Soyanara Nihon
(March 1 - March 21, 1999)

I was scheduled to leave Tokyo on Sunday, 3/21.  However, the 30 year old daughter of my dear friend Dave died last Monday in Poughkeepsie from the cancer she was battling since last October.  Since we were just about done with the work, I sent my boss a note and said I had to leave if I could make the arrangements.  Thank goodness for Delta.  As they did for me in 1996 when my dad was about to die, they were able to get me and Diane out of Tokyo on an earlier flight.  So we left on Wednesday for home.  Delta was also able to find a frequent flyer seat for me to go to NY.  The trip home was 20 hours door-to-door and we got home at 6PM on Wednesday evening.  I hopped a plane to NY on Thursday and came home again on Saturday.  It is Sunday morning as I start to write this final note about Japan.  My body is just now figuring out where it is.  I find the Asia trips to be much harder on my body than the European trips.  It takes me a few days to get back in synch when I return from Japan.

Last week was a pretty tough week for me from the time I received the note about Dave's daughter on Tuesday morning (Monday night in the US).  Nick was still in town on Monday and it was his last night, so he picked the restaurant.  He decided shabushabu was the choice, so we went back to ShabuZen.  On Tuesday, Diane picked the last meal and she decided on kushiyaki.  So we got to eat our three favorite meals in our last three nights in Tokyo (monja on Sunday, shabushabu on Monday, kushiyaki on Tuesday).  What I want to do in this final note from Tokyo is to wrap it up with some final impressions, those memories that will stay with me forever.

Before I do that, though, I had forgotten to mention in the previous three notes from Japan anything about the building we were working in, specifically, the elevators.  I had never been in a building that had 'tandem' elevators, one on top of the other.  You got off on odd or even floors.  It was kind of slick.  For one, it certainly eliminates having people take an elevator up or down only one level.  They have no choice but to take the stairs.  It was a bit weird when the elevator stopped and the doors didn't open.  The first day there it took a while to figure out that they were tandem elevators and someone was getting on/off on an odd floor (we were on 18, so we got on at 2).

Now for some final impressions of Japan:

*  the Hotel New Otani - this became 'home' for the 20 weeks I spent in Tokyo from 1993 to 1999.  From my very first impression when I walked into hotel in 1993 and spent 8 weeks there, to the return in 1994 when my friend Peter met me and said 'welcome home', I always looked forward to a trip to Tokyo.  I talked about the hotel in a previous note, so I won't say anything else except that I know I will miss this marvelous hotel.  It was the best one that I stayed at during my assignments in Audit.

*  public transportation - the subways, trains, taxis

    - subways and trains - you can definitely set your watch by these systems.  But the lasting impression is how SPOTLESS they are.  The stations are spotless and well lit.  No garbage all over the place, no graffiti on the walls.  The trains are immaculate and have upholstered seats, and people don't slit them open with knives or destroy them.  There is no graffiti on the trains.  And probably one of the things that I found most incredible is that there is no garbage on the tracks.  No bottles, papers, cigarette butts, newspapers, etc.  I never saw a person throw garbage down on the tracks in subway or on the JR (Japan Railway).

    - taxis - thousands of them, all over the city.  Lined up in front of office buildings, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas.  They are also immaculate.  And the drivers do wear white gloves.  The seats have embroidered covers over the top of the seats, and they are WHITE.  The drivers are pleasant and want to please.  On one trip, the driver got confused about where we told him we wanted to go and we knew he was not going the right way.  Now one might think that he thought we were tourists and would run up the fare.  However, when we got to our location and he realized his mistake, he cut the fare down to what it should have been. 

*  the school children - I will never forget the first time I saw little kids, maybe 6-7 years old, traveling by themselves on subways and trains to school.  ALONE.  Now in which USA city would a parent allow their 6-7 years olds to travel on a subway to school alone?  Japan isn't crime free, but one doesn't read about multiple crimes every day.  You really have a feeling of being safe in such a big city.

*  Yoyogi Park - I also talked about this in a previous note.  I will never forget Yoyogi Park, especially the first impressions with Peter back in 1993 and then watching Diane's reaction when she arrived in Tokyo six weeks later.  Once we got over our first impressions after spending a couple of Sunday afternoons there, Peter and I enjoyed watching other tourists taking in the sites.  The people watching at Yoyogi was always fantastic.

Oriental Bazaar - we spent lots of yen in our favorite store buying stuff for ourselves and others.

*  temples and shrines - I never got tired of visiting a new temple or shrine.

*  the food - if you have followed my notes, need I say more?  Marvelous experiences.

*  the respect - Japan is a culture of respect.  You can see it everywhere you go.  They respect each other and respect their country.  Not many litterbugs in Japan (a real hot button for me when I drive in the USA and see people throwing paper, cups, cigarette butts, bottles, etc. out of car windows.  Pigs.).  It is not uncommon to see some serious bowing going on in hotels, stores, the workplace, all over.  The higher in stature the person is, the lower one bows to that person.  I once asked one of the two ladies at the hotel who moonlighted as greeters for people getting on the elevators how they learn to do the bowing.  She told me they learn it all their lives and it is then part of them.  They just know how to bow to different people they meet.  But the key is that it is all based on respect.

There are many other memories of Japan, but those are the highlights that come to mind. 

I thought in 1996 that it would be my last trip to Japan since I was ending my audit assignment and going back to a desk job.  Little did I know that I would re-join the audit group and be back in Japan once again 2 1/2 years later.  This time I think it will be my last trip to Japan unless we take a vacation there sometime down the road.  But who knows?  Life is strange.  However, assuming that this will be the last visit to one of the two places on the planet that I have loved visiting the most, I will say good-bye Japan, SOYANARA NIHON.

Until next time.

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