Everyone has been asking me about my trip to Japan since I got back last week. I want to share, but whenever I get the question, my mind floods with all these things I could tell them about.
Where do I begin? The weird toilets? The indescribably awesome music at the Festival I was there to cover? The hotel attendants who bowed as the elevator closed in front of us? (We never did know how to respond in that last situation.)
And so, in an attempt to give you a glimpse of my trip around the world, I’m defaulting to bullet points in no particular order.
- First things first: I was there with a friend/co-worker, Kristy, to cover a Franklin Graham Festival. Some churches in Japan invited our organization to hold the event in Sapporo (northern Japan), so after months and months of praying, planning and preparation, off we went! A Festival includes music, performances, preaching, etc. Our job was to write about the event for our website, take pictures and manage social media. You can find our stories and pictures here.
- The people were incredibly friendly. Everyone smiled, said hello, bowed and were generally pleasant. People in the hotel, people in the shops, people at the Festival, the taxi drivers and so on.
- Speaking of taxi drivers, all the ones we saw wore suits and white gloves. They also spoke less English than I expected, which meant one episode in which Kristy, another co-worker and I sat in one taxi for 10 minutes as I pointed to a picture where we wanted to go and the driver said a bunch of things in Japanese I didn’t understand. But we got there!
- The toilets had heated seats and handles in weird places. You could also push a button on them to make a flush noise, … but without actually flushing. I won’t go into its other features.
- I was worried I wouldn’t like most of the food, but I actually enjoyed almost all of it. We ate sushi, lots of veggies, some tiny fruity cakes and real ramen. Not the “just add water” ramen you eat in college ’cause you’re poor. The yummy kind of ramen that you eat with chopsticks from a big bowl. It’s also OK to slurp your noodles. That shows the cook that it’s good and also helps cool it off as you eat it.
- Long flights aren’t fun when you have a window seat. From Charlotte, we flew to Detroit, then to Nagoya in Japan and finally onto Sapporo. From Detroit to Nagoya, it was about 13 hours. Ugh. I get really restless after 7 hours, but I did get to watch a lot of movies. Also, airplane breakfast is icky.
- Cherry blossoms are beautiful. They were even better than the picture on the cherry blossom scented stuff at Bath & Body Works.
- People in Japan are typically reserved, but they can really get into gospel music. Did you know gospel music became really popular when Sister Act came out? Didn’t think so.
- The beds there are shorter and lower to the ground, and the halls and aisles seem narrower.
- Japan is very clean. I think I saw one stray piece of trash on the sidewalk while we were there. And I saw a woman in the airport with a tiny dust pan cleaning a spot on the floor.
- People don’t cross the street unless the sign says so. Even if there’s nothing coming. It really brings out the American impatience in you.
- It messed with my mind to sit in the passenger’s seat while the drivers drove on the other side of the road. I experienced the same thing when Pete and I were in Australia. At one point in Japan, while a bunch of people from our team were riding in a van, the guy in the passenger’s seat turned around to say something and I panicked, thinking he was taking his eyes off the road.
- Little kids walk around the city by themselves and it’s OK. I kept wanting to ask where their moms were and see if they needed help. Japan is generally safe and I never felt unsafe while we were there. … Except while riding in cars as mentioned above.
- Kristy and I joined two older ladies from Dallas on a short trip to the coastal town of Otaru. That means we had to brave public transportation. First a subway, then a train. It was only a half-hour train ride to the coast, but trying to buy tickets and get on the right one was challenging since almost everything was in Japanese. On our way back to Sapporo, we were trying to find the kiosk to get return tickets and a lady came up to us and said, “I speak English. Do you need help?” Bless her soul.
- Japanese kids are soooo cute. Our interpreter, Izumi (who was awesome), said the Japanese like white babies because of their pale skin, curly hair and big eyes. Who knew?
- We took a lift up the ski slope there to get some pictures of the city for our website. The 1974 winter olympics were held there.
- I knew people there wear masks, but I thought it was only when they’re sick and don’t want to get other people sick. Izumi told us that some people, especially the youth, wear face masks to hide their expressions if they don’t have a lot of confidence. Japan is a group society, she said, and you typically don’t want to go against what others are doing or show much emotion.
- Also, if you see people standing on one particular side of an escalator, you should stand on that side, too.
- I saw a KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. We also got ice cream at Baskin Robbins one afternoon, but they had some flavors we’d never heard of. Kristy had a funny fiasco in the Baskin Robbins, but it’s better told in person. We’ll just say it involves a slight outburst and the order of scoops in her cone. (Oreo MUST go on top, not the bottom.) It was hilarious.
- There weren’t many overweight people there. And the women dress really nice. No sweats and flip flops. Izumi said girls are told they should look nice when they go out, so they do. Izumi lived in Kansas for a year and said it was a lot different. Yeah.
- I saw some of the funniest pictures and signs. My favorite was a sign in an ice cream shop that said, “There is no lavender ice cream is our shop.” Darn. Just when I wanted some lavender ice cream. I DID eat melon flavored ice cream. Mmmm.
- Things weren’t as expensive as I thought they would be. They weren’t cheap, but they weren’t outrageous. I kept some of my yen as a souvenir.
- I was surprised at all the American music we heard over there, either instrumental or with words. I heard Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Relient K, Jewel and a Japanese version of “Let it Go.”
- My favorite store was one called “Snobbish Babies.” Way to be blunt.
- And on the subject of being blunt, I got a kick out of a sign in our hotel rooms. You know how you can put a sign on the door that says “Do Not Disturb”? Well our hotel had a sign like that, but you could also flip it over and ask the maid to “Clean Room Immediately.” I didn’t use that side.
- People there are very religious, but many of them worship many gods. Less than 1 percent are Christian. That made the response to the Festival’s Gospel message that much more powerful. God was at work for sure.