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Oh Tokyo


A very famous bear once said that he often became confused because he was a bear of very little brain.  I certainly don’t have a big brain like you humans, but I don’t think it would be fair to say that I am a bear of very little brain either.  Still, I do become confused by some of the things that you humans say.  Take Japan, for instance.  It is one place that I had never even dreamed of going when I was a simple bear living in Geneva. So when I learned my next adventure was to be to Japan, I immediately began reading all about it.  I learned many interesting things about the culture, the food, and the geography of Japan.  I learned that most Japanese live in very large cities, so everything is very crowded.  I learned that Japanese school children have to work very, very, very hard, with teachers who are very strict.  They even have school on Saturday.  My friends, you have no idea just how lucky you are!


The book also said the Japanese eat unusual food – things called Sushi and Sashimi, which are just Japanese words for raw fish.  This really confused me.  I had to read for a very long time before I realized that some people actually cook fish!  Being a bear, I was horrified by this.  Cook fish?  How barbaric.  No bear in his right mind would ever dream of cooking fish when it tastes so good fresh out of the stream.  In my travels I have come to realize that different people do things in different ways, and it is unwise to judge until you have tried it.  Still, cooked fish is just too strange to contemplate. Some day, when I am feeling very brave, I promise you that I will try it.  Who knows, I may even like it, though I find that very hard to imagine. 


You may be surprised to hear that this was not the thing that really confused me.  Much about the Geography of Japan was very natural to me.  It is a very mountainous country, which sounded a lot like my native Switzerland.  Japan is an island, but Geneva is by a lake, so you can see mountains and water in both places.  I was starting to think that I was going to like visiting Japan a lot.  It had been almost two months since I had left my beloved Geneva, and I was feeling just a little homesick.  I also learned that Japan is part of something that is often called the “Far East”.  I didn’t think too much of this until we began our trip.  We were going to the Far East, but the plane started flying west.  I was really quite concerned, and asked the stewardess to make sure we were going the right way.  They assured me that we were, and looked at me with that “bear of very little brain” look.  I didn’t like that at all.  But they must have been right, because many hours later, we arrived in Japan.  I still think we must have gone the wrong way, because it was a very long flight.  But then again, I don’t have a big brain like you humans.  

I had done a lot of research before this trip, so I thought I knew what to expect, and would be ready for it.  Have you ever had that happen?  You look forward to something, you plan for it, you think about what it will be like, and then – it isn’t anything like what you expected.  It isn’t just that it was different than Canada or Switzerland.  I had expected that it would be different.  What surprised me was that in many ways it looked very much like other cities I have been to.  People wear the same clothes.  The bears hide so that people won’t see them.  The streets are filled with cars.  Mind you, the cars do drive on the left side of the road, but they do that in England too.  If you didn’t look too closely, it looked just like any other city.  However, once you did look closely, you started to see all sorts of little things.  All of the street signs, and the directions in the subway, were in Japanese.  You are probably thinking “of course everything is in Japanese – it is Japan, after all”.  You are right of course, and I expected that.  What I didn’t expect was how confusing it would be.  I read French and English, but when I have visited the parts of Switzerland where they speak German or Italian, I can still recognize some words.  Even when I don’t understand the word, I have some idea how it will sound, and I can remember what it looks like on a street sign.  But in Japan, I was lost.  All the letters looked the same.  Imagine seeing directions like this!



There was one thing that confused me thought.  I overheard two people speaking English, and they kept saying that the people looked so different in Japan.  They did seem to be friendlier.  I had people come up to me on the subway and say hi – at least I think they were saying hi.  That never happens to me in other cities.  But they didn’t “look” any different.   Maybe it is just because I am a bear.  I can tell the difference between different types of bears, but people all look the same to me.  Oh well. 

I found what I liked best was the strange mix of things that were different and things that were the same.  One minute things would look completely normal, and then I would start noticing how strange things were.  When I say strange, I mean really, really strange.  You aren’t going to believe this, but they had electric toilets, and they even had a “standby” setting, just like a computer.  Bears would never invent something like that.


The buildings looked a lot like the buildings in any city, but there were so many of them.  Some of the signs were in English, which surprised me, but most of them were in Japanese.  I found myself sitting by the window for hours, feeling very tired, just watching the cars and the people go by.  I wondered why I was feeling so tired, especially during the day.  I am normally a very wide awake bear.  My traveling companion said it was because the daytime in Japan is the night time in Canada.  He said that even though my eyes said it was daytime outside, my body still thought it was night time.  I nodded politely, and tried not to give him that “human of very little brain” look, but it all sounded very confusing to me.  He said that people called it Jet lag.  I felt a little better knowing what to call it, though to be completely honest, not all that much better.


The food was one thing that seemed completely normal to me.  The Sushi was simply excellent.  I had forgotten how much I love raw fish.  When they brought my first meal of Sushi I was all excited - until they brought me two sticks instead of a knife and fork.  I know how to eat with my paws, the way any sensible bear would eat.  I have learned to eat with a knife and fork, though I have to tell you that I still find it rather strange.  But when they brought me sticks to eat with, I was just confused.  Fortunately my traveling companion knew all about them.  He showed me how to use them, and told me that they were called Chop Sticks.  This time, knowing what they were called didn’t help at all. Eventually I did get to the point where I could use Chop Sticks enough to eat my Sushi.  I learned many things that day, but the biggest lesson I learned was that Chop Sticks are meant to be used with fingers.  Making them work with a bear’s paw is very difficult.  In the end, the Sushi was so good that it was all worth it.  I think I would go back to Japan again just for that.


The end of my week in Japan came all too soon.  I saw so many interesting things.  I even rode on a “Bullet Train” that went 300 km/hr.  That is even faster than the fountain in Geneva.  Wow!


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