December 11, 2014
I think I should definitely switch to a fortnightly rhythm as I cannot keep the weekly pace. Especially now during Christmas season with all the preparations and the school concerts and parties to attend, there is so little time to sit down and think about a blog post.
Last week I was busy because I went to see the Imperial Palace Garden which is normally closed to the public. It was a big event here in Japan and (Japanese) people even flew in just to get a chance to get into this sanctum – a once in a lifetime opportunity as it seems!
As usual, everything was very well organised. When we got to the entrance after the morning drop-off at school around 9:15, we were among the first – let’s say 2,000 people – to line up. We quickly passed the first waiting section to go through security and then we waited for about 20 – 30 minutes to get in. Luckily they opened the gates 15 minutes earlier than planned. A few observations on this first part of visit:
1) My friend Ann and I were the only foreigners
2) We were among the youngest
3) There were no children
4) Everybody was very excited (to Japanese standards)
5) Nobody pushed, shoved or complained
When the gates opened we were let in in batches – it felt like “only” 500 at a time. And then we moved on with the crowd within the defined paths. We got a glimpse of the guest house – that’s were all the foreign guests stay. We saw a corner of it up a little slope. Then we saw a rather nondescript administration building. Moving on, all of a sudden everybody in front of us took pictures like crazy so we thought we were finally going to see the palace. When reaching the spot of excitement we realised that it was just the road leading to the palace that thrilled everybody. Apart from the colourful trees – which by the way look the same on the other side of the wall or in any other park – there was absolutely nothing, zero, naught to see. But nobody else seemed to care as the crowd seemed to be more than happy just to be there, to be so close to the emperor’s home. We walked out through the public park and had great cappuccino and scones at Dean&Deluca’s.
Last week Saint Nicholas came to our house. As every year, the children put a glass of water for him, a carrot for his donkey and their boots in front of the door on the evening of December 5. The next morning they went to get their presents. Only Linus checked the neighbour’s door, and smirked “They did not get anything!” Well, you have to believe in Saint Nicholas to get a present.
Our Saint Nicholas party pretty much followed the usual programme and we had a great crowd of nice people at our house. This time the children outnumbered the adults and it was the first time we ran out of pasta as we had 13 hungry mouths to feed! Our children were happy to have most of their friends from school at home. Everybody had a great time and Mark made the biggest Lasagne ever!
Two weeks ago I promised you some more fun facts on the human sign post phenomenon. So here we go:
Before we moved to Tokyo some people asked me if it was really true that it is a job in Japan to guide drivers into parking lots. Yes, it is. It is also a job to guide drivers out of parking lots, drive ways etc. Even though we do not drive in Tokyo, I can see that this must be very convenient as you have someone to stop the pedestrians from crossing in front of your car and someone who can oversee the road despite the parked cars and can wave you out when the road is clear. It is also a job to stand next to a construction site e.g. on the pavement and to remind people to watch their step when walking across a plank – every single person all day!
Any construction site has a flag man waving the passing traffic by with a signal baton. Only at very dangerous passages, this person is replaced by an automated waving system. So far so good. What really strikes me each time are the numerous people in the bigger stations that just hold up signs indicating the direction to take to subway line number x, or exit A. Or those people who stand the whole day holding up a sign indicating the direction to a certain restaurant or shop. I am not providing any pictures as I felt it was not right to put those people on display in my post.
A few weeks ago we walked past a stage performance of a band presenting their new album. Around the stage, every 3-5 metres young men in black suits were positioned holding up signs saying that you should not videotape or photograph the event. Maybe the message is more personal when held up by a human being?
Of course, so many things are different here in Japan. I sometimes wonder how any Japanese person can live outside Japan. I have never seen such a level of service. I am still looking back with pleasure on my last hair dresser visit. Just going for a hair wash is pure pleasure!