A few years ago I was blessed with winning a trip to Japan from EK Chain, one of our vendors. There was 16 of us all total and not a one of us spoke the language. The flight over was great. We had Japanese flight attendants who were the best in the industry. The service we received while in country, was the best I have ever experienced. Tipping is not permitted. On our last day there, I was speaking with the manager of the Imperial Hotel. I asked him why it was frowned upon. He stated, "Excellent service should be expected, not bought". I thought that was a pretty good answer.
We spent a week touring the chain factory and sight seeing. I was both amazed and disappointed. Of course I went thinking that what I would experience would be Japan of my history and school books. That Japan doesn't exist. Not in the manner in which we were taught anyway. What I did find was an incorporation of everything old, historic, and beautiful into a thoroughly modern economy that wants so desperately to be American. I was so surprised at the number of "American" businesses, IE.. The Hard Rock, 7/11, McDonalds, and so on...
I would dare say that 90% of the country does not speak anything but Japanese, contrary to what we have been taught. I think that the much younger generation might very well be bilingual, but the typical adult is not. We were lucky enough to have two wonderful young ladies that were bilingual as tour guides and they took us to some of the neatest, off the beaten path places..
We did discover that the "old school" Japanese businesses don't want Americans to come in. We found this out because we were trying to find a restaurant that served dumplings. As we came in with our guides, they kept waving "NO" and trying to hold the door for us to leave. At first I was offended until I found out the reason. They don't like it because they don't speak English and are worried that a miscommunication would cause offense. See, Japanese people will not approach you or even speak to you, at all, unless you speak to them first and that is considered rude behaviour, to engage someone you don't know, in conversation. They won't even look you in the eye as they are afraid to encourage conversation.
The architecture was so neat to see.. you would see old, traditional Japanese structures, literally incorporated into the facade of new, modern, glass and steel buildings. Rather than destroy the old, they would just attach the new, right to it.
We stayed a couple of nights in a traditional Japanese, sleep on the bamboo mats, on the floor, hotel. Complete with the public bath (which I declined to try) and the beautiful gardens. I was worried that my 40+ year old bones weren't going to take sleeping on the floor as well as they used too. I have to admit I was impressed. I don't know if there is a secret to those mats but that was some good sleep.
On our trip we stopped in this little mountain town. I never got the name, I am sure I couldn't pronounce it even if I did. This town was literally built up the side of this mountain. Narrow, curving roadways, that led straight up the mountain and into the clouds. It was green, clean, and stunning. I bought a few things while we were there and we then headed off to Motegi for the Moto GP Race and the Honda Museum.
We spent the rest of the morning admiring Mr. Honda's legacy. The Honda Museum was the most interesting place.
It appears that a very large number of the things that I had the great privilege to see, may no longer exist. See, thanks to Mother Nature, it appears that the area from just North of Tokyo up to Sendai, has been obliterated. I am sure the Honda Museum still stands and that Motegi, the Twin Ring Moto GP track is still there but they did sustain some serious damage. That little mountain town, I cannot imagine survived the horrendous earthquake. I hope it did but I somehow doubt it. The amount of devastation that took place just astounds the mind.
We flew back on American Airlines with American flight attendants.. I have to say that the service coming back, SUCKED.. big time. Absolute night and day from their Japanese counterparts.
I am certain that the wonderful people of Japan will pull through this. They have survived utter devastation before. I know that I admire their hard work and tenacity. I admire the fact that they are not screaming for the rest of the world to come save them, even though we are trying. But I also know that they have a lifetime of hard work and sadness to get through.