Japan Observations

There don’t seem to be any clothes’ dryers–laundry hangs everywhere. Including ours.

No tipping. It’s so nice not to have to think about it. Servers don’t depend on it. Meals are less expensive.

No napkins, really. Just hot cloths to wash hands before a meal. And no paper towels. I should have brought or bought a little washcloth at start of trip.

No doggie bags. There is takeout, but health laws forbid taking home leftovers (the dogs we’ve met all seem fine, though, and very cute).

It’s illegal to hail a taxi. Go to taxi stand.

Everything works! Vending machines do not jam up and eat your money. When you press the button, the train door WILL open. This is not the NYC of my childhood. (Of course not, but I have habits and reactions based on that.)


shadowed graveyard
stones of strangers
a foreign language

after the rain
old man on a bicycle
pedals by

I sit writing
by the shrine—perplex
the neighbors

I traveled
my whole life, just to enjoy

twisted leafless trees—
this slick moss
almost trips me up

politics blares
from the passing van,
clumps of narcissus

Photographs by Isabel Winson-Sagan

Isabel Winson-Sagan on Doing Suminagashi in Japan

I love doing sumi here. In the states, most people have no idea what suminagashi is, and if they do it’s usually along the lines of “Oh sure, my kid did that one day in kindergarten.” While I love that suminagashi is such an easy and accessible art form, it’s a little like telling a painter that your kid enjoys finger painting…Here, everyone actually knows what it is! And they’re at least polite enough to comment on the difficulty involved.

I Expected Bowing in Japan But I Didn’t Expect

all the friendly waving. Today in the elevator at a museum people actually waved good-bye when we got off. And said “Welcome to Japan!”

I expected politeness but I didn’t expect universal friendliness, people–official and not–offering help. A med student getting us on the right train. Waiters practicing their English. People offering a seat.

I expected to make cultural mistakes but I didn’t expect to be greeted with friendly joking and laughter when I fumbled something. It also seems that if I smile I am communicating well enough.

Things that are not polite: Drivers. Wind. Japanese card only ATMS.

Very polite things: special umbrella stands with take one for free or leave one for free. Plastic coverings for your very own wet umbrella when entering a mall.

Mysterious things: why are pansies and narcissus blooming in this freezing cold weather? Oranges even? Pepper plants? The ingredients of some sushi pieces on the conveyor belt–for example, a tiny hamburger with mayo on top of the rice!

Unmysterious things: fabric and craft stores which bear an uncanny resemblance to Joann’s or Michael’s in the US, if you ignore the kimono remnants.

Photo by Isabel Winson-Sagan