Monday, 19 January 2009

A Not-Naked Emperor

The latest installment of the Tokyo Metro's manners isn't much more inspiring than the past few months.

As Green-Eyed Geisha remarks, it isn't terribly realistic in Tokyo. You don't normally see people stretched out on the floors of Tokyo subways. Not because the floors aren't clean enough to sit on - because they are amazingly clean - but because it just isn't done. You do occasionally see school sports teams - groups of kids in high school uniforms lugging big bags full of equipment for baseball, kendo, or (once, on my way to a hockey game) ice hockey. The kids will normally pile their bags and make some attempt at keeping things out of the way, but if they can't all find seats they will likely eventually sit on their bags and stretch out, taking up most of the car and annoying the elderly passengers.

If people in Tokyo don't sit on train floors, they definitely don't tend to get naked in public (well, except for the old guys who urinate on walls in alleys near the station...). Which is why it amused me when I figured out the fairy tale behind the Tobu train line's latest manners poster - The Emperor's New Clothes!

The emperor is not naked, which is why it took me a bit to figure out which story they were using. The poster's caption reads "The emperor isn't aware of his shameful appearance." In the fairy tale it is a little boy who points out that the emperor is naked. Here a little boy and his mother look on in disgust as the emperor and his men make a drunken nuisance of themselves.

This one makes me smile everytime I see it.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

One Little Word

La Fuji Mama wrote recently about an idea suggested by Alie Edwards, choosing a word to represent the new year.

According to Alie:
A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can sharp and biting or rich and soft and slow...

It can be something tangible or intangible. It could be a thought or a feeling or an emotion. It can be singular or plural. The key is to find something that has personal meaning for you. This is not your mother's word or your spouse's word or your child's word - this is YOUR word.

One little word can have big meaning in your life if you allow yourself to be open to the possibilities.

It got me to thinking... What should my word be?

I want a word with promise, one that excites me, but also one that encompasses all that the year holds for me. This is going to be a busy year for me - just after it ends I'll be submitting my thesis, and a few months later I'll be graduating so I need to start figuring out my next step.

I decided on the term 実現 (jitsugen). It means 'realization' and expresses my excitement over the realization of my dreams of studying at a Japanese university, of studying museology, of working at a museum. And it expresses my determination to continue going after my dreams (and write my thesis!).

What's your word?

Monday, 12 January 2009

A New Look

I felt the need for a bit of a change. I like the layout of my appartment, so I can't start moving furniture about, and I'm trying to grow out my hair so I'm not going to go out and get it chopped all off. So a new blog layout was in order...

Friday, 9 January 2009

No Answer

In Japan no response can be the most polite response at all. And not in the "if you can't think of anything nice to say don't say anything at all" type of way either. If you don't want to refuse something or turn down an offer or deal with a problem, you simply don't respond. It is the most polite way out, as face is saved all around. The asker isn't ashamed by having to be refused/turned down/the cause of unpleasantness and the askee isn't ashamed by having to refuse/turn down/cause unpleasantness. Its a win-win situation!

Except if you're an uncultured barbaric foreigner like myself, without an appreciation for the finer niceties of social interaction, and an over-developed worry gene to boot. Then you'll find yourself less worried about face and more worried about heards of elephants or flash floods having taken out the recepient of your email/letter/telegraph/carrier pigeon.

Afterall, parents do also tell their kids to "use their words," right?

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Change of Luck

I ended up staying up late, figuring out how I was going to deal with a delayed return to Tokyo, sorting out what was still left for me to do in PG, and writing a blog post about the positives of being stranded. I hadn't been in bed very long, therefore, when the airline called to say that an extra flight had been added, and did I want to be on a 9:25 flight out of PG, getting me into Vancouver with enough time to catch my flight to Tokyo. Once my brain woke up enough to process this information I said yes and launched into action.

Three hours later, after dad dug out a trench through the enormous drifts on our driveway (the road was all but clear, the driveway had drifts of snow at least a foot deep in places), we set out to the airport. My flight out of PG ended up being over an hour delayed, and then once we did finally get to Vancouver we had to sit just short of the gate for nearly 20 minutes as we waited for a crew to be assembled. They obviously scraped the bottom too, as it then took three or four tries for them to connect the bridge - one impatient traveller said she could easily jump the gap if they'd let her! I left the plane and started running - I had about 15 minutes before my Tokyo flight was set to depart, and an entire airport to cross. The Vancouver Airport is in pre-Olympic renovation, so I ran through a confusing maze of boarded-up hallways. I ended up getting to the gate just as the last few passengers were boarding, with the only difficulty being finding space in the overhead bins for my carry-on.

We had to wait for a half an hour or so as they attempted to track down passengers who had checked-in but not boarded, and then when they couldn't find the passengers, locate the bags and have them removed from the plane for storage purposes. In the end, however, that delay was likely a benefit for me, as my bags ended up making it to Tokyo with me, despite my close connection. All is not well, however, as one of my bags (a large plastic container I bought to bring back an oversize Christmas present I recieved as well as all the gifts for friends in Japan) did not make it to my appartment in one piece. While it appears to have survived the rough treatment of airport baggage handlers, it had one corner shattered, the top cracked in multiple places, and two wheel coverings broken by the baggage delivery service. Happily, however, all of the contents of my bags appear to have made the voyage without mishap - including a bottle of Bailey's I was given for Christmas!

With all the crazy winter weather Canada, especially Vancouver, experienced this holiday season, there have been plenty of travel nightmares showcased on the news. I realize my tales of woe in no means measure up to those told by passengers on an AC flight that sat on the runway in Vancouver for 14 hours before finally taking off on the 5 hour flight to Toronto, or by the thousands of individuals who spent Christmas stranded in an airport instead of surrounded by family and loved ones, or the families with young children who had to deal with incredibly long delays and other difficult circumstances. I have been amazed by these tales, but even more amazed by just how badly the national airline has appeared to look. Reports of only two agents helping lines of hundreds of travellers, a complete lack of accessability that left travellers with nowhere to turn to for information, and an apparent general lack of accountablity as they blamed everything on the weather and conditions at the airport. This is while one local airline in particular came off very very well, as there were reports of monetary compensation, hotel vouchers, meal vouchers, and free pizza and pop being given out.

Despite all this, however, I was still surprised by just how virulently travellers, even those only minorly impacted, feel about the whole debacle. Travellers were not hiding their annoyance and I heard many say outright (and in front of employees) that they would never again fly with the national airline. I've got to say that with all that happened last year, and then the fall-out after my flight to Canada this year, I was feeling the same way. My return flight to Japan, however, convinced me that on the ground staff were and are doing all they can in a difficult situation. I would venture to say that the fault lies far above their heads, with top brass that have cut the number of employees, farmed out the 1-800 line to a call centre in India that cannot even begin to effectively respond to questions, and various other cost-cutting measures that have negatively impacted service and the overall customer experience. To that end, I hope that the recent troubles can serve as a wake-up call, not only to the national airline, but to all airlines in Canada, so that problems like these can be dealt with in a better fashion, especially with the Olympics arriving in Vancouver next winter!

In the meantime - well I have to unpack my bags in my small apartment and get working on all the schoolwork awaiting me as the end of term looms in the next few weeks. Better get crackin'!

Monday, 5 January 2009

More Bad Flight Luck

So I've written before about my bad luck flying to and from Canada for the holidays. Only a few short weeks ago I wrote optimistically about how I had booked my flights with that bad luck in mind, trying to minimize any potential problems.

Right. Uh huh. Mother Nature had other plans for me.

Early on it was called "Snowmageddon." It turned into a nation-wide snowstorm that ensured that, for the first time in 40 years, every resident of the world's second largest country got a white Christmas. Thousands upon thousands of fliers were stranded, especially in Vancouver.

I was selfishly relieved to fly through Vancouver to Prince George the day before the brunt of the bad weather, making it without anything more than minor delays. The trouble is that while I arrived in Prince George, my bag did not. With almost all flights out of Vancouver cancelled the next day, it took 72 hours for me to be reunited with my bag. When it did arrive, luckily this year my bag arrived safely with all its contents dry (and not frozen as I had worried).

Apparently this was not enough, however. Mother Nature decided to torture me a bit more. I was all set to fly out of PG early early early tomorrow morning and, after breakfast with my aunt in Vancouver, off to Tokyo. I would then have a few days before classes started, and about 10 days to finish a paper and study for an exam. Notice the use of the past tense. Yup. My flight to Vancouver has been cancelled. Many flights into and out of Vancouver have been cancelled. As it stands now the earliest they can get me out of PG is midday on Wednesday, bumping my flight to Tokyo back by two if not three days. I realize that the airline isn't really to blame, but I am still VERY upset. I will likely be missing classes (which might not upset your average Japanese undergrad, does worry me quite a bit). But, I am trying to be positive about all of this, so here goes:

Top 10 Benefits of a Delay
10) I have a story that is sure to not disappoint my coworkers at the museum and their belief in my extreme bad luck.

9) The bad weather caused snow drifts in my dad's driveway that are deep and quite pretty.

8) I got to spend this evening warmed by good company and a roaring fire as the weather roared outside.

7) I have more time to pack up my stuff at my dad's (in preparation for his planned move sometime over the next year or so)

6) I get to eat gnocchi for lunch tomorrow (dad bought it for me but we ran out of time to cook it).

5) I get to eat corned beef and sweet potato fries for dinner tomorrow (dad bought it for me but we ran out of time to cook it).

4) I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn (or not go to bed at all) to catch a 6 am flight.

3) More time with my dad in PG.

2) A visit with my family in Vancouver.

and, most importantly:

1) I get to watch the gold medal match of the World Junior Championships between Canada and Sweden on Monday afternoon!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year

(The English version of my nengajo - New Year's card - for this year)