The Sudden Appearance of the Inexplicable


A FREE DAY IN TOKYO, when it is your second day in Tokyo, produces a sequence of  dissonances as the mind grasps at the familiar, only to have the familiar veer into the odd. You notice a recurring icon and figure out that it denotes "exit." Then you notice that the figure—at first glance the routine pedestrian icon with circular head and no hands or feet—looks to be running for his life. Exit in a hurry, apparently. 

Walking down the street, you seem to be always going against the flow of pedestrian traffic. Then you remember: the Japanese, like the Brits, drive on the opposite side of the road from Americans, on the left. Pedestrians on the sidewalk do the same. 

Conscious of the extraordinary (extraordinary to a Westerner) courtesy of Japanese culture, you repeatedly hold elevator doors, motioning for Japanese to exit first. They seem reluctant to do so, which you don't understand until you learn that the protocol requires the oldest person to leave first, and that's you, grey-bearded gaijin

There is an item on the train station cafe menu called "cocktail set." You order one, and the waitress brings a tall glass of ice, 2 oz. of whiskey, a bottle of seltzer, and a stirrer.

Wherever you go, you will not be given a paper napkin. You will be given a sealed pre-moistened towlette.

Schoolchildren in uniform will shyly ask to have their picture taken with you. Most fill flash peace signs as the shutter clicks.

Japanese newsstand magazines have titles in English. Nothing else on any page of the magazine is in English. Just the title.

And sometimes, in a Japanese park, you come across something you simply cannot explain. You just set your iPad to shoot video and enjoy it, especially the second guy from the right.