When you are in a place that is this polite and kind and clean and safe, you have a lot of emotional space for indulging yourself in a rich and unusual culture. And no matter how I present myself, everyone I have come across in Japan treats me like I am special.
Tokyo is a lot of mosts. It is the most populous metropolitan area in the world and the most expensive city in the world. Travelers rank it Number One city in the world in the categories of “overall experience,” most helpful locals, cleanest streets, best nightlife, best shopping and best public transportation. It has the most Michelin stars and, as I personally experienced, the most bows from a cab driver.
But the best part for me was spending time with my extended family.
On my first day in town, I had lunch with Elizabeth, daughter of my wonderful friend and former CPUC colleague, Christine.
Elizabeth moved to Japan about ten years ago to teach English. She met and married the love of her life, Aiji, and now they have two children. Although I always thought of her as American as apple pie, Elizabeth has taken on some endearing Japanese customs, including those that make her the perfect host. She brought me special books about Japan, treated me to a fantastic lunch, brought me special vegan snacks for food emergencies, taught me how to navigate the Tokyo subway system, and tried to give me her warm scarf.
Elizabeth has some pretty funny stories about her multicultural family. She and Aiji speak only English at home so the children will be bilingual, but 2 year old Kogetsu is resisting in favor of Japanese. Five year old Tora has had to advise his mother about how to pack the box that holds his extra clothes for school. She had, in her American way, just folded things without due regard for how they were to be organized.
Then last night, I had dinner with Kazuo, Motomi and Utah, who became part of our family when their daughter Miho married nephew Scott last year. Kazuo and Motomi work as accountants in Tokyo. Motomi is also a painter. Kazuo is a competitive swimmer, and coaches a disabled swim team. Both are learning English. (Where do they find the time?) Utah, Miho’s brother, is at Tokyo University where he will be awarded a doctorate next year in physics. At dinner, Utah spoke three languages — Japanese, English and Physics in English for Non-scientists (I love quantum mechanics even though what I know about it can be expressed in less than one sentence). I also got to see the photos from Miho and Scott’s Japanese wedding ceremony.
After dinner, we walked to a shrine (which Kazuo explained differs from a temple because it has a “torii” or gate to mark the separation of the sacred and the profane). At the alter, we each made offerings of special coins, then bowed twice, rang the bell, clapped twice and bowed once more.
I was sad to leave them at the subway station and I hope to see them again when they come to the US in September to visit their first grandchild.