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Lost in Translation

Everyone has their own little personal quirks and one of mine is that I habitually misplace things. Traveling only exacerbates the issue, since being on the move means that it’s even more difficult to track everything. On my most recent trip to Japan I lost not fewer than five separate items – and I’ve got four back! Japan is amazing that way – three of the lost items were rather simple for this efficient and incredibly honest society – a blanket left at a ryokan was takybbined to my final hotel, a sheaf of papers dropped (yes, I was so tired I just dropped them as I walked around a hotel resort property and didn’t notice for 15 minutes) was found and sent directly back to my address in the US and at least one bag left in a store was exactly where I left it when I returned. My favorite hair clip, alas, is probably never going to be seen again. But the most incredible (to an American) “return” was the lost CD case. We finally figured out that we’d lost the case of movie CD’s on the last morning when we couldn’t find it after repacking all the bags the previous night. Calls to all 5 previous hotels yielded nothing – but did get us a second call back from the Four Seasons to let us know they’d checked everywhere even though we’d been there 4 nights previously. We doubted our memories – maybe we hadn’t packed it. We hoped we’d left it in the room in Matsumoto; one of the only hotels without enough English to check ourselves, so we were having a colleague call when they had a moment. We headed to the airport – really hoping we’d just for forgotten it at home. In a last act of desperation, we asked at the American Airlines check-in counter to see if we’d left it on the plane on our inbound trip 7 days previously – we described the case and its contents and the lovely lady at the counter called it in. We left, went through a little hoo-ha at security check (note to self: do NOT try to take sake on board with you – it’s LIQUID!) and arrived at the lounge to await our flight. Where, when we checked in, they handed us the missing CD case!!! Found on the plane when we came in! Maybe this happens all the time in the US and we just don’t hear about it. Yeah, right… a CD case with a new copy of “The Hangover” is left on a plane and 7 days later you return to the check-in counter at the airport and they locate said item and have it delivered to the club or departure gate so that it arrives before you do. So, at least in Japan, my personal quirk doesn’t create quite so many problems for me – items are rarely lost – only understanding in...
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“Spring” Trip to Japan

This year I decided to travel to Japan during a different season to get some personal experience of the weather during late April. Most of my trips, of necessity, have been at the end of November, after the season is over. So mid-April seemed like a good middle ground – not early cherry blossom time and before Golden Week.  We landed in Tokyo on April 14th and by the 16th we had snow – after two days of cold, rainy weather. This “Spring” thing isn’t working out all that well. Last year in mid-November we were in t-shirts in Kyushu, which goes to show that the travelers dictum to be prepared for anything goes in Japan as...
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Samurai, Swords and San Francisco

While you can travel through Japan with any number of themes in mind (traditional arts, manga, ceramics, contemporary arts, nature and hiking, etc), getting ready for a themed trip from the US can have its challenges. This weekend, however, I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco to attend a Samurai Symposium put on by the Society of Asian Arts at the Asian Art Museum. This was in conjunction with their visiting exhibition called Lords of the Samurai, featuring a wide variety of works from the Hosakawa collection. The symposium was great – with a lot of speakers who managed to make what could have been some pretty esoteric topics accessible to the non-expert. Topics ranged from the history of the family’s collection to how Noh drama is related to samurai culture to a demonstration of sword handling. The exhibit itself is superb – featuring a range of art and artifacts, highlighted by a superb set of samurai armor. There are a number of beautiful sword blades (note that the blades are often displayed separately from the fittings for true historic swords) ranging over a few centuries. There are battle banners, equestrian fittings, calligraphy, tea utensils, screens, sumi-e, tsuba and a wide range of items all from the collection of one family which spans several centuries. Having the opportunity to learn a little bit about some of this aspect of Japanese culture before heading off to Japan is a great way to prepare yourself for a trip and to learn more about what you’d like to focus on when you get there. The fruits of my labor are being put to use in preparing for Esprit’s new trip: In the Shadow of the Samurai, which is open to the...
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Floor B1

Floor B1

Sometimes you hear about this stuff, sometimes you don’t.   Many guidebooks suggest that you stop in a department store to explore the food offering there.   What they aren’t always clear about is HOW to explore and, interestingly enough, how standardized all the offerings are in Japan. First of all, there are usually three main places to find food in the department stores – the first floor has lots of fancy gift food (all boxed up, very pretty and sometimes very expensive), the top floor usually has restaurants (sometimes the top two floors) and many of them are surprisingly good.   Then there’s B1 – or the first level basement. That’s where you can get an amazing variety of food, from baked goods to produce to fresh fish to prepared dishes.  Each city has it’s own specialities, but there is usually a whole underground floor of Japanese food delights (including ice cream!). If you’re traveling with a group, on a bus, you might not get a lot of opportunity to explore these food halls, but if you’re traveling on your own, on the trains and subways as the Japanese do, you won’t have any problem finding them.  Many department stores are connected directly to the train and subway stations and you can wander into some of them while waiting for your train connection (or rush in to get something really quickly while running for your connection!). Perhaps something like...
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Getting Off the Bus

Getting Off the Bus

Who knew that it would be so hard to get OFF the bus?  We’ve all heard about how crowded the trains and buses are in Japan.  And they ARE!  And we’ve seen those videos of transit workers PUSHING more riders onto crowded trains.   But we found ourselves with a very different, and interesting dilemma. When taking crowded buses we were surprised to find that while getting on was difficult, getting off was almost impossible.  In the US, when you press the “next stop” button and stand up, people move out of the way so you can get off the bus (or train).  Not so in Japan – it was actually kind of weird.  No matter how many sumimasen’s,  we couldn’t get anyone on crowded buses or trains to move out of the way so we could CREATE MORE ROOM FOR THEM!  Very funny.   The funniest part was how determined everyone was in their “ignoring” the miscreant departer.   The only way to get off was to actually push and shove people out of the way, stick your hip out, drive into the crowd, step on toes, whatever it took.   We found this part a little challenging, but also noticed it on many occasions.   Here is yet another awareness of small cultural differences that make travel so...