Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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May 19, 2003

Okay... I've been getting lots of emails from lots of people in the US who are worried about me and the SARS virus. But not to worry, there haven't been any cases here in Japan - last I heard. In fact, it hasn't effected my life at all. I don't wear a mask around, the movie theaters are not closed, no one is quarantined... all of that is in China. And there is the Sea of Japan between me and China. Thank goodness I didn't go to Beijing for my April holiday week. I'd thought about it, but decided not to. My instincts were telling me not to. You gotta love those instincts!

Saw a Blind Woman Cross a Busy Street - ALONE
There are lots of things here for the blind. Bumps in the sidewalks and in the train station. And at many major intersections, there are sounds for blind people. To cross north-south there is one sound, to cross east-west there is another. This seemed like a good system so that blind people know when the pedestrian sign is red, and when it is green (Japanese call it blue, but I'd swear it was green, anyway...) I'd only thought about the system in theory, I never really imagined what it would really be like for a blind person to actually use the sounds... until the other day. I rode my bike to work and I was standing on the corner waiting for the light to change so I could cross to the north. Then I looked over my shoulder and saw a woman with one of those white sticks with the red on it to let you know this is a blind person. She just stepped out into the crosswalk to cross to the east. It occurred to me what an act of faith that was. She simply had to trust that no one would make a turn without looking. She simply had to trust that some young kid wouldn't be talking to their friend, or changing the CD as they made a simple turn, assuming that the road would be completely free. It just amazed me! Talk about 'blind faith'! I don't know if I could do it. Could you?

More Thoughts about The Wall
Do you remember me talking about 'the wall' in the January 21st entry, the January 26th entry, and the February 5th entry? It occurred to me that I haven't written much about that lately, yet in that time I think I've made progress worth noting...

I've just taken a few minutes to think about where I am on that. In my time here I've been able to discover and accept some things about myself, and discover and accept some things about the Japanese culture. And another key element to getting over the wall has been accepting the places where I'm simply not compatible with the Japanese culture. There's nothing wrong with the Japanese culture, of course, but there's also nothing wrong with me. There are simply going to be ways where I don't fit. When I first got to Japan, I was thinking I'd be a failure if I didn't manage to fit in perfectly. (It's the Virgo in me.) But it's not about right and wrong... it's not about failure or success...

If I had to name the most important thing I've learned here it would be the immense power culture has on all of us, all around the world. And the key to getting over the wall has been admitting to myself that I am included in that. Culture has immense power over ME, just like anyone else. I am American, born and raised, and with that upbringing comes a set of values, behaviors, expectations, etc. Slurping is frowned on the in the US, and encouraged in Japan... but slurping itself isn't right or wrong... it just is! Likewise, there are other VAST differences between America and Japan - in SO many very basic ways they are complete opposites. In particular, America is all about individualism, Japan is all about team. I've noticed that every culture clash I've encountered comes down to this very basic difference if I analyze it enough. Neither approach is wrong, neither is right - they are just vastly different.

So I can work hard to change and adjust myself to my surroundings and the place I am in, but there are limits to that. Some things I can't adjust to because I was raised in a certain culture. Some things I just don't WANT to adjust because (for better of worse) part of being an American is the strong belief in the right to be yourself. In short, I gotta be me! And I'm thinking realizing all of this has also been an important key to getting to the other side of that wall! I wonder if any of this will make ANY sense at all, to ANYone... :-)

Don't Count on these Updates to Keep in Touch with Me
Maybe some of you have noticed that I haven't been writing as many updates as I did in the beginning of this Japan adventure. If you haven't noticed, then I'll quit writing them altogether! Just kidding... but, really, I've been focusing on replying to the personal emails that you have been sending (thanks!). I've been giving those top priority - I gotta prioritize because of my limited Internet time. In the beginning I used this website to pass along all the information about Japan - because everything was new and I didn't want to retype the same stuff over and over into separate emails. But there's not as much new stuff anymore, and of course, I prefer to write personalized emails to these mass updates. So if you've been counting on the updates to stay in touch with me, please take a second to send me a few lines at and I'll reply as soon as I can. Sometimes it can take me about two weeks (one week to receive the email, one week to reply) because I still don't have much in the way of regular Internet access - something I miss tremendously, by the way. But please do still write, I WILL reply. I miss all of you lots!

Dewa sono uchi ni
"See you in a little while"

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