Sunday, 9 March 2008

Kindred Spirit in a Taxi

My little cousin (who is a full head taller than me and legal just about everywhere so no longer so "little") spent a week in Tokyo on his way home from visiting his sister in Australia. It was his first visit to a non-English speaking country and it was really interesting for me to see Japan through his eyes. As often happens when I spend time with a non-Japanese speaking foreigner, I found people around me assuming I didn't speak the language, which is always interesting.

We spent most of our time exploring the modern urban centre that is Tokyo - electronics shopping in Akihabara, riding the 5 floor escalator in Ikebukuro, people watching in Shibuya, exploring the Sony Showroom in Ginza, and taking puri-kura photos.

I did sneak in a museum visit - taking him to the Tokyo Electric Company's Denryokukan (complete with a "scent computer" that randomly enough has a library of Canadian recipes complete with olfactory accompaniment). We also explored some more traditional sites - wandering around Ueno park with a friend, getting fortunes at Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, and going to Kamakura to see Enoshima and the big Buddha. We ate lots - sukiyaki, Korean BBQ, Krispy Kremes, giant tako-yaki, sushi rice-bowls, Japanese pub fare, pork katsu rice-bowls, monaka (Japanese ice cream sandwiches)...

People watching is one of my favourite sports, and rarely does Japan fail to provide interesting fodder. We spent an amusing 30 minutes in the Starbucks overlooking the famous Shibuya crossing, looking down at the masses of humanity moving everywhere, and imagining stories for a few interesting characters. I must admit I am rather glad that there seemed to be nobody who understood English around us - from the 60 year-old lovers eloping to Brazil, and the drunken fight master rendez-vous-ing with his gang contact, our stories were quite fanciful! My favourite people watching moment came in Shinjuku, however. We were sitting outside of Krispy Kremes, eating our doughnuts in the sun. I looked up and saw an older woman approaching us carrying two rather incongruous items. The fresh cut flowers under her left arm were not surprising. The large hockey stick in her right hand, however, made my jaw drop!

While I see my cousin every time I go through Vancouver, and would say that I am close to that part of my family, it was our first time to spend an extended amount of time together. We've always teased each other a fair amount, however, and our sibling-like antics surprised a few of my friends! (Another was un-impressed by my nagging of my little cousin... sorry 'bout that cuz!)

So when I dropped him off at the airport and came home to my dorm room I was feeling rather sad and lonely. Since I had a suitcase I caught a cab from the station. The driver, commenting on my baggage, asked if I returned home to my country. I replied that I had been staying in a hotel in Tokyo with a visiting family member, and the driver made approving sounds. Half to myself I added "but then it is lonely when they leave, isn't it?" My driver sighed deeply and agreed with me. It turns out he's from outside of Tokyo, and his wife and children still live there. He works in Tokyo and can only go home infrequently. We commiserated and bonded over a discussion of the trials of living far from one's family. From there we chatted about what I was doing in Japan, the differences of Japanese and Canadian climates... This simple conversation made me feel far less lonely. As I got out of the cab, the driver offered a piece of fatherly advice that put a big smile on my face... He told me to focus on my studies and not let any bad Japanese boys distract me (perhaps better advice than he realized!).

I've unpacked, done a load of laundry, and begun to think about the million things I have to do before school starts in early April... Sigh, back to my real life!

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