This is very strange. When was the last time I spent the New Year abroad? I've cobbled together seders in Moscow & rummaged for pesadika food in Copenhagen but I can't remember when I've ever not been in synagogue for Rosh Hashanah. It's funny, too, cuz Mr. Ben & I did spend the morning in temples: Buddhist temples, huge ornate buildings well-situated among ancient trees. The sound of rushing water everywhere reminds me at the very least I ought to tear up some bread and watch it be carried away. Bread being one thing the Japanese haven't figured out at all -- they have one variety, whiter than Wonder --, that would be no loss.
We only have a few more days here, the rest of today in Nikko and then two more days in Tokyo. We got here yesterday having completed our whirlwind weeklong tour of Hokkaido, a huge Northern island that's essentially the Canada of Japan, not densely populated (comparatively) and full of natural beauty. We are in fact chock full of natural beauty, having been up and down mountains, around lakes, fruit picking in orchards, driving through the rolling hills of endless countryside, and surveying the ocean from rocky cliffs.
Despite the eager rain, which has followed us around and led to two headcolds, and thus much nose-blowing of which we hear the Japanese disapprove (oops), we've managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. The food can be fantastic. It can also be a salty & mediocre but mostly we've been really lucky. The night before last, to bid farewell to the rural, chilly, soggy, lovely, fish-friendly north, we feasted, for only the second time this trip, on Serious Sushi, and we nearly passed out from how good it was.
There isn't too much English up in Hokkaido; back on the mainland it's a shock to see words I can read again (though I've come to be able to recognize certain Japanese words, very important words, like 'Ramen' and 'Karoke' and 'Entrance' and 'Exit' and 'Food'). To break up the monotony of isolation, we met up with an English-speaking university student in Sapporo who took us around by car with two friends of hers and showed us an amazing, off-the-guidebook time that included a hidden onsen -- we bathed outside naked in the rain, the steam rising off of us in sheets.
Otherwise, we've been entertaining ourselves, reading aloud to each other and making lists of things to do to make Japanese women die a slow, convulsive death in front of you: 1. Ask them how they are. 2. Tell them they speak English well. 3. Compliment them in any way. 4. Ask them for a recommendation.
Genderwise, this country seems to be stuck in 1962, though technologically it's 2013. Women, by law, it seems, must wear heels and skirts; they tend to look glamorous in a low-key, well-kept way. The trend is to wear three-quarters length black leggings, and thus, they all wear three-quarter length black leggings if they're not in uniform.
The men somehow morph from being androgynous skinny punks to suit-wearing automotons, though when this transformation happens is hard to pinpoint.
Generally, people are extraordinarily polite -- even, or especially, when they're being unhelpful. They must always have the last word by ending an exchange with 'Thank you, respected persons!' No matter how many times they've already chimed it, if you so much as breathe in their direction they will say it again. Best to be silent and smile and go away, or they'll waste their whole day bowing and saying goodbye.
I will definitely miss it here.