Japan on the Cheap (part III)

What I establish unsatisfying about the Japanese landscape at best was that, except for oriental manner roof tops and the folk, the whole nation looks like a scaled downward edition of the United States, though often cleaner. The Golden Arches along with new U. S. associated quick nutrient chains dotted the countryside. Granted for many U. S. tourists seeing all that Americana overseas would have them look decent at house but I wanted something uniquely Japanese. I didn't have long to lament my position.

The small village of Mashiko is a ceramicist's dream. Located 62 miles north of Tokyo, this uniquely Japanese village is famous for its "Mashiko-yaki" style of pottery. According to Frommer's destinations, "Mashiko's history as a pottery town began in 1853, when a potter discovered ideal conditions in the nearby mountain clay and red pine wood for firing. It wasn't until 1930, however, that Mashiko gained national fame, when the late Hamada Shoji, designated a Living National Treasure, built a kiln here and introduced Mashiko-ware throughout Japan. Other potters have since taken up his technique, producing ceramics for everyday use, including plates, cups, vases, and tableware. Altogether, there are about 50 pottery shops in Mashiko (along with 300 kilns) into which you can wander and watch craftspeople at work. Pottery fairs, held twice a year in late April/early May and late October/early November, attract visitors from throughout Japan." Unfortunately we arrived in Japan in July.

A particular item worth mentioning is the abundance of beer. There were tubs of suds. Along with beer vending machines, the tiny eating establishments carried many brands of ice cold beer. Being a beer lover as well as a pro-ceramic artist, I was in heaven. We toured the gift shops and galleries, and lunched at a local restaurant, where I continued to wet my whistle. When lunch was over, our hosts had to pour me back into our vehicle. It was an inebriating experience but one that could never happen in the United States. The Japanese people are orderly to a fault and very well behaved.

We drove through the countryside, although we could have taken the train. Something uniquely Japanese is that commuter trains extend their rails far outside cities. From my window I noticed a number of one-car commuter trains running through tiny hamlets and farmers' fields, some with only a passenger or two riding inside. Sad to think that long-distance commuter lines were once the backbone transport of U.S. cities until "Detroit" lobbied Congress to place more emphasis on building interstate highways for automobiles.

We arrived back home early that evening for a home meeting. After dinner we were joined by a delegation of Japanese mothers accompanied by school-aged children. As a former public school teacher, I was asked to give a talk comparing and contrasting the Japanese and American education systems. It was a labor of love but oddly, before I started to speak, our hostess informed me that, "We Japanese are not a religious people." I have no idea why she told me that. I was going to speak about education.

It was also my understanding that generally Asian women have been second class to men for thousands of years. In modern Japan the roles appear to have been reversed. Nearly every woman that I listened to was glad that she was a woman and openly derided her workaholic husband or told me that they were enjoying their lives as modern women—whether stay-at-home moms or wives—and wouldn't want things any other way. That was my last day in the Land of the Rising Sun. We left for Narita early in the morning of our fourth day and the daughter of our hosts drove us to the nearby train station.

American-style breakfast at a Tokyo fast food restaurant was marginal at best, horrendous at worst. I recommend sticking to local cuisine for breakfast in foreign countries (except, perhaps, South Korea where they can cook real American food) though I may be overly biased when I say this. Anyway, when breakfast was mercifully over, our gracious hosts and we rode a second train back to the airport, taking in as much of the city of Tokyo from our seats as we could squeeze into a single morning. Once the train started moving, I asked our hosts why we were standing when there were plenty of empty seats available. They told us that since we made our connection earlier than scheduled, it was only fitting for us to stand, so that regular commuters for the time could sit down. This was so typical of the Japanese spirit. Every action was subject to a rigid written (or unwritten) honor code, and train seating was no exception.

Soon it was moment to tell "sayonara. " Together with our friends, we were in big Narita International Airport awaiting our flying to Manila, the closing stage of our Asian travel. As we waited to stop in, I couldn't assistance but discover a group of uniformed higher school girls each wearing the same light and blue dark crewman uniforms universally identifiable around the reality as the basic manner of school garb for all Japanese feminine students. Minutes subsequently we first checked our baggage and so ourselves after woefully saying our farewells. We deplaned at Ninoy Aquino International in the Philippine capital nearly five hours subsequently, yet sweet from our glad stoppage in Japan.

[by The Epoch Time]

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