Kobe, Kansai, Japan

August 27-28 & September 1-2, 2002

Kobe is a place with a twist of Europe. It's here where the first gaijins, that is us foreigners, settled when Japan opened up. It was wealthy Europeans on business then and it still is the same way today, particularly on one of the two perfectly square and street gridded man made islands that make up Kobe. Of note, one has it's own amusement park, the other has the fasion institute that you'd swear was an invading UFO (sorry, no picture - just like when a real UFO comes, the camera was lost at the time).

off to the artificial island on an automated train approach the fake land island amusement part

Now was my first real experience of Japanese flat life. In London, Ritsuko has tried to enforce such practices with me, but like a badly behaving pet, I'm unable to completely conform. As a guest, the customs were fun to follow and I could see adapting after the true experience. Shoes come off and slippers come on. There's a secondary set of slippers to change into if you go to the bathroom. The bath is in a separate room from the toilet. Before taking a warm bath, you take a shower. Being clean is a prerequisite to being orderly, which is a prerequisite for being able to be at peace with where you are and with yourself. It ties into some Budists beliefs, most of which are true bits of simple wisdoms which have been extrapolated beyond the Western norm.

Aspects of the culture reflected in the toilets, that must amuze any gadget freak. First of all, Japanese love clarity and instructions. You'll find this conviently under some of the seats. They are also very efficient... check out the tanks. It fills through a small sink, so you can wash you hands without turning the water. Now for the electronics. Yes, the electronics! There's more buttons than a small airplane cockpit - on the wall for the basics and the fine tuning beside the seat to control the temperature, duration, angle, pressure and bidet style. Look at these things! My imagination is defeated as to what these buttons and lights are there for!

In Kobe's village like area, narrow streets took us to a Japanese bar where everyone knew each other. They locked the doors and started BBQ fires inside. I was blinded by the smoke, but found everyone friendly beyond expectation once you said the first 'konnichiwa.' I asked one fellow if he loved travel. He did and in fact was in fact, and oddly enough, by hitch hiking. He could tell where the cars were from in Japan by the license plates and made a trip to the north of Japan and back in 153 different cars! He slept in rice fields with a sleeping bag and took a nearly a month. We envied each others travel stories told in broken English, a few Japanese words and exagerated sign language in the blinding smoke.

Ritsuko's older sister lives here and makes a good living in the academic community tutoring and studying how the Japanese are precieved from the outside world. She always treats me extremely well and I always seem to want to reciprocate, but can never find out how. I'm mostly saying 'thank you' and bobbing up in down.

On my last night in Kobe, I tell the bar master, I will make this pub my home in Japan. He is pleased and it's a round of drinks for everyone on the house. Or at least I think so. I never saw money change hands. Everything was settled privately and regular customers were as good as family.

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