Inspiring Image #43: Green Tea Ice Cream

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Image. Green Tea Ice Cream. ©2015 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.

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The Yin and Yang of it All

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Here’s my second favorite wrap-up post from our 2015 Japan trip. Once I returned, friends and family asked a few questions. The first made me think about my authenticity as a blogger. The other two questions have helped me to further think about my own country.

Did I love Japan?
No. It’s a lovely country. I’ve shown the beautiful hydrangeas in a prior post. And I’ve talked about the food and its freshness. But the country, even when I was in major cities, like Kyoto or Tokyo, were a little too quiet and rule driven for my free-spirited soul. Usually when I land in a city, I feel the energy. Cities, especially over-populated ones, generally have a pulse of their own. There’s a busy-ness that grabs and encapsulates you. But not Tokyo. Sure there were a lot of people and a five story H&M. But it didn’t feel like a big city. Additionally, there was a Stepford Wife feel. It was as if  each person knew his or her place and dare not cross that boundary. Even the Harajuku girls were seemingly confined to one area: Harajuku.

Were the people nice?
Overly-so. I’ve written about the blatant respect and consideration I noticed while there. But after a conversation with my best friend, I quickly learned that the country is just as racist as any society that wishes to remain “pure.” It’s just not always overt. My friend recounted the story of a biracial Miss Japan who represented the country in the Miss Universe pageant. This was a big deal. It was important because she is what they call a hafu. Yep. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Kinda like calling someone a half-breed in America or as my friend pointed out, a nigger. Say it ain’t so! Apparently, the Japanese are pretty serious about keeping their culture, bloodlines, and subsequently, representation, pure.

Have you had culture shock upon return?
Yep. It didn’t take long either. Ironically, the very thing that fueled my dislike, the quiet, is also what I’d grown used to. Our flight to Japan was virtually silent. Even the flight attendants barely spoke above a whisper. Eleven (seemingly Japanese) children were in our immediate area. I didn’t hear one of them. Not one. The flight attendants back home were different. They were louder. WATER? COFFEE? TEA? They seemed to shout as if we were at a baseball game. The screaming children, with parents who refused to say anything also somehow seemed different. Once we made it to LA, we watched a little boy jump up on the tram’s bar and swing from it like a monkey bar. Then in Atlanta, we  witnessed a little girl pour a sugar packet down her throat and announce, “The sugar is all gone, mama!” I’ve been out of the country five times and this is the first time I came back feeling as if America has some work to do. I hate feeling like this. And I almost didn’t write about it because I feared the common response when one suggests America isn’t great. I figured someone would invite me to leave the country.

So, there it is. The unadulterated truth about my visit. I loved traveling to Japan cause it’s helped me view my own country and myself a little differently. I’ve been able to equally weigh the positives and the negatives. Would I visit again? Probably not, unless someone I loved lived there.

Japan: Respect and Consideration

Last year, my family and I traveled to Japan. Here’s one of my favorite wrap-up posts.

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Image. ©2015 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.

Japan seems to foster a culture of respect and consideration. After 14 days of observation, I attribute the level of reverence they have to the homogeneity of the country and its religious practices. With 98.5% of the population actually being Japanese and with most of the country following a combination of Shintō and Buddhism (Tour, June 9, 2015), there seems to be little room to vary one’s beliefs. Consequently, it’s easy to see how respect and consideration can permeate an entire country’s everyday cultural practices.

I witnessed a culture of respect in action.

A culture of respect means bowing when you see someone. Some African Americans do a similar head nod. In fact, it’s so common that an episode of Black-ish is devoted to the practice. It’s a way to say, “What’s up” without opening your mouth. But in Japanese culture a brief bow-nod seems to be a common practice, for everyone. It seems to be a way to say, “I see you.” When you walk into a place of business, employees nod. If you conduct business, associates nod. If you decide not to purchase anything, they still nod. They don’t try to determine if you’ll actually purchase something before bowing. Instead, the Japanese recognize your presence as a respectful act.
A culture of respect means taking pride in your job. Repeatedly, I observed several employees go to great lengths to ensure our happiness. At a Kyoto hotel, our Internet connection wasn’t working. By the time we returned to our room, two women were there, shoes removed, kneeling and connecting all of our devices. A similar level of service occurred at the Max Brenner Chocolate Bar. My husband thought he’d ordered a mixed dark chocolate/white chocolate shake. This establishment doesn’t offer such a thing. But the employees were willing to create one. Making patrons feel comfortable seems to be a way to also demonstrate respect.

Additionally, I observed a culture of consideration in everyday situations.

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Kyoto Children. ©2015 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.

A culture of consideration means that elementary-aged children can walk to and from school together. Unsupervised. I watched little children cross two major Kyoto intersections on their way to school. These little ducklings held their mini umbrellas, waited for the light and crossed the street. Although two made it to one side first, they turned and waited for the other two. Once together, they safely crossed the other way as a group. They helped each other and no one bothered them. I’m convinced it’s not only because of the common practice of traveling to school, but also due to the idea of considering oneself and others, even children. Because consideration is imbedded in the culture, parents probably feel secure knowing their children will make it safely to their destination.

A culture of consideration means that everyday businesses will also think about the children in that society. I noticed this twice in Tokyo. Once was at the New Sanno’s buffet. In addition to all of the typical adult buffet settings, it included a two-foot mini-buffet. It included mini-tongs for small kids to grab their chicken nuggets. I’ve frequented one too many buffets in my life and I’ve never seen one that caters to kids quite like this. Another example was at the Diver City Mall. While in the women’s bathroom, I didn’t see any mothers changing diapers or holding their children up to the sink. Here, there is not only a family restroom, but also a nursing restroom and a kids’ restroom. And if there happens to be a child in the ladies’ restroom, there is a kid-level sink for girls to comfortably wash their own hands. How considerate.

These are just a few examples. And in no way am I trying to suggest this country is perfect. But it does seem that America could benefit from including more respect and consideration. I’m not entirely sure what it would take to create this type of culture in the States. Our country’s racial, ethnic and religious values vary. However, respect and consideration are universal values. Perhaps we can begin with small acts that will grow over time. Speaking when you see someone is a good start. Doing your job at 100% even when you don’t feel like it is another. And putting someone else’s needs before yours might make a difference. The only way a culture can change is if the people change it. Perhaps America’s culture of respect and consideration will begin with this post. Perhaps it will begin with each of our actions.