What a culture shock!!! The most amazing thing is to be dropped in the middle of a place where you can’t quite comprehend anything and yet feel amazing excitement at your own helplessness! I guess any culture is amazing for how different it is to your own. The Tokyo culture is so generous though... so respectful. The most obvious thing on the streets is the awareness of others. You share the pavemenmt with bicyclists and hundreds of pedestrians, yet it all occurs in seeming harmony. People all walk apace of each other and there is willingness to step aside to allow others to pass in front of you. To be struck with a backpack as someone rushes past is uncommon. Very dissimilar to the streets of London. This fact is reinfoced at traffic intersections. The lights shift from direction to direction and the pavements swell with people; and they wait...and wait... and wait. The discipline is amazing. No-one runs the light. There is a calm patience that is truly zen like and makes me feel like a bustling westerner. Entering a shop you are greeted by every retail assistant with an announced greeting and at times a respecrtful bow. I felt relatively ignorant for being able to offer nothing more than an embarrased nod of the head. Once actually making a purchase you are faced with a continual babble from the sales clerk who seems to be offering all manner of compliments and information as she takes the money, wraps your purchase and then hands you back change, with more good wishes and dignified bowing!!! Its quite an experience and almost surreal until you have experienced it a few times and realise that this is the way transactions are carried out! Its as if you are blessed for offering your custom!
Eating out is even more of a blessing. There seems to be a great hubbub in all the Ramen houses and the noodle bars because when you enter, you are directly greeted with any number of shours and HAI’s in multi decibelled volume. I am not sure if they are screaming “WELCOME” or “SOMEONE’S AT THE DOOR” but it’s kind of exciting nonetheless. the food is confusing at first and you do get sucked into going to places that have menus with pictures on them so that you can stand a chance of guessing what it is you are ordering. But after you get over this initial shock the food is deliciously clean and (mostly) light and easy on the digestion. I love the way everything comes with a broth or a miso soup, it just seems such a lovely thing to have with your meal and perfect to help you slowly enjoy the food. However, the whole concept of table manners is very different. All those etiquette things that my Mum drilled into me as a child seem to be of little use here as people slurp suck and slosh food into their mouths with a great amount of noise. Very interesting and for this little Mummies boy, takes a bit of getting used to!