Tuesday, November 6

Japan 10 - Techopolis

The Americans.

Japanese seaside town.

Japanese Garden.

The number of apologies I’ve written for not posting on this blog are now rivaling the number of people served at McDonald’s. But this time I have an excuse (also number 1 billion in a series). Once we left the Sugo circuit on Sunday night, I was unable to find the internet anywhere. Not in the rural outskirts of Sendai, not anywhere near the bazillion-dollar bullet-train station, and not anywhere in the metropolitan area of Tokyo, which only happens to hold 35 million people, dwarfing the New York/New Jersey metro count. Last weekend, I did find the internet at three different Panera Bread restaurants on the drive from the GNCC in Crawfordsville, Indiana and Morgantown, West Virginia. As for Japan, I must ask, Where has all the technology gone? Twenty years ago in elementary school, amidst a variety of lessons on how much we as American human children suck at everything—we ate the apple and will now burn in hell for it, we’re dumb, fat, lazy, in dept and play too many video games, etc.—we would hear about this successful utopian experiment called Japan. It was a land that saved billions in military bills since the country wasn’t allowed to have one and instead spent that money on education and technology, and the result was a far superior place to the US. Every few days our teachers would guilt us by explaining that Japanese students go to school for 400 days a year and how our country ranked in the 3000th percentile in math scores (those numbers actually sounded believable to us since we sucked so badly at math).

Meanwhile Japan Inc. was buying everything and soon you would need a passport to travel into the Tokyo suburb called New York City. It was up to us to stop them and it would begin by just doing that science homework.

Since then, the American kids who spent just 180 days a year in school created this dot com/telecom/Apple/Microsoft wonderland that used to be called the information superhighway, and Japan doesn’t even have the iPhone yet and only discovered Red Bull last year. The only new technology I saw over there was the heated toilet seat, (and I will admit that it’s so cool that it probably made the entire country complacent in the tech department). But basically, America is revolutionizing computer products and Japan is locking down more comfortable ways to sit down and take a you-know-what. All hail to the power of the American slacker—and hence I feel no guilt about not posting here for two days.

Rising sun in the land of it.

Madonna and the Oscar the Grouch

Later the Smiths learned to wax on and off.

So without the internet to blog on there, I had to wait until now, on a flight from San Francisco to Washington, DC to write on about the trip. The foreigness is still fresh in my mind since the movie Hairspray is playing on the plane’s TV screen and watching a musical without audio is much stranger to see than anything in a foreign country.

The first few days of the trip were actually tantalizingly disappointing for the HSCIED and I. For the racers with us-Charlie, Jason and Rodney-it was okay because they had an athletic competition to compete in and probably didn’t want to spend Friday and Saturday night loaded on saki at a Japanese house party. But Alisa and I did, and the itinerary served up by Mr. Hoshino didn’t accommodate. We were dropped off at our remote resort hotel at 6 p.m. on both nights, and that was it. These would be the only Friday and Saturday nights we would ever spend in Japan, and a city was 30 minutes away, but we would not spend it exploring the country or meeting strange people. On Friday night the gang ordered pepperoni pizza and it ended up having eel and corn on it. That was the height of our excitement. Cab rides were ridiculously expensive, and we didn’t even know where to ask to go even if we got one, or how to get back. No one at the hotel could explain anything in English and our translator—Nobi—had gotten into a car accident and was nowhere to be found or heard.

They have plenty of mountains and forests in Japan.

Rodney and Charlie scout out one of the more extreme sections of Japanese off-road racing.

The HSCGIED and I would have to rally to salvage the experience. We’ve done it before—cramming in a week’s worth of activities into the final 48 hours of a trip—and we were going to have to do it here.

On Sunday night a bus picked the gang up at the track and took us on a long ride to a seaside town that began with the letter H. Probably had I’s and o’s and an sh in the name, too. Our hotel was amazing, and we all dined on a traditional Japanese meal, with different flavors of soup boiling in front of us and a giant pile of raw meat and fish to dump into them. By then Rachel—Charlie’s girlfriend—had been rendered physically unable to eat due to, ironically, lack of nutrient intake throughout the trip. But Charlie was now fully adjusted and ate about 17 pounds of seafood. Or maybe he was hungry after racing for three hours. Raines and I ordered up some saki and now we were rolling: good Japanese food, strong Japanese drink and even some uncomfortable slippers and a hotel collection of Japanese DVDs at our disposal. Still not completely on Japanese time, the HSCGIED and I woke up at 5 am to watch the sun rise from the Land of the Rising Sun. It was amazing. A few hours later we all headed out for sight seeing, taking a tour of Japanese temples and gardens—amazing stuff rooted deep in tradition instead of tech. We checked out of the hotel and headed to the bullet train. Mr. Hoshino stuffed his Subaru Outback with luggage, Rodney and Lori, while Alisa and I got a ride from Takeshi Koikeda, who had joined us at the hotel along with his wife and adorable three-year-old girl. Takeshi gave me and Alisa a ride to the train station and even piled our luggage right on top of his hand-made, full works prototype Yamaha YZ450F. His daughter played happily with her Rodney Smith collectible beanie bear, and by the way they don’t use car seats there, the three-year-old just sat on mom’s lap in the front seat! Takeshi and Mr. Hoshino dropped us off for the bullet train, and then Mr. Hoshino jumped back in his car to he could drive six hours out of his way to Tokyo—just so he could deliver our luggage, pay for our hotel and take us to dinner. He could have easily dumped us off at the train with our luggage, called the hotel with his credit card number and left us on our own for dinner. Instead, he drove six hours not to. What a guy.

He took us to an Italian restaurant (in Tokyo) and when the staff found out famous American motorcycle Champion Rodney Smith was with us, they flipped out and started taking pictures and getting autographs. Then Mr. Hoshino bowed 17,000 times and thanked us even more than that—saying we had honored his family by coming—and then left for his home five hours away, but not before going back to the Italian restaurant to give the staff some Rodney Smith stickers he had on him. You simply can’t get any nicer than this man and his family.

Koikeda was impressed with my chop stick skills.

Raines inspects what we believe is a grave and tea set.

What struck us most about Japan wasn’t technology, or crowdedness or any of the stuff I had learned about in elementary school. I was amazed by the politeness of the people. We were greeted by smiles and bows and attempts at broken English everywhere we went. The cities and towns were immaculately clean and free of trash—yet we couldn’t find trash cans anywhere. Instead, people volunteered to take your trash for you. Get off the bullet train and a man greets you with a trash bag. Enter the National Japan Museam of Modern Art and the woman selling tickets takes your trash and deposits it elsewhere. The country is remarkably quiet. Our hotels were dead quiet, you could hear a pin drop in Sendai and downtown Tokyo at rush hour on Monday was about 1 30th as loud as New York. The trucks were quiet, horns non existent, motorcycles muffled and conversations muted—it seemed like everyone kept completely to theirselves and didn’t speak loudly in public. In America, people talk, people make trash and people don’t go nearly this far out of their way to help. If we were really to have taken some cues from the Japanese back in elementary school, it would have been on how to be nice to each other instead of how to get better grades in math—but the teachers were too busy being mean to us and we were too busy being mean to each other. Hey, it was elementary school.

Most helpful was the concierge at our Tokyo Hotel. He told Alisa and I how to get to Rupungi, a great place to, as he managed to get out in his broken English: “hang out.”

Soon our ugly Americaness would take control of this metropolis of 35 million people. Stay tuned.


thom said...

i'm glad your having a good time god knows you've earned it. it was 24 degrees here in the land of the peon school bus driver,not my favorite time of the year.
you did get lucky she is looking good. remember one thing check out the mother and decide if this is what you want to face when shes fifty. also remember when you find one that puts up with you keep her that cancels out rule one. enjoy thom

Daniel said...

Sounds like a really nice time. It would be nice and refreshing to visit a place where people were friendly to one another. Currently I work in a retail store and American people can be really nasty to one another!! They don't care sometimes that I have had nothing to do with their problems and would like to help them if they would just calm down. Silly American's. Glad you had such a cool trip. Did you take any Levi's to sell?? I've always heard that Japanese love the American Levi's. Perhaps that is just a dumb sterotype though.