believe to be exclusive to Japan, and have come up empty-handed. Probably my only disappointment in this country.
- Sushi is a staple in a Japanese diet. I have actually had to look quite hard for sushi, and when I find it here it’s far less expensive than in the western world, and pretty much only found at sushi train restaurants!Sashimi is much more popular, and even then it seems far more tourists are interested in it; ramen, okonomiyaki, udon, soba, or gyoza appear more popular with locals
- Sumo wrestling is the dominant sport. Although it is the national sport of Japan, try as one might, it is actually very difficult and takes a lot of planning for a tourist to glimpse some real Japanese sumo action!Tournaments are only held six times a year in different cities, and if you miss them, you are basically S.O.L. Search as I might, I didn’t even see ONE sumo wrestler-sized Japanese person to gawk at.
The next time I’m in Japan I will definitely be coordinating it with a sumo tourney, although I didn’t mind supporting the nation’s second favorite sport – American Baseball! (However, they have WAY more creative animal mascots – Hiroshima Carp, Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Nippon Ham-Fighters?!)
So come to the land of amazing toilets, virtual realities, cafes where you can do just about anything you want – get slapped by a waitress, hold hands with an otter, stir your drink with a vibrator, watch a robot show, or cuddle with strangers. In Japan, if you can dream it, you can probably do it. Come never eat another bad meal. Come to the future my friend.