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October 29, Chigasaki City

"Travelling alone is never having to say you're sorry that you don't eat shrimp" or "Japan: Land of insanely cute pop-eyed dogs wearing shirts and pants" or "Apparently I'm just a goofy Canadian" or "Escalator follies" or...

So, it's been a busy day. The Matsuis decided to take me into Yokohama for the day to show me many things, and so I saw many things, though probably not the same things they were necessarily intending to show me... isn't that always the way?

They are just incredbly generous. I haven't been permitted to pay for a thing since I arrived, and they nearly had simultaneous heart attacks when I offered to pay for lunch. I felt like I'd committed some kind of heinous crime from their reactions. It feels a little awkward, actually, though I don't mean to sound ungrateful.

We took the train to Yokohama (and by the way, yesterday I got some great tape of atmospheric train station sounds at Shinagawa station waiting for my train to Chigasaki) and got off at a train station within walking distance of the tallest building in Japan. Going up the escalator I lost my balance and lurched forward slightly, just as the escalator step rose sharply to meet my shin. Ow. I reflected on the fact that the experience of pain is somehow incomplete when not shared with likeminded friends.

The tallest building in Japan is, of course, owned by the Mitsubishi group of companies (and when travelling with the Matsuis, what isn't?). Of course, we then got to go in and take the elevator to the 69th floor observatory from which you can see in all four cardinal directions and take pictures.

Unfortunately, today was a bit foggy, which gave a rather unreal and infinite feeling to the city... buildings disappearing into the fog in all directions. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan after Tokyo and it looks and feels it.

I should also say that the Japanese will not call a spade a spade... on the worst days here you can taste the pollution in the air and it certainly looks like smog to me, but that's not what it's called.

Yokohama's also perhaps most famous for being a port city. My first thought about Yokohama was that Phileas Fogg needed to get there to catch a steamer to San Francisco in Jules Vernes' "Around the World in 80 Days". My mind tends to live in a world of books, and it's interesting to see the places I've read about or heard about so many times. Sometimes they're distressingly non-romantic, but if you pay attention there's enough there to remind you of what it would have been like years ago.

Like Kobe it also was home to many foreigners in the beginning of the 20th century. I remember reading a book about a young couple who lived in Yokohama. The young wife was convicted of murdering her husband, but the case was unclear because he was in the habit of dosing himself with massive doses of arsenic and tincture of lead whenever he felt ill (once upon a time, this made sense to people), because he believed it would make him well.

It's actually likely that he overdosed on arsenic and lead and killed himself. She was convicted and imprisoned and then when the Dowager Empress in China died she was released on a general amnesty. I'm not sure what happened to her after that. It was a rather odd book, actually.

Mr. Matsui graduated from University in Yokohama, so he knows the city well. He told me that his wife graduated from the Tokyo Christian Women's College. "But of course, she isn't Christian!" he hastened to explain, which made me smile.

After the observation deck of the tallest building in Japan we walked through the amusement park area down below, past the paddle boats in the water and "Ice World" (whatever that was) and past a simply enormous ferris wheel.

We walked for quite a while until we came to some enormous brick buildings that used to be warehouses (owned by the Mitsbishi group of companies) but were now trendy little boutiques and restaurants.

It was time for lunch so we went in to find something to eat. Mr. Matsui wanted to eat at, of all places, a sandwich cafe, and when asked what I wanted I first thought to order the plain roast beef sandwich, but then my general feeling of perturbation with the entire concept of eating Canadian food in Japan got the better of me so I ordered the bacon and avocado instead (on the Rainbow scale, this is slightly more adventurous than plain roast beef, and if you can't be Japanese, you can at least be adventurous). It was alright, actually, after I removed the raw onion.

Then we kept walking through this park which, after WWII, was the area where U.S. armed forces were barracked, and the family homes were located, and so on, and it suddenly occurred to me that one of the people I did the rebirthing training with last year had been born in Japan in a U.S. army hospital, because his father was in the army, and had lived there for quite some time (three to five years, I think) and that in all probability I was walking on land he had trod or toddled long before we ever met, and that Matsui had been in University in the same city at likely the same time and somehow the concatenation of it all gave me a shiver up my spine.

I've had a few of those lately.

We sat and rested for a while, and watched people and their dogs and children go by. Holy hannah, there are so many insanely cute dogs in Yokohama. And far too many of them wear clothes. Often just little sweaters and jackets (none of which, I assure you, are necessary for temperature control; it was 24 degrees today), but sometimes little baseball jersey and denim jeans specially taylored for their little tails to protrude from. It is too weird.

You actually see a lot fewer children and way fewer pregnant women in Japan, I've started to realize. But that makes sense when you consider that Japan has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. 1.20! Interesting...

Then we walked to Chinatown, which, in Yokohama, is an incredibly lively place full of tiny shops and restaurants and people selling steamed buns out of large steaming bamboo trays and roasted chestnuts by the bag.

One woman gave me a free chestnut, half peeled, as a sample, and I walked down the street in Chinatown juggling a steaming hot chestnut from hand to hand and taking small nibbles of sweet nut, smelling the steamed bun smell, and all the restaurant smells, listening to a mix of japanese and chinese all around me in the warm darkening evening air. It was a rather wonderful sensual moment.

Oh, and now I'd like to go to China some day. Surprise surprise.

By the way, if Japan is any indication the next big style in ladies' footwear is cowboy boots. Imagine my dismay, but there it is. In particular, fake cowboy boots with baggy ankles and stiletto heels. Ye gods. As well, Indian clothing of all sorts, especially layered. I guess I'm ahead of the trend on that one.

By the way, I don't think I mentioned that I sat in a coffe shop and watched a woman apply mascara to one eye for over fifteen minutes! FIFTEEN FREAKIN' MINUTES! She was about to start the other eye, but I didn't have the patience to sit around and time it. It seemed like such a colossal waste of human time, but then... what doesn't?

It reminded me of when MotherChild and I were sitting in the Mumbai airport waiting to leave for home and a young korean woman spent over half an hour applying various creams and ointments to various portions of her face. *dab dab, rub rub, dab dab... dab, rub rub rub, dab, rub* She had the entire alphabet of facial zones I guess, with creams to match. MotherChild was fascinated.

We walked all through Chinatown and then through this incredibly expensive area full of entirely ordinary shops that you'd find anywhere, like The Gap.

By this time I was starting to feel a bit tired and I think so were the Matsuis because Mr. Matsui suddenly turned to me and asked if I minded eating dinner earlier than 6? I said that of course I didn't mind, so we headed back into Chinatown in search of their favourite chinese food restaurant, which they actually couldn't find until we went through another chinese food restaurant, out the back and into the alley.

When we finally got there Mr. Matsui suggested that he would order the best things and so he did and then served everybody at the table and they both again commented on my chopstick facility (again, I think, just to be polite). This was all just fine until suddenly there were shrimp at the table and I had a plate full of shrimp that I was staring at in mild horror and despair, because for some reason after two days of the strain of it all the idea of somehow dealing with a plate full of shrimp was overwhelming.

I don't really like shrimp. I can tackle the occasional small canned shrimp in a salad, but these were very large shrimp-like shrimp. I actually sat across the table from the Matsuis laughing silently at myself and my internal horror at this plateful of shrimp. The phrase "travelling alone means never having to say you're sorry that you don't like shrimp" wandered through my mind and I decided to adopt it as my new motto from then on.

I tremblingly grasped my chopsticks and reached towards my plate. At the last moment I lost my nerve and took a small piece of pepper in sauce instead, and ate it. Then took a deep breath and picked up a shrimp. I brought it to my mouth, took another deep breath, and took a bite. It crunched very unpleasantly, but I quickly chewed it up and with the help of another piece of pepper, swallowed it down.

No. Simply no way I could eat an entire plate. If it had been softer, maybe... and as for flavour, the sauce was very powerful, so that wasn't the problem, but the texture... I ate a few other things for a while before deciding to offer the rest of the plate to Mr. Matsui.

"I hope this isn't rude of me, but if you would like the rest of my shrimp, I would be happy to see them eaten by someone who enjoys them." I said. He thanked me and dug in and they were gone in short order. I suddenly felt much better. See? I *didn't* have to eat the shrimp! It was okay! I felt so relieved.

When the meal was over we walked back out into Chinatown in the night (very colourful) and then back to a train station to catch the train home. The Matsuis both fell asleep on the train, and the train only had a few other passengers, all asleep. I felt preternaturally awake and calm and peaceful on a train full of sleepers, free of expectations and shrimp at last...

Tomorrow I head off on my own.


Reminds me of a time I tried desperately to eat the stuffed mushrooms my boyfriend's mother so generously cooked specifically for me at a family get together. I told her they "looked wonderful" and tried valiently to eat one but only managed about half before giving up.

Ewwww, mushrooms.

*ears perk* Interested in going to China, eh?
I want "Travelling alone is never having to say you're sorry that you don't eat shrimp" on a SHIRT! (Having had to apologize for that just tonight, being somewhat allergic...)

Bacon and avocado, eh? So you had Californian food! ;D
No Shrimp, No Apologies t-shirts, just for you...

Well, yes, I had Californian food, but I'm not from California, so that's different!

February 2010

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