Jun 012011

On the Shinkansen from Sendai back to Tokyo I saw something I would call “typically Japanese“. I do not like calling people’s behaviour “typically something”, but a brand-new iPhone 3, charging at the power supply next to a sink opposite of the toilets, and no owner nearby, is typically Japanese, and I love it!

The bag left outside the toilet house by the businessman while answering nature’s call is a not so rare sight in Ueno Park (where lots of homeless people live as well), and still today many of the more old-fashioned ryokan have no lock at the sliding doors. Anyone could enter my room while I am away, but obviously this is no concern.

The feeling of mutual trust creates an atmosphere, which makes daily life so much easier and so much more pleasant. Just imagine, no locks required!

Another special encounter with trusting people I had at Engakuji temple during my visit last Sunday: I wanted to buy a new samue (monk’s working cloth), since my old one recently completely ruptured during chores. The lady had one perfectly suitable for my size, but I did not have enough money with me. Eventually, she suggested I take the samue with me, and transfer the money via postal order some time later. All she wanted to know was my name, so she can later match it with the transferred sum. I first thought that must be a misunderstanding, caused by my occasionally failing Japanese, but it was not.

Japanese Buddhist legend tells about creatures called gaki, the hungry ghosts, which have big bellies and a thin throat and never can get enough of anything. In one popular image, the gaki sit on a table full of delicious food. But having too long chopsticks to eat, and being too consumed with satisfying their own desires, they won’t feed each other and eventually all stay hungry.

There is a Buddhist ceremony (around O-bon) which is called Segaki  (feeding the hungry ghosts). Maybe that’s why there are not so many hungry ghosts around in Japan, steeling your things?