Japan on the Cheap (part II)

The everyday Japanese house was like most of the folk—tiny. Her house was comfy and had a feeling of really being at the house of a supporter and not of an alien. What I did discover that was distinct was the "stool. " The bathroom was an example of hi-tech inventiveness. The simple mounting of the stool was an escapade. There were buttons on the position for flushing; a bidet for women, a water temperature gauge, and still a button that … easily … was used to make the work that for many years bathroom newspaper used to make. Also there was an inherent wooden Jacuzzi, sauna, and standing lavish for soaping your system; bathing in Japan is an experience in and of itself.

The kitchen was completely Western. However, the rest of the house was typically Japanese replete with tatami mats, bonsai trees sitting regally on table tops and sleeping mats on the floors. And I never got over the fact that, in my opinion, everything about Japan was at least four sizes too small.

I make it a practice to get up early everyday—very early. On my first full day in Japan, the daily paper arrived. It was a normal delivery just like in my home city of Chicago. Well, almost. When the delivery woman arrived at our door she politely bowed, handed me the newspaper, and said something in Japanese. I returned her bow and said "Arigato" (that's "Thank you" in Japanese) then went back in the house. Since I'm a very early riser no matter where I am, I was already up around 5 a.m., washed, spent time in silent reflection, and went back outside to gather in the pure air of the morning.

Like so many people in my "yuppie-fied" neighborhood back home, the Japanese people are very health conscious. Breakfast consisted of tea, naturally, coffee, toast, a bit of fruit, sliced tomatoes (I love 'em) and no meat but plenty of happy conversation.

We didn't go out of the house that day. We were trying to work through some serious jet lag from the horrendous 18-hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo. As a "large" person, squeezing into one of the tiny Japan Airlines seats presented an enormous challenge for me. When the plane finally did touch down I felt like a spent pretzel in a beer garden, all chewed up. I needed the day off.

We exchanged gifts late morning the next day. Our ever gracious hosts presented my wife with a beautiful blue kimono. I returned the favor by presenting them with one of my finest pieces of pottery. My wife immediately tried on the kimono. My gift was placed regally in their living room on a small table.

That day the effects of our jet lag had subsided and we took to the open road. My wife and I wanted to do what ordinary Japanese people do. After we were on the road for about an hour our host's daughter, who did all the driving in her pick-up truck, took us shopping at the Japanese version of Jewel or Dominick's. I can't remember the name of the store. All the products had Japanese labels, packaged in similar manner as most American stores, and the basic lay out was the same as any ordinary grocery store you would find in any city in the U.S. One thing stood out; the prices were quite high but the products were all items you could buy in most Chicago-area Asian supermarkets.

I think that "Construction Season" is universal or at least in cold weather countries like Japan and the northern United States. There were road crews everywhere but unlike the stress-causing crews in Illinois in Japan traffic flowed freely despite the heavy road work.

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