A final thought on my first encounter with the Japanese on their home turf:
They are a very friendly, if formal people. The first Japanese I met was my taxi driver, who not only wore white gloves and a three-piece suit in 100 (35C) degree weather, but also, despite a language barrier was extremely concerned with providing the very best service to me. Not only did he absolutely refuse to get any help from me in handling my 33kg (70lbs – the bag was about the size and body weight of my driver) bag, but also upon arrival at the hotel, he didn’t let go of my trunk until he had dragged it all the way into the middle of the hotel lobby – and then refused to get a tip! On his way out, he kept bowing to me until he was out of sight…. Now imagine that in New York City ….
Bowing is in general a vital part of formal interactions between Japanese. When someone purchases something in a store, it is not unusual for the sales person to follow the customer out into the street, handing the bag to the customer and then following-up with a series of 90 degree bows. The angle of the bow seems very important: The deeper the bow, the deeper the respect that’s being demonstrated.
It’s easy to feel frumpy in Japan, even knowing that you’re a tourist in casual clothes. No self-respecting Japanese would leave the house with one hair out of place or any bow or button for that matter. They dress enormously stylish, but not flashy – except for the teenagers it seems where anything goes apparently …
Also, technological gadget live squarely at the center of Japanese life. I wrote earlier about their high-tech toilets, and I haven’t even covered all the options. Also their trains are a technological work of art. Comfortable and smooth to ride in, complete with a friendly smiling conductor who bows in light of the privilege of looking at your ticket. Also, at every street corner they have these drink vending machines, where you can get anything from an iced caffe latte to iced green tea or soda. So, you’re never than a few steps away from rehydrating … not a bad move in their hot and humid summer weather.
In general, Japanese seemed very reserved to me, but upon my rather miserable attempts of speaking to them in Japanese, they usually thawed, probably moved by my ineptitude, and proved quite friendly and talkative and more than willing to help with any question I might have. So, I spent a few subway rides in very interesting conversation.
I’d love to come back and spend more time and get to know this people more closely. Hopefully then with a better result in my attempts at speaking Japanese ….