Memories Of A Geisha
I'm being carried in a river of humanity. I feel like a salmon making my way through a narrow river, bumping and grinding with a thousand other fish determined to swim upstream.
The concept of personal space is laughable as uniformed "packers" push us all into the train. I am certain I'm going to be "stuck" like warm Gummi Bears. I'm close to screaming now, perhaps combusting spontaneously. I am a sardine, no more important than the sardine next to me. I am not special.
Welcome to Japan.
Nitto Tire had invited me on this trip four years in a row. I ran out of excuses, having already used dead grandmother, ruptured spleen, broken foot, and possible dementia. At my publisher's insistence I left Los Angeles, whining like a little girl with a skinned knee.
For this writer, the term "culture shock" has never been more appropriate. This came into sharp focus during a late night stroll through downtown Osaka. A few blocks from my hotel I got disoriented. I could not find an English-speaking person to save my life. I was genuinely lost. All I had was a well-worn room key bearing the partial logo of my hotel. I kept showing it to people on the street. I even waved some yen with it as a tip for directions. They must have thought I was looking for a date or something. Jesus, I just wanted to go home.
Finally, a 300-year-old shopkeeper got his grandson to translate. I told him I was lost and simply wanted to get back to my hotel. He ended up escorting me back and refused to accept a fistful of money.
There is an air of politeness in Japan that catches one off guard. I noticed this even as I saw bikes and motor scooters parked on racks, all unlocked. Although I'm sure it must happen sometimes, stealing is not such an issue in Japan. I guess it would be considered impolite.
Long regarded as a breeding ground for innovation, Japan has always been at the forefront of technology. What I find especially interesting is the way in which Japan evolved technologically. Unlike Europe, which tends to "borrow" from the various cultures there, Japan is an isolated island. The Japanese evolved largely by themselves (with a little help from China), and evolved well. Perhaps they considered borrowing European tech impolite. And while the Japanese did sponge certain technologies, they refined and purified them beyond recognition.
The "made in Japan" tag we used to see on so many goods used to carry an unflattering stigma. Those days are long gone. Today, "made in Japan" is every bit a sign of quality as "made in Germany," "Swiss made," or "crafted in Austria." And while there used to be a significant difference between European cars and those made in Japan, that gap is shrinking. A good example is the Mazdaspeed 3. It's Japan's version of the GTI and it's damn good, a bit raw but tasty nonetheless. And then there's the rockstar Skyline GT-R, the everyman's version of Porsche's GT2. When the Japanese put their collective minds to task, the results are impressive.
Personally, I've always had a phobia of crowds. I don't like feeling like part of a "collective." For me, going to Japan was like locking a vegan inside a sausage factory. Cruel yet amusing. For the first few days I found myself bathed in a cold sweat, eyes wide open, trying to create an invisible forcefield around myself. If anyone broke through they'd be vaporized. It didn't work. Eventually I just let myself go and became part of the collective. And I was OK with that.
Although I've always admired a certain purity in my cars, I sometimes wonder if a collective effort might yield better results. Or would there be cold sweats at the thought of such fusion? Imagine building a sports car with the best Japanese and European technology. Light, efficient, fast, beautifully styled. Collectively, it's an interesting idea.Les BidrawnEditoreuropean.firstname.lastname@example.org