Monday, November 15, 2010

Japan 2010 - Arrival and First Thoughts

Natsukashii is the Japanese word for nostalgia and I more loosely translate it as "it seems like old times," or "it takes me back." I've been back in Japan for the first time in seven and a half years and it feels like I've never been away at all. The names of the latest cutesy pie idols are changed but the pouts and posturing seem the same and the boy band that was all the rage when I first arrived here 15 (eek) years ago seems to have reached middle age with their revenue streams as intact as ever before.

While making our way from Narita Airport to the Tokyo suburb of Matsudo, my wife and I spotting the quirky icons of Japanese life: the underemployed escalator greeter who bowed as we trundled our luggage off to the train; the thoroughness that each transaction was completed with; the mix of kitsch and grace that intermingled to the extent that it evoked my own saw about Japan and Japanese culture - everything is taken to an extreme.

The picture above exemplifies the frequent odd juxtapositions that are hard to qualify as random. We happened by and we invited for a hot, foamy cup of matcha at a temple dedicated to a Tokyo based painter. The temple was celebrating a one-day-a-year occasion and more than anything else it was a good opportunity to stop for the respite and the spaciousness of the (recorded) koto - a Japanese stringed instrument. We sat down following a flurry of bows, gestures and raised eyebrows at the Japanese that was coming out of the white guys. We sat for a moment and were served our teas along with a little traditional candy. I lifted my mug from the white plastic tray, did a double take and found myself, indeed, looking at the beribboned mouthless one: Hello Kitty.