Two things I love are Japan and winter. Neither is easy.
My first trip was in the mid 90’s, to Toyama, a small industrial city on the opposite side of the main island of Honshu from Tokyo. I was there three weeks. My brain almost exploded.
I remember looking out the window as we touched down thinking “Oh look, they have streets and Hondas and KFCs. It all looks the same as home. How hard can this be?” Answer: very hard. Because everything in Japan, especially outside the major cities, is all Japanese. Japan is, like, everywhere in that country. It’s sort of inescapable, all the Japan in Japan. Go figure.
All that Japan everywhere made getting anything done reliant on bending to unique structures and expectations. The equipment we were using was similar, but not the same. The cultural structure of teams and the communication in and between them was impossible to easily navigate for a novice. Even getting materials (this was a building project) was a challenge, but also hilarious as their main supply outlet (sort of like Home Depot but more industrial-focused) was called “Happy Beaver.” My point is whatever it was I had to do in a given day needed to be adjusted to account for the “Japan Factor.” Even those Hondas drove on the opposite side of the road and those KFCs were considered (at the time) to be nice sit-down restaurants, the kind of place you would take your spouse on a night out.
This is how I feel right now, how a lot of us feel, I think at the tail end of this epic winter. We’re doing all the same stuff we normally do; commuting to work, getting kids to school, walking the dog, trying to get our jobs done and the shopping and the laundry and the rest of it all taken care of, but the conditions are taking a piece of the action wherever we go. It’s hard to adjust to the idea we now live in what is, essentially, a giant strip mine for snow with huge pieces of excavation equipment rolling around everywhere all the time. It’s difficult to get into your head that traveling from downtown to East Gloucester and back can take as long as getting to Boston. It’s tiring. It wears on you.
We’re at the point where it’s not an emergency anymore, this is just day-to-day life. It’s just normal to see people and cars sharing the lanes of the narrow, busy streets, inching out because you can’t see around corners, knowing that public transportation is no longer reliable or how parking is an epic challenge and walking anywhere is a death-defying process. And we’re just going on with the full knowledge it’s going to snow again, probably a couple more times. That’s just life in the new reality.
It’s the same feeling I remember having after another long day of failing to get across to the the crane operator what we were trying to do for about four hours. I was lying in my micro-scale hotel room drinking my next in the series of large cans of Asahi beer from the vending machine in the hall outside (there were benefits) and listening to the BBC World Service on my small Grundig shortwave (this was pre-Internet). I was thinking, “I just want shit to be normal again. I just want to order what I think is a pizza and not get a flat rice pancake with a pile of what looks like moldy beans on top with two french toast sticks jutting out of it. I just want to get on a train and know that it’s going to wind up somewhere I’m trying to go, not take me to an otherworldly seaside park with these weird exposed tree-roots everywhere and that strange aquarium with tanks of little fish that swam through hoops.”
In retrospect, that first experience was incredible. I still dream about it, especially that particular day where I got lost and gave up on what I thought I was going to get done and just wandered around. However, at the time it was profoundly stressful and exhausting.
But man, those little fish. Those thing were cool.