Mountain Passages: Even Bigger in Japan

The Mountain Gazette’s Alan Stark jets off to the Land of the Rising Sun… and promises to try to be good.

 

It’s a real effort not to be a jerk sometimes.

The jerk comes out with a little stress—in this case a couple of flights from Denver to Osaka.

As soon as the flight attendants closed the doors, I got just a tad bit cranky. Nope, it’s not fear of flying. I’m fine with hurtling through space at subsonic speeds. The crankiness comes from being stuck inside a composite tube with a bunch of strangers.

“Jerk,” Blue Eyes says

“I deny gumpy-ness.”

“You’re being cranky and grumpy.”

“I am not a character from Snow White.”

“It’s 12 hours to Osaka, get over it.”

Last month, I was on a flight from LA when this self-involved person took it upon himself to do a stretching routine in the aisle, occasionally hanging his butt in my face. Blue Eyes was across the aisle and rolling her eyes. I thought to pat him on the butt but Blue Eyes waved me off with her, “I-won’t-bail-you-out,” sort of look. If past history is any measure, she means it.

After the doors were shut a Japanese-American flight attendant leapt into the air to close an overhead bin on this 787. Seems like Boeing engineers could figure out that most flight attendants aren’t five-feet, ten-inches tall. The leap in the air made me wonder about the rest of the engineering on the plane.

We were up and out over the Pacific when dinner was served. It’s was a slice of old chicken in a goopy sweet sauce on a bed of ossified white rice with a side of boiled vegetables. Lunch was sort of a turkey sandwich and a carton of gelato.  Although it was mid-afternoon as we approached Osaka, they served a breakfast of nuked egg and potato. United Airlines should be ashamed of themselves.

The Osaka airport is a typical international flight experience where the locals have you walk through a maze of hallways and escalators and more hallways to get to customs where they make you wait. I take no offense, they have learned a great deal from American Customs.

I’ve just finished reading a modern history of Japan and come away thinking that all my preconceived notions of what it is to be Japanese were mostly wrong. That’s a good thing. I wish that the citizens of other countries had a better idea of what it means to be an American than what they see on exported American TV.

We are not Duck Dynasty.

But one of those preconceptions appears to be true—the Japanese appear to have specific jobs from which they don’t deviate. The sniffer dog guy at customs hit every bag as we crossed his territory, he didn’t miss one American which made me glad I left the brownie wrapper on the plane. There were three people at customs, the first document checker sent us to the document corrections person who then sent us to the customs officer who still found something wrong with our paperwork. Again, three people at the money changing concession the first checker, the window clerk who did the calculations and transaction and someone unknown behind a screen who hands the clerk the money. Change your money in Japan, the charge was minimal whereas most money changers I’ve encountered in the rest of the world are thieves.

Same thing with loading a bus—there was a ticket taker, bag handler, and driver all of whom don’t seem to multitask. The ride into Osaka was a about an hour of traffic. My first impression of the town was a tacky jumble of buildings and streets at all angles and billions of cars, busses, and trucks all rushing around with very little honking, all very efficient and polite.

IMG_0837This politeness seems to permeate this society, maybe the most important trait of the Japanese, certainly the most obvious. But under this politeness is regimented process. Think of a sailboat where the skipper has a place for everything and does everything in a particularly efficient yet precise way. Leave something lying around and he’ll put it back in its right place. Do something untoward and he’ll immediately correct you. The only difference between the average Japanese and the average sailboat skipper is that the Japanese will be polite about correcting you.

The reception clerk apologized that the room we booked was “under construction” and that we had been upgraded. After being hustled about for 15 or 16 hours an upgrade was meaningless to me, and somehow it seemed odd that she apologized for upgrading us.  I just wanted a clean, warm place to go to sleep. But when I saw the room—words fail. It was a perfectly designed 400 square feet with a wall of windows overlooking Osaka. There were switches and lights everywhere and a magical bathroom with a toilet from an electronics store.

The toilet had a row of switches mounted on the wall. From what I could discern through the fog of travel I could push a button and get my butt washed and then push another button and get that same butt dried. This is all stuff I’ve done for myself for a number of years. And while adventure is always an attractive concept, the thought of getting blown off the toilet buy a gush of water wasn’t all that appealing so I settled for a standard flush but remain intrigued by a multifunction toilet.

We are headed for  Naoshima and  Teshima Islands in the Inland Sea that are reputed to be contemporary art centers. I’m going to have to be good because I think “contemporary art” is sort of like free verse, lacking traditional form and structure this art can be anything the artist wants it to be. I never had much appreciation the pile of sticks in the middle of a room that you can sometimes find at a contemporary art museum. But part of this textile and crafts tour of Japan are some contemporary art installations.

Try to be good.

Try to be good.

Try not to be boorish and don’t make fun of contemporary artists.

Much.

Alan Stark is traveling Japan with this Blue Eyed person. He will be sending irregular dispatches for the next several weeks.

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