Museum to Remember
Out, Kyoto Style
and September Eleventh
Out, Tokyo Style
FROM THE FIELD --
JAPAN : 2001
as newcomers they arrive in Japan at the beginning of the new millennium,
American visitors are confronted with a society appearing on the surface
to resemble a more advanced version of that found in the United States.
The newest expressway whizzing us into Osaka and on to Kyoto from Kansai
International Airport passes along the edge of Osaka Bay and high above
the surrounding industrial landscape dotted with high rise condominiums
("mansions" in Japanese), fancy new shopping malls and extensive
entertainment complexes, all awash with activity and lit by flashing neon.
Many of these signs are in English, advertising brand names -- Canon,
Sony, Toyota -- with which we are familiar. The roadway is lined with
towering sound barriers that threaten to completely enclose the highway
beneath. The bus uses the ETC system at toll barriers, electronically
recording the charges incurred with a monthly bill to follow. We glimpse
Seven Eleven and Lawson convenience store signs. The overwhelming temptation
is to assume we visitors have arrived somewhere "just like home".
Clearly, however, that is not the case. Our first morning in Kyoto and
all along the way our first couple of days in Japan, we are constantly
reminding folks NOT to make that assumption. Automobiles here drive on
the left, for example; assume otherwise and you are likely to end up a
traffic fatality! Cab drivers control the rear doors on their vehicles;
stand too close -- or reach out to open the door yourself --, and you
are in for another nasty surprise. Enter buses at the rear; pay as you
exit from the front. Hang on to your subway tickets (purchased from an
automatic vending machine that makes change and sells daily, weekly and
monthly passes to boot), relinquishing them when you leave the system
at your destination. Learning to sit comfortably on the floor at restaurants
is another new skill required, as is bowing to acknowledge a greeting
or to accompany an expression of thanks.
Most importantly, one needs to master a complex "shoe etiquette".
It takes some several days to learn to move easily between uchi
"interior space" where no shoes are ever allowed and the soto
"exterior world" where they are worn without committing the
social blunder of, for instance, stepping directly on the ground in stocking
feet or leaving one's shoes pointing in the wrong direction on the doorstep.
Remembering to leave the W C slippers in the restroom is yet another rule
to avoid transgressing.
And so it is that even in its advanced state of development, Japan's modernity
doesn't simply replicate that with which we Americans are familiar. There
remain idiosyncrasies serving to maintain the Japanese sense of their
own cultural uniqueness -- and visitors do well to pay attention!
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