Fresh Perspectives

I started Wednesday morning by ferreting out a Starbucks in the depths of Tokyo Station. The cute Japanese girl who took my order for a grande spoke perfect English, but I noticed she was giving me a funny look. And sure enough, I touched my nose to find one of those little rubbery morning booger balls. How it escaped my right nostril is a mystery.

It’s so embarrassing to be a gaijin, sometimes.

The coffee was thin, more the consistency of tea. But it got my heart started. My next mission was to hit Bic Camera in nearby Ginza to buy an intervalometer for my Canon. Inexplicably, the only thing this new DSLR doesn’t have is a time lapse function. It requires a remote controller.

The store was massive, covering an entire city block at least eight floors deep. But yes, they sell more than just cameras. The Canon desk was unmanned so a couple of Nikon guys tried to figure out what I was asking for. It took twenty minutes for me to act out “time lapse” in pantomime. Finally the Canon guy showed up and after five more minutes of kabuki theater he turned to me and exhausted his English vocabulary: “No stock.” I must have imagined him punctuating this with the universal gesture for harakiri.

But then he led me to a rack of freshly harvested intervalometers. No, the one he handed me wasn’t Canon and had no English instructions, but he seemed confident it would work. And later that night, it did. The price? ¥6,510. But at least now I can claim to have supported Japan’s fledgling camera industry.

Next I walked to the Imperial Gardens. My goal was to get familiar with my Canon in a low-pressure environment, so I wouldn’t look like an idiot for my photography workshop later on.

The gardens are like Tokyo’s Central Park. The Imperial Palace is off-limits, so what you see is a bunch of stone walls that are the ruins of an ancient castle (Edo). It’s not quite cherry blossom time but I did photograph a couple of early bloomers. The ponds were nice too. But my best shots were of the modern, bustling skyline playing backdrop to these peaceful grounds.

I’ve come to appreciate how curated this culture is. Ever polite and shy, the Japanese clearly exude national pride. Even the subways are spotless and shiny. More than once I saw someone stop and pick up garbage. And it is considered rude to walk and eat, drink or smoke at the same time here. No one chews gum. No one spits on the sidewalk. No one raises their voice. No one wears profane clothing.

The few people I saw doing these things were Westerners. And it made me realize what pigs Americans are by comparison. Take downtown Portland, for example. Chain-smoking vegans riddled with tattoos, piercings and meth, milling about a city covered in filth and graffiti. Not to mention crawling with thousands of homeless-by-choice stoop poopers. None of that here.

UThe contrast made me ashamed. Especially in light of the fact we twice nuked these people, and have somehow utterly failed to outpace them as a civil society after all that dust settled. The difference goes well beyond military spending and playing Team America: World Police. When our so-called President talks about making America great again, he’s really talking about finding ways to subjugate humble people like this so that we can be the smartest kids in the sandbox. Every time I travel outside the US I’m reminded of how ignorant and arrogant we’ve become under Republican control. In terms of infrastructure, education, healthcare, the environment — and now politics, we have become a third world country. You know, one of those shithole countries under the thumb of a wannabe dictator, where people don’t even want to procreate anymore because things are only getting worse at home.

Sigh… time for lunch.

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