1/31/10 – 2/1/10: Tokyo, Japan
A lot of things are more complicated in Tokyo than they have been anywhere else. For instance, buying a one-way ticket on the JR or Metro in Tokyo is a really elaborate ritual for us. We walk toward the ticket machines and stand in front of the big map with all the lines and their routes and fares displayed on it. Then we just stare at it for a minute or two. And then we have a conversation that goes something like this:
K: Ok, we need to get to Nishi Kawaguchi.
Z: What line is it on?
K: On this little map it’s a gray line.
Z: But there’s no gray lines on the big map.
K: Well, the middle character is like the one for “three” in Chinese but sideways.
Z: Oh, I see one like that!
Kevin looks at where I’m pointing on the big map and then at our little foldout map to match up the characters.
K: No, that’s just plain Kawaguchi. We’re looking for Nishi Kawaguchi.
Z: Are you sure those are two different stations? Maybe Nishi just means station or stop or something?
K: No, they’re definitely two different stations.
Z: Oh, oh, wait, I found it! The dark blue line!
What makes this entire exercise even more confusing is that I actually recognize some of the characters in Chinese, but the Chinese words sound absolutely nothing like the way they sound in Japanese. Take the Oji station – I recognized the characters as meaning “prince” in Chinese. Except in Chinese it’s pronounced “wang zi,” which isn’t even close to oji! This whole crazy Japanese writing system blows my mind a little.
What also blows my mind a little is how people will constantly continue talking to us in Japanese even after we’ve made it clear that we don’t have any idea what they’re saying. I think in a similar situation, I would just stop trying to communicate verbally with someone who would only smile and bow in response to everything I say. “This comes in regular and a large size. Which do you want?” Response: smile and bow, smile and bow. But the Japanese – they are persistent. They just keep chatting away to us earnestly as if they really believe this will allow us to eventually understand them through some sort of osmosis. I think maybe they’re making this assumption based on the intelligence of Japanese kids (who can all speak perfect Japanese!), hoping that we American tourists must be at least as smart as the average Japanese 4-year-old. Bless their hearts.
Pictures of the Day: When in Japan, do like the Japanese – and solve weird Rubik’s cubes!