From what I have noticed, Japan is very much a culture of routine. Once a daily routine is established, it is followed religiously, almost without exception. For example, every morning at 8:30, I pass a tiny old woman who sells huge vegetables next to the futuristic playground. And every morning at 8:30, she is visited by another tiny old woman and her Shiba Inu (the national dog of Japan; they look like adorable little foxes) with the red harness. And every evening at 5:20, as I bike back home from the station, I pass the kid in his karate uniform speeding home, the old man on the bench who takes off his prosthetic leg for a moment, and the circle of women who bring out their dogs to play. Rain or shine, these things happen every day. Dinner at my house here also happens at nearly the same time every night and if it happens to be earlier or later, Keiko apologizes profusely as if it were a grave misdemeanor. You always take off your shoes when you enter the house or a grade school. You always use an umbrella, never a rain jacket, because if you used a jacket, when you get on the train, you may get other people wet. You always use the same set phrases when you leave home, come home, eat dinner, finish dinner, wake up, go to bed (there is no variation in the phrases and if you try to forge one, no one understands what you are saying). You take your baths at night, after dinner.
Speaking of baths! The Japanese style of bathing is amazing. I really wish I could bring it back to America with me, but we'd have to completely refashion our bathrooms. The bath room in Japan is probably the only room in the house that is bigger than it absolutely has to be, probably because it's such an important part of the day. The room at my house here contains a very deep bathtub, a plastic tiled floor, a sink with a long mirror, a detachable shower head, and a number of shelves for shampoo and such. It's about the size of my walk-in closet at home, I'd say. And this is how the bath routine works: first, you rinse your body with the little showerhead and soap up, using as little water as possible (always turning it off in between stages). After you've cleaned all the soap off, you get into the very hot bathwater and soak for awhile--the most glorious feeling at the end of a long day! You have to be certain not to get any soap residue in the bathwater, because it's used by the whole family for rest of the night. Once you have melted away all the stresses of the day, you're done. It's so great; it's probably my favorite part of the evening, right after my post-dinner conversations with Keiko, which I love.
Tonight I am going to a karaoke bar for the first time (really quite apprehensive about that, but it's the thing to do here, so we'll see how that goes) and on Friday we are going to be visiting the Edo Museum in Tokyo. Really looking forward to that. Since arriving here, my interest in Japanese history has peaked and I am eager to learn whatever I can that will shed some light on this curious little island that is so dear to me.
And: Got to talk to Guion on Skype today! Highlight of the afternoon.