Thursday, September 9, 2010
The reason I came to Japan this week (as opposed to at a later, hopefully more well-funded time in my life) is because my company is exhibiting at a trade show. Which is pretty cool, since as far as convention towns go, Kyoto is definitely one of the more interesting and exotic.
However, I have now discovered exactly how much of a pain in the ass it is to try and pull off a tradeshow exhibit 1/3 of the way around the world. Almost every single thing that could have gone wrong, did. I did make my flight. However a significant portion of our exhibition materials did not. So I spent my first 24 hours here running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to find a workable substitute.
Turns out, despite the fact that every single restaurant, and nearly every business here has a sign out front propped up on an easel, I couldn't find a single person who knows where to print a sign or buy an easel. I did get to wander around for several hours in the rain with my coworker though, looking for obscure objects like a 3-prong to 2-prong plug converter, or a large glass bowl.
And during that process, I actually had a wonderful time! There was the moment when we wandered into a Starbucks in desperation, needing something to ward off the caffeine headache, and then wandered out the other side the atrium of the swanky modern mall into a large temple compound, utterly serene, where water comes pouring out of the base of the building.
There was the "citron" shaved ice I grabbed in the food market, because I was completely parched, and that was the only one I could make myself understood well enough to order. It was a wonderfully flavorful combination of lemon juice and lemon rind. Exactly what I always hope lemonade is going to be, and never is.
There was the bowl of ramen I ordered by pointing to a picture on a menu when I was so jetlagged I couldn't remember my own name. So rich and restorative, and the team working in the restaurant was unbelievably cheerful, which made me smile too. (Of course, they might have been shouting insults at one another and all the customers, but I choose to believe they weren't.)
And last night, there was the restaurant we wandered into when we finally gave up on finding the restaurant we'd read about in my Lonely Planet guide. A tiny restaurant, with posters of Bob Marley playing soccer, and Sean Conery as Bond on the wall, where we smiled at the waiter/bartender/chef a lot and he smiled back a lot and we all nodded our heads a lot, and somehow that combination resulted in us getting served food. Quite yummy food at that!
Japan had somehow never been particularly high on my list of places to visit. Outcompeted by Chile, Iceland, and Bora Bora, even by the Gobi desert, I had placed it firmly in the "for some day" category. But my experience so far is rapidly changing that. This is one of the few places I've ever traveled where it's both totally foreign, and yet so comfortable I feel brave enough to chuck the guidebook and just see where my nose takes me. It's invariably going to be someplace interesting.
Now, can someone please explain the adorable little racoon statues I see at the entrance to people's yards? They're cute, but why do they have both breasts and large testicles?