Letter from Japan

Letter from Japan

It's quiet. It is really really quiet. There's a gentle white noise from the mini split and that's all. We're in Kyoto sleeping on the floor, inhaling the sweet reedy smell of the tatami mats. We're staying in a major metropolis. It's 4 in the morning because I'm still jet-lagged. The doorways are all too short for me. When I stand up on the train I invariably bang my head on the hanging handles, not hard, just enough to surprise myself and to feel foolish. I am enormous here. I forgot to pack walking shoes and bought a men's size, as the women's sizes stop well before my (size 9) giant feet.

We've been doing a lot of walking. There are so many beautiful little streets, with worn fabric banners showing hand printed or drawn letters that look like nothing more than beautiful shapes to me. I am utterly illiterate here. The people I've met have been unbelievably gracious and put up with our knowing nothing in a way that makes it seem like they are at fault for not knowing what strange thing we're asking for in their country, in their home. We've been traveling very low-budget and staying in single rooms in homes and ryokan (tiny hotels run by families mostly).

For some reason the images in my mind of Tokyo are not the sweeping torii gates of the shrines that we went to see. I have photographs and will always treasure the memory of seeing them. But what I was most amazed by were smaller things that we did not know to stop and document. There was a set of three ceramic pots, sitting on the street next to some potted plants. They seemed vacant at first, but they were full of water, and tiny fish hiding in the water plants. The tiny shapes of the fish were right there in the street under the sky. The bright flash of this revelation was both so fitting for the setting and so unexpected. I imagine that they belong to some grandmother who sits out in the evening and watches the fish go around. Who cares if this is true or not.

I remember also vividly the meh meeeeh-ing sound of the cicadas, such a complaining sound, so loud in a country where even the construction is done with as little impact as possible. There were some houses styled to be European that stuck out. They looked like something from an anime. They didn't look like any European house I've seen. More like a very tidy cake in the shape of a house.

The first night we landed and went deliriously in search of some food after flying for about 17 hours, we stumbled into a family run udon shop. David begged me to make a decision about food, because everything seemed bright and loud and utterly indecipherable at that time of night in our strange state. We ordered the first and second thing on the menu, ordered a beer. Blessedly the word for beer is understood everywhere. We got some amazing home-made noodles in broth, some cat-foody tasting fish, a bowl of clams in rich brown sauce? We think they were clams but honestly I'm not sure, and rice with tuna mash and a raw egg yolk on top. It was unbelievable. I think that's when I knew we were in Japan. We ate our udon hot even though they asked us 3 or 4 times if we were sure about that. It was about 90 degrees. It never occurred to us to have it cold. The cook went to sit in the back room and drink with his friends after it seemed there would be no more customers coming in. He poured us a tiny challis' of sake and left us to his wife's watchful eye. She tidied, we ate, and then payed and fled.

I love how clean it is here. I love it. I have always liked order and taking off my shoes inside. I am German after all. Everyone seems to carry their own hand towel for a day's outing. There are no paper towels in most of the bathrooms. This same hand towel can cover your hair should it rain. Why you'd want to cover your hair when it rains I'm not sure, but it was clearly an important function of the towel. We enjoyed a late afternoon of watching people run through the rain with various items over their heads while we sat in the window of a restaurant/pub. The fashions and people were equally fun to watch. People wear floor length flowery mom-ish dresses and make them look cute. Can you believe it?

The rooms we've been in are spare, clean, everything in the bathroom is white, as though to prove to you that there's no speck of dirt hiding that you might miss on a colorful tile. I love that people don't smoke and throw their butts on the ground, but either wait near an ash-can or carry the butt away in a small pouch designed for this purpose. I don't even mind that there's smoking in some restaurants. I grew up with this in Germany and it seems sort of cozy to me. I know that it's terrible for all involved of course- but what can I say. I've seen folks with gloves for ridding the train so they don't have to touch what other people touched. There are even men in the train stations who clean the ever rotating germ-buffet that is the escalator handrail. There seems to be a whole fleet of people in the parks who's job it is to clear away leaves. I love that they care enough to employ people to make sure that it's nice. We could learn from this America.

We came to Japan to see Tokyo Games show and see if it would ever be a viable market for us. It's much cheaper to send me and David (who go for free) than the company and all the stuff required for a con set-up. So, we've reviewed Tokyo games show, and basically it'll be a very long time before we come to exhibit at this show if ever. No judgement of the show, but it doesn't really look like folks are interested in shopping. And what there is to buy is very easy to buy, t-shirts, towels, stuffed critters. It's blastedly full and hot and sort of dark also. But there I am being back at work, analyzing, explaining.

I'm done working for the trip. We've got one week to do whatever we want in Japan. The funny thing is we have gone so far away to be able to have a real stopping point. To be able to stop working or even thinking about work it helps to have little to no internet and not to be callable. I think we must learn to be unavailable more often.

The most wonderful thing about running a business is that you get to set the terms. You get to chose. This is also the very hardest because you have to chose carefully and then follow up on your choices. It never really ends of course. This has never been more true than now. As we grow, (not as smoothly as it sounds) we also have new growing pains, new overhead costs, new challenges, new systems we have to learn and master. There's nobody to help you "figure it out." It's hard to shut-off, to stop working. It's hard to feel like your ship will stay afloat without you watching it's every move. But it will, it does, it has for the last week.

1 comment

  • Scott DeFelice


    I love your stuff and live local. I have a business in Tokyo and thought your products and always thought you would have a market there. What did you decide?


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