Roughly translated…

The literal translation of the Japanese word “gaijin” is “foreigner.”

Traditional Japanese women

Two women stroll through Kyoto in traditional dress.

During my trip to Japan, I learned that many Japanese use it the same way Americans use “gay” to mean “happy” or “bitch” to mean “female dog.” In the older section of Tokyo in particular, which Tim and I encountered one morning searching for a section of the Tokaido Road, gaijin implies “asshole Western tourist.”Old women gave me the evil eye and muttered at me. I found this both disconcerting and dismaying, as I like and respect the elderly. Tim and I were walking quietly along the side of the road. We weren’t doing anything rude or disrespectful. I may have been wearing something that exposed my shoulders, but that’s about as risqué as I got. Still, these women clearly found my presence offensive. In Kyoto, an older man glared and growled at me a we were leaving Starbuck’s. I didn’t cut him off, step in his way, or make any other sort of jerk move to illicit that sort of response. Many Japanese also refused to sit next to us on busses and trains–they’d rather stand in a ridiculously packed car than take a seat next to me or Tim. It was a very surreal experience, realizing that large numbers of people disliked me for factors beyond my control.

Enough on that–the rest of our Japanese experience was lovely and thought-provoking. Plenty of people were really nice to us, and I’m sure I’ll reflect on this trip for years to come.

The women wear an amazing variety of different styles. We saw everything: traditional kimonos, schoolgirl outfits, sundresses, formal workwear, sheer playsuits, mixed-up patterns, tons of layers, and something my cousin calls “the doily look” which is kind of super-prim Laura Ashley ultra lace buttoned up unnaturally high. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such diversity in fashion before–even in New York City.

The majority of the Japanese people we saw were very slim. I attributed this to two main factors: 1. They walk everywhere. 2. Tokyo’s heat and humidity in August makes the mere idea of food insane. We ate a lot of lighter fare…mostly yakitori. Who doesn’t love meat on a stick?

Seriously, it’s so hot that most people carry around handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat off periodically. And for drying their hands, because restrooms lack paper towels. Speaking of restrooms, I did encounter a Japanese pit toilet–it was the first restroom I visited in Japan, as soon as we got to the airport. People kept warning me that the Japanese toilets were essentially holes in the floor. The one I visted was actually more like a small-scale urinal, as though you took part of a men’s room wall, shrunk it and made it into the floor. It really wasn’t that bad.

We also saw tons of things with cats on them. Tim and I love cats, so that was cool. Surprisingly enough, we didn’t see any actual cats on our visit. Maybe they were all hiding.

While we visited quite a few temples and shrines, Kiyomizu-dera stood out as the most visually appealing to me. It’s set at the top of a hill over Kyoto–you’re standing in a complex of powerfully spiritual temple buildings, looking down on a sea of skyscrapers. The juxtaposition of old and new really resonated with me. I’ll start the series of random photos here with some pictures of Kiyomizu in an effort to make things somewhat less random. Enjoy.


The view from Kiyomizu.


Some of the buildings at Kiyomizu.

Nijo Castle

Part of Nijo Castle, also in Kyoto.

Paris Madonna

Tim and I walked by this cute little shop on an adventure one morning – I was disappointed they weren’t open!

Soul Food

Interesting variations on Soul Food.


I have no idea what this sign means, but we saw the same image of the cat carrying a kitten all over the place.


The doors to Meiji Shrine, another of my favorites.


Funny things about Japan

People dress up more than in the U.S. They wear a lot of black and white. And ridiculous heels and lots of matching sets, where the top and skirt match. It’s odd to me. Also, taxi cabs are lined with doilies. For real… I will take photos. Kabuki is awesome. Long, but awesome. Crunky bars rock. More observations in a few days when I’ve had more processing time.

At this time next week…

Tim and I will be in Japan.


And nervous.

I have never travelled overseas before. We’re going to visit my cousin Becky and her husband, Andrew, who have lived in Japan for the last six or seven years. Becky and I are both only children, born just six months apart. We spent loads of time together when we were really little, and she’s the family member I have the closest relationship with aside from my parents. We were raised like sisters up until she moved to Ohio when I was in fifth grade. After that she lived in Florida. And travelled. She’s been all over the place–it’s one of the things I admire about her. If she wanted to go somewhere, she went–no waiting until she had a boyfriend/husband/tons of money/whatever. She just went. So I completely trust her to guide me through my first international adventure.

Tim has also travelled a decent amount. Aside from time in Okinawa when he was little (his dad was stationed there), he’s been to Germany, France, Spain, and Ireland. Between Becky and Tim, I know I’m in good hands.

Why am I nervous? Mostly because I don’t speak or read Japanese. I’m a writer–the ability to use language effectively is part of my core identity. And now I’m going to be illiterate for more than a week. Intimidating. Also–because Becky is petite and classy and has amazing style and I always feel awkward and geeky and unsophisticated next to her. Which is entirely on me, but still. I need to get over it.

But mostly, I’m excited. I can’t wait to see Tokyo and Kyoto. Thousand year old palaces and shrines. Kabuki. The bullet train. Funky things like the ramen museum.  It’s going to be completely different than anything I’ve ever experienced before.