Thursday, August 12, 2004

Greetings from Japan! This is going to be a short, not-very-interesting post, because I'm supposed to be doing something important and work-related on the computer right now. And then I'm supposed to go meet my brother and his girlfriend for lunch. Consider this a quick post to tide you over until I can get around to a longer post.

I am currently in Tokyo, but most of the trip so far has been spent in Hokkaido, which is the northernmost part of Japan. It's actually quite close to Russia. To Japanese people, it's very unusual and exotic, and I was extremely excited about going to this exotic part of Japan. But it turns out that what makes it exotic to Japanese people makes it seem, well, a lot like Kansas (with maybe some West Virginia thrown in) to someone from the U.S. Part of it is that in this very crowded country, Hokkaido is a land of wide open spaces, large-scale farming, and a whole lot of trees. But it's not entirely coincidental that the island looks like the American Midwest, because when the Japanese took over Hokkaido, they hired a bunch of American experts to come in and help them deal with the Japanese "frontier." (This frontier came with its own equivilent of Native Americans, the Ainu, who are the indigenous people of Hokkaido. The Ainu show up in museum exhibits filled with "Ainu artifacts" and in kitschy tourist souvenirs, but there's absolutely no evidence of them as living, breathing, modern people, at least in the stuff designed for tourists and visitors. My brother claims that the Japanese are "not good at that kind of thing." I'm not sure what kind of thing he means, but it's sad to say that North American tourist spots actually look good by comparison when it comes to discussions of indigenous people.) The result of this American input is that Hokkaido's very cool main city, Sapporo, is laid out on a grid like New York or Chicago (and if you've ever tried to get around in Tokyo, you know what a blessing that is), and the farm buildings have a definite North American look. Also, there are lots of ski resorts, which are built to look like Swiss chalets. Anyway, it's all very pretty, but not as spectacular to me as it would be to a person who lived in Tokyo, where there are no forrests or wide open spaces.

So now I'm back in Tokyo, which is big and difficult to navigate and pretty amazing. I think I'm having a weird Tokyo tourist experience. My brother speaks the language and can help me get around, so I don't think it's as disorienting as it would be if I were on my own. Will write more about this later!

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