In June of 2009, the whole Dan Hoolihan Clan landed upon Japanese shores. Now, Dan Hoolihan himself, had already been there PLENTY of times for business, starting in the early 1990’s.
Japan is cool. One might think. Seems like it might be a little bit of a distance for an entire family to travel to be together.
My brother was getting married there.
He had been stationed for the last few years on Okinawa at Torii Station where he met and fell in love with the sweetest, most wonderful woman from Osaka.
So we were Japan bound, after a brief rest in Honolulu where we definitely enjoyed a MaiTai. We had already had one on the plane, courtesy of my brother-in-law’s mother’s friend. She was a flight attendant on our trip, and made that possible, along with a tour of the cabin where the crew gets to sleep hidden away in the belly of the plane.
We also met up with one of my brother’s oldest friends, practically our other-brother, who was going to attend the wedding. He was a pilot and bummed a ride. He also claims that he tried to bump my sister and her husband and my husband and I up to First-Class, where my parents were seated. He tried, but couldn’t remember our married names.
A likely story.
Although we tried to sneak up to the First-Class cabin anyway but were straight up denied.
Finally, sleepy and arriving at about midnight, our feet touched the airport floor and the clan was reunited once more.
To say we were punch-drunk from lack of sleep (not MaiTai’s – I swear it had been almost nine hours, we didn’t have freebies on the second flight) is a gibangous understatement. Everything was HILARIOUS! Hilarious…and thus began the Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto Tally. EVERY TIME we heard Arigato, at least one of us would sing the song. EVERY TIME.
Our brother and his wonderful fiancé, met us at the train station near our hotel, where the Happy Smile Wedding was about to take place…in a few hours.
Rather than make the responsible decision to get a few hours of sleep, we took my brother out for a bachelor party. Yes, my sister and I went too, to a modern Hostess Club.
It was upon this first mission out in Osaka, in the wee hours of the morning, that we learned several important tips for navigating our way through the cultural differences.
- McDonald’s is always open. And they have shrimp burgers, and they are pretty good.
- DO NOT SPIT ON THE SIDEWALKS. My husband did this at one point, and my brother’s Army friend kindly pointed out that it was disrespectful.
It took us longer in the trip to determine the rest of the lessons we learned, but those were in about the first hour we were in Japan.
The enlightenment we received in our travels covered lessons of transportation, gastronomy, and more etiquette.
My husband continued to push the boundaries of International Incidents, as he interacted with those around him. Should anyone outside of the five of us shoehorned into the tiny hotel room been in that room that night, they would have been appalled and baffled at the obsession that the pilot and my husband shared with the toilet.
It was a combination of a bidet, and a toilet. They could make the water go down the hole, or come out of it. This provided them an extended period of entertainment late the first night, or early the first morning.
My sister and I were more fascinated with the public bathrooms in the New Archaic Hotel. There were little boxes in each stall that played a sound much akin to that of a flushing toilet. It was later revealed to us that due to the very reserved demeanor of the Japanese women. They would play the sound while they used the facilities to cover up the sounds of their own bodily functions.
We continued our Japanese bathroom adventures when my husband discovered the Indian type bathrooms at the train station. He had never seen one before, and needless to say, it was not a great time for him to have to discover this phenomenon.
Another exciting lesson was that at the Happy Smile Wedding, the beautiful cake my brother and his wife cut into was a FAKE. There was one slice of cake in a plastic ice castle rent-a-cake that they cut out and fed to each other. The cake that we ate was just a sheet cake that was cut and distributed from the back.
Japanese food innovation continued to amaze us when my sister-in-law brought us to a neighborhood sushi place where the rolls and sashimi were distributed to us on a conveyer belt! It was seriously awesome. The equivalent of a cruise buffet with really good food instead of mediocre. I was hooked. We also gleaned, although I continue to have a hard time convincing my American friends of this, that it is perfectly acceptable to eat sushi with your fingers. This solidly embedded sushi has my favorite Japanese cuisine, followed solidly by Green Tea Ice Cream.
My husband continued to be our fish out of water when he discovered that upon complimenting someone on their possession in Japan, it is customary for the complement receiver to dispense said item to the complement distributor.
A new pair of shades found its way to my husband a la the bride’s brother in this very awkward (for my husband) way.
One of the most wonderful cultural differences that we found in our trip, was the utter generosity and kindness of the people. Not only was this gift of sunglasses a kind way to welcome an international buffoon, it was done out of true generosity.
The experience that best exemplified the trustworthiness of the Japanese society as far superior to that of the American culture, was when my sister absentmindedly left her backpack on the train.
We had decided to take a day trip to Kobe from Osaka, which was just a quick train ride away. Thanks to my new sister, we were pros at maneuvering through the system. Or, we simply followed her. In our hurry to exit the train following in her footsteps, my sister inadvertently left her backpack in the overhead compartment where she had stored it. She was attempting to make more room for more people. We were standing on the platform and the doors had just closed when my sister realized this, and she turned to the closed door just as the train pulled away.
Super sister-in-law was on the case, she proceeded to the help desk. There she was assured that the stationmaster at the next stop would retrieve the bag and hold it for my sister to arrive. Chasing the missing backpack, a small party of our contingency hopped aboard the next train in hopes that the bag didn’t disappear in transit.
I was one of the hangers on in Kobe, and proceeded to take pictures with the cow statues throughout the town commemorating the internationally acclaimed Kobe beef. After what seemed like forever…the search party emerged backpack in hand! The integrity of the Japanese people had helped to return the pack to its owner, highly doubtful on any mass transportation system state side.
Final lesson learned: Japan and the Japanese people were gracious hosts to a slew of American tourists fascinated by, well, everything along our journey.