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Hot ginger and dynamite

Given the subtle impressions I had of Tokyo, I probably should have written them up at the time, rather than now, two weeks hence.

With my boss in Germany for a month, and an invitation to a wedding in hand, it seemed at good chance was at hand to visit my folks in Melbourne. Which in turn seemed a good chance to take up an offer to visit a school friend, Carly, in Japan. And also to find flight routes that don't stop on the Pacific coast of the United States; for your files, it turns out Houston is a far superior enforced customs ordeal than LA of SF. You can even check your luggage to your final destination at your point of embarkation.

Japan was a land of contrasts in one important category: toilets. As early as at the airport at Narita, one finds toilets with heated seats, variable pressure for the warm water that cleanses your buttocks, and more buttons that Shatner ever got on his seat. But, skipping ahead, in public parks one finds squat toilets that suggest the Japanese have decided that westerners require a greater challenge in hitting their target from above.

Leaving Narita on the express train to Tokyo Station, one has a half hour voyage from rural vistas through increasingly dense suburbs into the central business district. The rice patties, interspersed with homesteads and forest that make up the first section are enchanting. The vegetation is a mix of bamboo and trees with delicate looking foliage that seem to be in horizontal planes, and mighty oak-like behemoths. The greens are vibrant and the overall impression is just as one sees in traditional Japanese paintings; in fact, powerfully so. As houses appear, one notices that they range from traditional to modern, but strikingly most of the modern have the Japanese style of tiled roof, with slightly turned up corners and a round ridge on the vertices. Coming through this on a drizzled day added to the mystic nature of the whole trip.

After vaguely wandering around the outskirts of the Imperial Palace in a jet-lagged, frozen stupor, I met up with Carly in the evening and we and a clutch of expatriates from Ireland, Australia and Canada did as gaijin do and went to a bar to get hammered. Here I learnt the term 'gaijin smash', whereby foreigners do dumb and often dangerous things and get away with it by virtue of being foreign. I do wonder about the low-level racist terms for whites; they all begin with a 'g' sound: gaijin, güero, gringo, guǐlǎo, gentile.

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