Today we took the train to see the bamboo forest at Arashiyama. At first I was sitting, and the train got more and more crowded. A young mother got on with her baby asleep in her stroller. I offered her my seat, and she waved me off looking slightly embarrassed. Was it because I was her elder? Then an old woman got on and I offered her my seat, and she very graciously accepted my offer.

A few minutes later the young mom came up to me, showing me her iPhone. I wasn’t sure why and I realized she wanted me to read something on it. She apparently had an app to translate Japanese to English, and she had on the screen “Thank you and have a nice visit.” I was so surprised. I thanked her profusely and as she left the train she waved goodbye to me very enthusiastically.

I was really touched by this exchange. I’m sure I blushed.

Later we were at a very beautiful temple — Tenryu-ji Temple — which really had the most amazing gardens so far, and we have already seen a lot of gardens and sakura. It was really unbelievable. The phrase “a riot of color” came to mind. Besides the sakura, there were numerous azalea bushes, all in bloom. There were blossoms of pink, red, purple, yellow, crowding each other, overlapping each other, where ever you looked. It was like a dream of blossoms. I’ve never seen anything like it.

When I went to the bathroom, there was a sign that toilet paper wasn’t provided. I had been warned that this may happen in Japan; I was also told that hand dryers and paper towels are not provided, so you have to carry around your own hanky to wipe your hands on. The lack of t.p. was a new twist. I went in anyway, and in my stall, someone had left a packet of tissues for people to use. This was just another act of kindness by some stranger, totally unexpected to me.

In the States, lots of people have the bumper sticker that says, “Practice Random Acts of Kindness”. I see this saying, but I don’t experience it. I don’t recall having so much kindness shown to me as I do in Japan. I normally feel guarded and/or annoyed in public, but in Japan I feel taken care of and looked after.

It’s true, a lot of this could be colored by the fact that I am on vacation. But the fact still exists, that there is a culture of thoughtfulness and generosity to strangers here. There is also an expectation of much interaction. Even at the fast-food restaurant, the workers make sure to say goodbye to you very nicely.

So all that is wonderful, and I’m hoping that these warm fuzzy feelings will remain for the duration of my visit.

On the other hand… there’s the out of control cuteness thing, “kawaii” being the word for cute.

I was exposed to this right after I got off the plane when I arrived. I went to the bathroom before heading to customs, and there was a drawing of a toilet paper roll, smiling and hugging a heart. The sign said, “Please keep the lavatory clean.”

Apparently, the Japanese feel that every inanimate object looks better with googly eyes and smile. It’s kind of disturbing. On the recycling trash bin, there’s drawings of bottles and cans smiling and holding hands. We passed some sort of a health shop that had a sign with a smiling liver, kidneys and … yes, a intestine. A goddamn smiling intestine.

Most public service signs are drawn in a cute, comic-like style, and many advertisements are too. You are constantly surrounded by kawaii. And apparently some people are obsessed with the pursuit of more kawaii. I saw a young women today, wearing a very precious pink outfit, complete with heart-decorated stockings, beret, and a backpack shaped like a giant black cat. She spent many minutes photographing a feral cat because it was so cute to her. I thought, girl, you are much cuter than that dumb cat, but I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

We have a robo-toilet in our room. When you open the door to the bathroom, the light comes on and the lid automatically opens. Of course it had several bidet and heat settings, but it’s the lid opening that really gets me. I feel like the toilet is greeting me. The word for toilet is toy-re, so when I get up in the morning and open the door to the bathroom, I say “Toyre-san, ohayo gozaimas”. I guess kawaii has gotten to me, because I’ll miss being greeted by my toilet when I go home.


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