A special word, unique to Japanese language. And, arguably, unique to Japanese culture.
Running on the platform to catch a train…..Meiwaku.
Talking on the phone, shouting, or even just speaking, on the metro…..Meiwaku.
Not sorting trash into one of the many recyclable categories…..Meiwaku.
The Japanese culture is deeply steeped in centuries of respect, discipline, and politeness.
After seven months of more or less solo travel, four of my college pals from Santa Barbara–Jon, Luke, Ravi and Mo–came to Japan to visit for two weeks.
Running and hollering around train stations, shouting in shrines, drinking booze openly–being rowdy Americans–I can just imagine a Japanese parent trying to teach the concept Meiwaku to their child:
“Above all, you must avoid Meiwaku. The act of being inconsiderate, or causing inconvenience, to others.
You want an example? Let me think…
Ah, look, American tourists! Perfect. The very definition of Meiwaku!”
“So, Japan! What do you guys want to do?”
“Buy crazy-flavored Kit Kat bars!”
“Climb Mt. Fuji!”
“Get my earwax cleaned!”
“Go to an adult anime shop!”
“Eat bomb sushi!”
Actually, now that I think about it, we did all of the above. I’ll spare you, and just talk about the last one.
Ravi, a connoisseur of fine sushi (we both ate the most exquisite sushi meal of our lives on this trip), spearheaded a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market in order to acquire the perfect piece of tuna.
After shuffling our way through the more touristy, outdoors section, we make our way to the real-deal: a sprawling, salty smelling covered city of ancient seafood salesmen and vendors. This place is where many of the top chefs in all of Japan come to select their seafood.
The asphalt floor is covered in a half-inch of briny saltwater, and I grimace and curse my foolish decision to wear flip flops with each squelchy step.
Ravi is on the hunt for his tuna, and the rest of us wander along, trying to maneuver through tight spaces and avoid the all-business bustle of the merchants.
One man, complete with rubber apron, rubber gloves, and thick rubber boots, throws a bucket of water on top of pile of fish right next to us, sending us skidding and dripping in different directions. The action might have been an accident, or deliberate. I suspect it was a deliberate accident.
Although many tourists venture here, it really isn’t a place for tourists.
About aisle 17, mile four, Ravi discovers his perfect slices of sushi. We commiserate to select a lovely cut — not lean, not fatty, but a happy, white-streaked medium.
Prize in hand, we maneuver our way back through the seafood labyrinth, and even manage to purchase a fresh wasabi root on the way out.
Back home, Ravi grinds the wasabi, slices the sushi, and even Jon, who is no sushi-lover, goes back for seconds and thirds.
Ravi-san, next time I visit you, I’ll expect to find a fourteen-inch sushi slicer in your kitchen and I will want to use it!
Out ‘n About Tokyo:
It’s our last day in Kyoto. Luke and I wake early to explore.
This city–the once ancient capital of Japan–is filled with countless sites of beauty. If one were to explore every temple in the downtown district, it would require a year, and five visits per day.
We narrow our shrine search from 1,400 down to one, and head over. The early-morning dawn filters through the trees as we leave the concrete for calm, manicured shrine moss.
We are exploring an incense-burning alter when a deep, powerful, vibrating noise slams through the air.
The actual bell is at least twice our height, and the monks manning it chant together before ringing it every 40 seconds.
We get the feeling–are we supposed to be here? But no one seems to mind.
We walk up the a flight of moss-covered steps to see the monks trainees do their work. The bell, the incense, the ancient structures, the monk clothes–2017? It might as well be 1017.
On our way out, we keep seeing more and more robed monks come in, and realize there must be some sort of special event. The monks, ever polite, keep bowing to us as they walk by, but we both notice that Luke elicits much more curiosity and attention than me.
With a laugh, we both realize that not only does Luke have a shaved head, like all the monks, but he is also wearing sandals.
Perhaps he’s got a little monk blood in him, after all.
More Kyoto Shrine Action:
“Have you ever seen a panorama so beautiful, so calm? It’s like the trees themselves have a peace to them. Je ne veux pas travailler, Je ne veux pas déjeuner…”
One thing I like about Jon. He always stays away from the clouds, on the bright side of life 🙂
“One shot one kill.” Actually, two shots two kills. Taken from the 200 MPH Shinkansen bullet train on different days.
On the boys’ second-to-last day, Mo had one of those ruin-your-trip moments. He put his hand into his pocket, his face went white, and, with a stammer, said, “guys, something’s wrong. I don’t have my phone.”
Financially, a missing $700 iphone is a big problem.
What’s worse, not only is the phone missing, but Mo neglected to back the phone up–meaning that every single photo he took during the last two weeks is missing as well.
We retrace all of our footsteps, and determine that the phone most likely went MIA in the subway.
Mind you, the Tokyo subway system is no joke. Millions, if not tens of millions of people use it every day, so the likelihood of someone finding it, and let alone turning it in, are remote.
However, we are in the land of the rising sun. And here, people are respectful, polite and honest.
The next morning we call the lost and found number.
We go to the Tokyo central station, lost and found center.
Mo’s chances of finding his phone just went from about 2 percent to about .01 percent.
It’s our last night, and Mo and Jon are almost all packed up for their flight the following day.
Mo wants to give it one last shot. He takes off alone, and goes to the last station we went to across town the previous night, Shibuya. We agree to meet at a street corner by the metro at 7PM for our last dinner.
Jon and I arrive at the street corner, and see Mo across the street with a bag in his hand. We give him the hopeful thumbs-up, but he shakes his head, and gives us the thumbs down as he crosses to our side.
I feel terrible for Mo. Such a wonderful trip, and this last stumble at the finish line is leaving an acrid taste in the mouth.
“Naw,” Mo responds.
He pulls three tall cans out of the bag, and hands them around.
“At first they thought no iPhones were found….”
“But when I got there, they pulled out…….THIS IPHONE!”
And with a very Mo-esque cackle of laughter, he whips out his very own gleaming, expensive brick of a phone.
We all cheer and howl and chortle on the street. What a country, where someone could leave an $700 phone in a public place, and complete strangers would return it without a second thought.
Heedless of anyone watching, we crack the beers right then and there, and cheers to one hell of a trip.
Sumimasen, Japan, Meiwaku!
We know we had terrible manners, broke all kinds of societal rules, and probably inconvenienced many people with our group. But damn, did we have fun doing it!