A strong foundation and open doors
Japan has different classes of accommodation. There are elite hotels for the super rich (and weddings), 1-5 star hotels for traveling, business hotels, capsule hotels. For futons and home cooked meals there are Japanese inns and pensions. And if your traveling on a budget there are hostels, manga or Internet cafes (you get a partitioned space), and all night onsen (which come with reclining arm chairs for you to sleep in till morning) — and there are even more options, which is all to say that I knew I’d find someplace even though I was traveling peak season and making reservations daily.
In my head I thought I’d mostly stay at business hotels because they offer breakfast, are mostly new, are everywhere, and are inexpensive (about 50USD per night with breakfast). So my first night was at the APA Hotel.
Imagine you’re in a country that communicates in a language that is almost noxiously difficult and so not widely spoken. You’re short. A six foot four white guy walks in with a back pack and swagger do you:
A) Panic, then debate with your co-worker who speaks better English.
B) Greet in your best English. Haro.
C) Greet in casual Japanese. オスっ！
D: Greet in formal Japanese (like you’re supposed to). いらっしゃいませ。
E: Ignore and hope the problem goes away.
Sometimes sadly, those are my options.
So I arrive at my hotel and the front desk staff opts for D and are then surprised, pleased, and curious just how far my Japanese ability extends, which leads to an amusing phenomenon where whomever I’m speaking to might do one of two things:
Speaker faster than normal (hopefully because their nervous) and stop to add whatever English they remember. For example, 岡山の観光地といえば、まず初めにあがるのが、岡山城、後楽園、あの PARUKU ando CASSURU. もちろんここだけじゃあないけど。。。。If I’m feeling playful I might put on an earnest face and define Park and Castle (in Japanese) to make sure we’re on the same page.
That other thing some people do is answer me in English when I speaking to them in Japanese — do not do this to me unless you are devastatingly handsome, single, and able to flirt because I will call you out on it in public and crush whatever ego you have under foot — really grind it with all my weight — before I tell you to leave my presence and provide me with someone who is competent. (It’s how I get free stuff.) 😉
So this hotel’s staff was professional and curious and still test-driving my Japanese when told me that I was in luck because tomorrow was The Momotaro Matsuri, which they get to explain. Well, what do you know. I have no set itinerary, no reservations to bind me, and I can buy my next shinkansen ticket whenever I like. (raise a glass) Cheers to being unfettered.
So why am I showing you the doors to Okayama Castle after that story? Well, aside from the cliche about travel opening up doors these doors used to be permanently closed to all but a few of high birth and now anyone can pass through — including you, which is true for so many things in our lives. On either side of these doors is something built, a space planned, something beautiful and new (to me). The same is true for whatever passage is just before you. Alternatively, you could just wait in that space between.