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Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

Lost In Translation

This trip started in not a rural setting, but a decidedly less metropolitan one but as it progressed, we were spending more and more time in cities. The final day was in Osaka, and we got a taste of urban Japan as we headed into downtown for a couple hours of shopping. I wouldn’t say I was on any sort of a mission, but I was definitely keen to check out at least one Japanese electronics store to see if they were indeed all that I’d imagined. I was directed to Yobodashi Electronics, just behind the Osaka tram station, and wasn’t disappointed.

With something like five or six floors, the store is like Engadget and Gizmodo made retail. Okay, maybe not quite so cutting edge, but it was still a sensory overload for even a moderate tech toy geek like myself. Computers, cameras, stereos, cellphones, appliances, televisions, etc etc, if it had a circuit, speaker or lens, these guys had it and garishly labeled. It was awesome. What I liked best was that there was no distinction between high end and low end the way there is in North America. Whether you were looking for a $10 clock radio or $10,000 phono cartridge, they had it. Pocket point-and-shoot digicam or professional-quality Hasselblad photographic system, they’d hook you up. It was nice to be able to gawk at the really fancy stuff unmolested by staff (not that I’d have understood them anyway) before walking out with some cheap camera accessories. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t have more time to browse or else I’d have certainly spent more money than I really should have.

We had to abbreviate the shopping trip since there was one more stop in town before heading back to Taiwan – Osaka-jo Castle. Situated in the centre of town and rather toweringly so, it’s a reconstruction of a 17th century fortress complete with moats, gates and very impressive central stronghold. I liked that the castle grounds were completely open to the public and used as a city park. With the cherry trees finally blooming and it being Saturday, the grounds were filled with both tourists and locals enjoying a break in the lousy weather. It was a nice vibe. From atop the main tower, you had a terrific view of the city on all sides, a single bastion of the Middle Ages in a sea of modernity.

That was actually one of the pervailing themes of the trip, though far more evident in Kyoto than in Osaka – the proud history of the country sitting quite harmoniously with its ultra forward-looking character, and no one thinking it’s very odd at all. I found it all quite wonderful – if you couldn’t tell by now, I was very much won over by Japan. I felt a real sort of contentment in the places I went, the people seemed quite happy and all exceedingly polite and nice and apparently very much into dachshunds right now. Everyone had one). Everything about their gadget-y culture, from the ubiquitous vending machines to heated toilet seats and ultra-efficient hand dryers really appealed to the latent engineer in me. Things seem strange and gimmicky at first, but if you think about it they’re unbelievably logical and practical. If I was disappointed in anything, it’s that the Japanese cultural quirks weren’t nearly as over the top as I’d hoped. There was some charmingly butchered English on their Pachinko halls and in the airport, but otherwise it wasn’t like cruising Engrish.com in real time. But that’s actually probably for the best as well.

The choice to take a tour wasn’t mine, and it proabably wasn’t a bad one. I usually prefer to travel by skulking around a city and trying to play local, but I certainly got to see more, eat better and sleep better on this trip than I would have left to my own devices. It probably would have been better if I’d been able to understand more than every fourth word out of the tour guide’s mouth (note – tours booked from Taiwan will almost certainly be conducted in Chinese) but making do with a guide book and taking notes of where I was to look up what I was seeing later wasn’t the worst way to go either. Language was an interesting experience, though – I would instinctively spend a few minutes trying to compose my question or request in Chinese, and then realize that they wouldn’t understand that either. So most

But I will most certainly return to Japan one day to explore Tokyo – I suspect that’s where the giant robots are concentrated.

I am continuing to slowly upload my trip photos to Flickr, though it’s taking a little longer than I’d like since all the file dates are fubar-ed for some reason and I want them to display in something resembling chronological order. But they will be getting up there eventually.

For now, I’ve got another week in Taiwan that’ll be split between some tourist-y stuff and some sitting around complaining about the humidity. Should be a good time.

np – Maximo Park / A Certain Trigger

By : Frank Yang at 8:39 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. angryrobot says:

    "…the proud history of the country sitting quite harmoniously with its ultra forward-looking character, and no one thinking it’s very odd at all."

    That was exactly my feeling, as well.

    "…from the ubiquitous vending machines to heated toilet seats and ultra-efficient hand dryers…"

    I recently read that those hand dryers are now being available in the US. Now, if only we could get a Coffee Boss machine on every corner…

  2. lisa says:

    yes, yes, tokyo next time! nothing really to see per se, yet everything to see at the exact same time. i’m living in japan, and still, the beauty of this place, the wedged, engrained, old and the sensory overload new – it makes for a very surprising, crazy place to be.
    i read your stuff here frank, everytime i feel that i want to skip out of inaka japan, rice fields and mountains, mixed with karaoke and snack bars and pachinko … nights i wish that lee’s was a subway ride away. thanks.

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