Okayama castle courtyard

A strong foundation and open doors

okayama part one--7

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.

okayama part one-400

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.

okayama part one--6

Actually, I really like this image. Notice the rocks with form the castle base? These are uneven, roughly hewn with the spaces filled in with smaller rocks, a sign that this is a much older castle. Before them is the frame which houses huge doors all in perfect symmetry but fragile by comparison and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Japan had hundreds of castles of which only the stone bases and moats remain. To my eye this is a reminder, with whatever you do build a strong foundation.

17 Comments on “A strong foundation and open doors

  1. Did you really have to do this to me on a Monday morning?! Well, on a Tuesday, the first day after Labor Day weekend… In any case, did you really have to set my mind thinking about so many important things on so many levels at once with this post of yours?! It’s a great post – both educational and witty and illustrative and personal. And made me think of languages in my life, of foundations, of travels, of living in a foreign country and making it my own, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you.

      Yours is such an interesting life, lived and experienced across the globe. Your multilingual and also fluent in that universal language of music. That house of yours is built from a foundation stronger than these pile of rocks. The pictures and stories you share are the proof.


  2. Forgetting to comment on the open doors , once shut now open for all to see… I’m standing in and open door right now and wondering whether I’m supposed to come in or go out?


  3. Isn’t it really something to ponder , how “build a strong foundation” , still as true today as it was hundreds of years ago! 😛


  4. My husband’s relatives used to do that, mixing Chinese. Spanish and English. 🙂


      • Yes, three. My husband’s family has three in his family. He lived in the “China Town” of Lima.

        (Imaging how the one-language me felt!)


  5. Smiling here as I know those options. 🙂 And how noxiously difficult their language is — though I would add, for ESL foreigners, our native tongue is equally challenging.

    Seriously, you would crush someone’s ego… publicly? Even if it was solely to acquire free stuff? My image is shattered.

    Appreciate the photos and accompanying narrative!

    Liked by 1 person

    • 😉 Would I?

      In all seriousness, first, in Japanese I ask them what country this is. Then I remind them they are in a customer service position and I’m not there to practice their language skills. I tell them what they’re doing is very rude. With people who are fluent my approach is a bit different. I ask them when they’ve been abroad how would they feel if someone spoke to them in Chinese simply because they’re asian? Then remind them that this is Japan and if someone has bothered to learn their language and speak it in Japan you should show them the proper respect and answer accordingly.

      Liked by 1 person

What's that you say? I can't quite hear you. Do you mind writing that down here? ;)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: