The Japan Journals : A culture of courtesy
03 August 2007 | Japan
We have been ensconced in our new Japanese home for two months now, and slowly, ever so slowly, we are beginning to settle into a routine of repairs and exploration all from the comfort of a marina smack bang in the middle of Amsterdam - or at least a very good reproduction thereof. Huis Ten Bosch is a theme park some twelve miles from the city of Sasebo, in Nagasaki province. Its a mini Dutch city of 250 acres replete with canals, cheese, clogs, barges, oompahpah bands and fireworks every night.
So much has happened since we arrived in Japan that our senses are truly reeling. Perhaps the best way to relay to you what our experiences have been is to break them up into a series of extracts from our notes and journals and see if even we can make heads or tails of them.
This first one is about the calibre of this nation's citizens.
The woman at the Konyia Ferry terminal
We needed to go to a city called Naze, some fifty miles away from Konyia on Amami O Shima, a group of island in the southern most part of Japan, so we went to the bus terminal, located next to the ferry terminal and asked for directions from the woman at the Town Council's information desk.
She told us to wait for bus inside the terminal as we could see it from there. It was to arrive shortly. Several buses did arrive, each signed in Japanese, so we asked "Is this it?" each time. No, was the answer each time. Exactly at the scheduled time, 10:28 precisely, the woman left her post, rushed out to bus stop where we were waiting, the bus arrives drives around the building and drives off leaving all three of us dumbfounded.
Without a moment's hesitation she takes off in her high heels,after the bus shouting "Come back!! Come Back!! We have foreign visitors!!" But the bus continued on its route. Undaunted she persisted, still yelling, and ran down the street dangerously dodging between trucks and cars and bemused bystanders and then, disappeared from view. Expecting to see her return in disappointment, we waited for a few minutes but she didn't re-appear. Then 10 minutes later, as we were ready to call it a day, the bus arrives, turns and comes to a stop directly in front of us. The doors open to let off a very bedraggled, dishevelled and sweaty 45 year old information clerk trying to regain her composure. She smiles the smile of success, bows deeply and apologises for the mix up.
Miura-san and Oxana in Okinawa
He was a complete stranger. We'd just met Miura-san and his Baluchistani wife, Oxana on the afternoon that we finally arrived in Ginowan Marina on Okinawa Island. He was doing some chores on his boat a few pens up from where we'd tied up.
On learning that we'd just arrived in Japan, he dropped everything, elected himself as our guide and took us for a ride around Okinawa. He showed us and made stops at the chandlery, Laundrette, Supermarket, Post Office and then insisted that he take us out for dinner. During dinner we explained that we were heading for Huis Ten Bosch in Kyushu on the mainland. Early the following morning he knocked on our hull and presented us with careful translations of all the info on Huis Ten Bosch and how to navigate the channel that leads to it. He then told us that he was going back to Yokohama later that morning and that we won't see him again.
Nichi-san and wife, the cement plant owner at Izena.
He and his wife were complete strangers. He arrives in his car virtually only minutes after we had sailed into Izena Island. He says he's there to pick us up. We don't know who he is, but he looks trust worthy. He takes us to his home for refreshments all the time desperately trying to contact his wife to come to the house. She arrives and rolls out drinks snacks photo albums etc then they proceed to take us for a guided tour of the island. Next day as we are about to leave Nichi-san arrives at the broken down concrete dock and begs us to wait until he returns. When he does he's got a huge bag with a bottle of awamori (the local killer drink), 2 pkts sugar coated peanuts, a large pack of muzuku weed (specialty of the island, looks like shiny dark brown worms) and six cans of coke. "For your voyage", he announces proudly in broken English, and begins waving goodbye long before we'd let the ropes go.
Shigeru-san, the yachtie in Ie Island
Another complete stranger. Brings Pauline flowers and print outs of all the anchorages that we should be stopping off at with details of how to enter, each page carefully translated into understandable English (must have taken a team to do the translation because his English was patchy).
Agarie-san, the civil engineer in Izena Island
He was a complete stranger. Same modus operandi as others. Tells us to "Wait a minute", disappears then returns with flowers and an invitation for sushi dinner. When he finds out that we need to have a shower during dinner, he turns half the island inside out and a lady that owns one of the hotels (closed for the off season) comes to open it up at 10pm just so that we can have a wash. Tea and biscuits thrown in. Just as we were about to leaves the island, he screeches up to the dock and delivers a box of twelve soba noodle dinners!
Kasai san, the boatbuilder at Konyia
He too was a complete stranger. As soon as we introduced ourselves he rushes out to get some flowers and some maps of the village which he then marks for us with where the Post Office, supermarket etc are located. Then arranges a trip to the onsen (fancy mineral spring baths), a trip up to the lookout to look down on our boat in Koniya. He cooks us a special dinner in his place where he hasn't invited anyone for 20 years and on departure brings us a bottle of local cordial
The stranger in Akune
He was the strangest stranger. One afternoon in Akune, a distinguished, well dressed man turns up in a taxi at the fish market. Gives us the usual, "Wait a moment", returns to taxi, comes back with a dozen cans of cold beer, hands them over, turns on his heels and as he's making for the taxi says, "Bye bye". Haven't got a clue who he was or why he did it.
Yoshie, the marina manager
Yoshie, the marina manager at Huis Ten Bosch heard that we were waiting for slack tide on the other side of Hario Seto, the channel that has incredibly fast currents. He came across the rapids the wrong way at the wrong time (in a power boat of course) in order to get us and shepherd us to safety. Just part of the service.
It is hard to hold back and not gush about the Japanese people. We have found them unbelievably generous, thoughtful and respectful, admirably disciplined and prepared to try almost anything. They are very eager to help us understand their country and culture and are equally interested in ours.
The photo shows the crew of "Ocean Delight"