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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Welcoming strangers

This morning, close to Kyoto station, an elderly Japanese man approached us, held out his hand to shake mine, and said “Thank you for coming to Japan”.

He asked us where we came from and when we said “Scotland” told us about the times he’d had in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness. He then asked if we’d mind helping him with his English a little and produced a crumpled set of notes with Japanese and English sentences written in his own handwriting (at least I think it was his own). He wanted to check his translations and understand the nuances of meaning. One of the phrases which provoked a fair exchange was “I was born in the year of the tiger”. Would an English speaking person say that, he wanted to know. We explained that in the UK at least there was no general tradition of allocating an animal to a year in the way it is done in other countries.

Ah, he said, you don’t have the same twelve animals? Which animals do you have?

We pointed out we didn’t have any. He thought that was very strange, how we would just say we were born in the year “xxxx” and quote a four figure number. Suddenly, I felt we’d missed out on something!

We discussed maybe half a dozen other phrases with him, and then he thanked us profusely and zipped away. Goodness, he could move fast!

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me in Japan. It’s never happened in any other country, and, sadly, in many countries, when someone approaches in such a fashion, you can’t help but be suspicious, and suspect they’re going to get round to asking for money. That’s never, ever happened to me in Japan.

On the train from Kyoto to Tokyo I reflected on the exchange and thought lots of things. How do we treat visitors to Scotland? Are we as welcoming? How wonderful that elderly people continue to have such enthusiasm to learn. How awful that my meagre attempts to learn Japanese have stalled so badly! Time to get that learn Japanese book out again! And how wonderful when learning a language, to have the courage to approach strangers and politely request conversation to improve your understanding and your skills.

This little exchange made me feel it’s a privilege and an honour to be visiting this country.

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Yesterday while walking to the Kyoto Museum (which turns out to be closed for refurbishment just now, by the look of things) we stumbled upon the Kaleidoscope Museum of Kyoto. Why not? Let’s pop in and have a look.
It’s a small museum, with a lot of staff, and a completely amazing range of kaleidoscopes for you to pick up and peer through. The staff don’t speak much English but when they discovered we were from Scotland we became VIPs – apparently, the kaleidoscope was invented by a Scot! There on the wall was a plaque dedicated to Sir David Brewster, the 18th century scientist who invented the kaleidoscope. And I came all the way to Kyoto to find that out?!
What a wonderful way to pass an hour or so playing with all the kaleidoscopes. Just beautiful. Before we left, we bought one, too. Here’s my attempt to take a photograph through the spy-hole of a kaleidoscope….

kaleidoscope

kaleidoscope

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leaves on leaves

What on earth is this? Look carefully….leaves and sky reflected in leaves on stone in the rain.

trees on marble

leaves on marble

Strikingly beautiful. Leaves and trees engraved onto marble glistening in the rain.

This next one makes it look like I’ve just teleported from Scotland to Tokyo. (I didn’t teleport, by the way, just the regular AirFrance flight)

reflected me

This was a striking experience……the combination of multiply different environments, natural, artistic, built and cultural…..suddenly, here I am, in a different, floating world.

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