Culture Shock

by mutteringhousewife

I feel like a giant bug eyed pale frizzy headed alien. Possibly because I am.

Our little clan has ventured to Japan to get in a bit of “proper” skiing and to spend a week in Kyoto sharing a house with my sister and her little clan who also thought it would be fun to visit Japan this New Year. We arrived last night at Narita Airport, kind of feeling like we were only halfway done. International flights are usually longer than that. We managed to find the shuttle bus to get us to our hotel and collapsed into our three seperate rooms (you can only get doubles) for the night.

Today we thought we’d look around Narita and get our cultural legs going before heading to the snow tomorrow. There are two things, no, three things that stand out. There is much more politeness and neatness than at home. There is a drink vending machine every twenty metres. The last one might be related to this, there are many public toilets which are clean and very public – I could see into the urinals without even trying, and have heated toilet seats oh yeah.

We decided to wend our way to the Temple at Narita. Husband managed to sort the train ticketing system, and while waiting for the train we sampled the first vending machine. Muffet and the Horror stuck with what they knew, green tea. The Moose got a honey and lemon drink, which he said was the nicest drink he’d ever had. Husband got a can of coffee. It was at this vending machine that we discovered you can get hot and cold beverages. The honey and lemon, the coffee and one of the green teas was hot. There is actually a red line under the hot ones and a blue one under the cold ones, so now we know. The Moose is psyching himself up to try the can featuring brightly coloured, enticing corn.

We popped into a few souvenir shops along the way, the Muffet starting to bravely use her two years of expensive Japanese instruction to universal delight. The Moose did a year of Japanese too, but can only remember all of the rude stuff he looked up to annoy his two half Japanese friends with, so he’s of no use whatsoever. The souvenirs here, by the way, are lovely and I will definitely getting some form of dragon before long. Had to get the obligatory “aren’t translations funny” shot too, like I could translate anything into any other language.

At the temple complex we heard bells ringing and some locals heading up to one of the temple buildings. Following along, we rinsed our hands in the incense laden smoke dispenser at the foot of the steps, placed our shoes in a plastic bag and snuggled down on the carpet inside the temple for the ceremony. All religions have a lot in common with this kind of thing, don’t they? Men in fancy dress, lots of different noises, ritualistic movements, a focal spot in the building to look at. Anyway, an old chap in a beautiful embroidered outfit was escorted in by some of the younger monks and sat at what looked like an ornate writing table facing the Buddha. The younger monks all sat down behind him and took turns doing various ritualistic things, ringing bells, carrying a box around, one guy did a bit of a performance on a Taiko drum at the back, delighting the Moose. There was an even bigger drum, about the size of a small car, but I guess that was for special occasions, not Tuesday mornings. All the while there was a lot of chanting going on. Then the chap at the desk extracted a coal from the brazier beside him and lit a fire that he quickly had flaming up higher than his head. Monks took turns bringing what looked like cricket bats with scripts on them to be waved over the flames, then pressed to their foreheads. Then members of the audience lined up to – have their handbags similarly blessed. They were done in bulk lots, and no foreheads were involved. Was a bit tempted. Maybe next time. Then there was a bit of chat by one of the monks in purple, then three monks at the three sides of the altar not facing Buddha picked up what looked like giant mops (probably Mops of Righteousness) and waved them about for a bit. Then the old chap put out his fire and was helped up to come and bow to the audience, then pottered out, followed by the rest. It was all rather lovely.

The temple complex was enormous and beautifully laid out. Look at this little pavilion, the supports that look like trees are actually concrete.

 We spent quite a bit of time wandering about the little forest and the bridges and the koi ponds, working up quite an appetite. We got our courage together and went into a restaurant for lunch. There was a bit of English spoken, and the menu was the display of plastic dishes outside the restaurant. Muffet took a few deep breaths and ordered for us in Japanese, some udon noodle soup for three of us, and chicken and rice for the boys. I think it may be the first time we’ve been to a restaurant that the Horror has been able to order off the menu and actually eat what comes out of the kitchen. He also managed to get outside his fifth bowl of miso soup for the day (they had unlimited miso soup at breakfast!), we may have found his culinary home.

 We slowly made our way back home, popping into as many shops as we could – this is clearly the off season – and bravely sampling some of the snacks, but none of the ones with eyes. We were a bit puzzled by a sticker on one shop, Moose thinks it might be a result of Sharknado.

 I’m resisting the alcoholic beverage vending machine in our hotel, but I might sample another Japanese beer at dinner shortly, and we’ll see if we can get two unedited, non buffet, non chip meals into the Horror in a row. Early start in the morning for a shuttle bus/plane trip/bus ride to the real snow.