Brainstorming diary of a trip to Japan
Cherry blossom is magic
You can’t understand it without having lived it. You can imagine, but it’s different.
I’ve seen pictures of the flowering for many years, I’ve always been open-mouthed, but always thousands of miles away from those new flowers. Always without really understanding when this magic was overwhelming and powerful.
Then I went to see them bloom.
I arrived in Japan at the end of March, when only a few flowers had timidly and prematurely appeared on the branches of Tokyo.
Then, one day after the next, the magic happened.
Just like in cartoons, when a spell and a patina of glitter are made, it starts from the fairy’s wand and spreads all over the world. Same. But with flowers. And for real.
A blanket of pink flowers has spread over Japan until it explodes with color, energy, power, joy.
The Japanese went crazy, celebrated hanami with picnics and parties under the trees, filled their mobile phones with photos of flowers and their social selfie with cherry trees in the background.
The women wore their beautiful kimonos and made every glimpse magnificent with their colors, grace and elegance.
These wonderful flowers swept Japan from day to day in a whirlwind of celebration and joy.
One day after the next, we saw the flowers bloom and the cities take on colour.
Each temple became pinker and brighter surrounded by thousands of flowers.
Each park seemed to be festively decorated, each street became a watercolor.
The last days in Japan have been a continuous “but what a wonder” with the nose upwards.
It’s magic, really.
It can’t be explained. I believe that Japan during the flowering of sakura is a special place, one of the most special that nature and man together can give.
You don’t believe it.
Go and see it with your own eyes.
Not being able to understand and be understood
This whole tongue thing has got me all upset.
I’ve never travelled to a place where I really didn’t even vaguely understand the meaning of a speech or a sign.
I speak English, French and Spanish. I’m good with German bases, I understand and make myself understood in Portuguese.
In South America, North America, Europe, North Africa, Southeast Asia I have never had a problem. I’ve always understood (sometimes more, sometimes less – even much less!) and I’ve always made myself understood.
Not in Japan.
In Japan, if a sign is in Japanese, you can’t even vaguely understand what that means.
If the cashier of the 7Eleven asks you a question in Japanese, you’re going to be terrified by the disappointment you’re going to have to give her by telling her through gestures that you haven’t understood anything. You’re welcome. Total zero.
Because in fact the worst part of not understanding anything is having to confess it to the very kind Japanese who is trying to help you. To break the heart.
As soon as I arrived, I went to the ATM of the airport to pick up some yen and on the screen there was a big inscription in Japanese. And that’s it. Only a few keys, in Japanese, were illuminated.
I tried to push a few buttons: nothing.
Then the screen: nothing.
I took two steps back in the hope that a wider view would give me the key to reading that incomprehensible contraption. Nothing.
Just a red light on one side. Does that mean it’s out of order? Is that why it’s not working? Well.
Anyway, no yen for me. I just looked around to see if I was the only one coming back to this strange bubble of misunderstanding.
No. Confused faces, muffled movements. Everyone was a little lost. Not that it was a consolation, it was just strange. Different.
I was told that in Japan they don’t speak English. And I thought, “yes, well, we’ll understand each other. Medium, let’s say. Understand each other in some way you understand each other, sooner or later.
But I’ll just tell you that the receptionist of Nikko’s ryokan (a person who works in a tourist city, mainly with foreign tourists, in charge of their reception) spoke to Google Translate about his smartphone and then showed us the English translation to explain himself.
And he was so tender and in trouble that we would all embrace him to reassure him, we would learn Japanese to get him out of the clutter.
A Japan that are a thousand, but that in the end is only one
After a few days in Japan you really wonder how many souls can live together in one country.
There is Japan of temples, Zen, meditation, introspection.
There’s Japan of manga, anime, action figures, maid cafes.
There is the one of a thousand bright signs, of the intersection of Shibuya, of karaoke at the top of one’s lungs in tiny rooms soundproofed with phosphorescent drinks.
There is that of tradition, of kimonos, of onsens, of elegant and composed gestures, of rituality.
There is Japan of the subway squeezed at rush hour, of hordes of business men who flood the streets at 6 p.m. with their black suits all the same, which seems like an invasion of Smith Agents of Matrix.
And in the end all these little pieces, looking beyond the surface, meet, mix, and create a single complicated Japan, multifaceted, intriguing and elusive.
Because the business man after 6 p.m. goes to party under the cherry blossoms and finds himself at 2 a.m. in a karaoke with his colleagues. And in the room next door are the elegant girls dressed in the kimono. Even the 5-storey Akihabara manga shops have their own sacredness, like everything in Japan: from temples, to onsen, to sushi.
It’s a mosaic that only makes sense with all its little pieces.
The most absurd things in the world are all in Japan
Clam soup in cans in the dispenser.
Rice with chicken curry in the shape of a teddy bear.
Strawberry ice cream in the shape of a rabbit.
Coffee where you can caress cats (neko café).
Coffee where you can caress owls.
Frosted bananas covered with sugars.
Bars full of people playing the same online game.
Stores for cosplayers only (where they sell clothes to dress up as manga or anime characters).
Toilet with more buttons than a spaceship.
Finally, as I write this post I’m wearing my socks with the separate big toe I took in Japan. The ones you need to comfortably wear your flip-flops.
I’m more uncomfortable than rare, I’m constantly rubbing my big toe with my finger next to it in the vain hope that what divides them (the evil sock) will be removed from the middle.
I can only think of another sensation so annoying: do you have your panties in the middle of your ass?