Friday, December 31, 2004

2005: Seeing with new eyes

I can't believe almost two weeks of my vacation have passed already. The time goes by so quickly! It doesn't seem possible that I'll be going back to Japan in another week. Sometimes I feel lost between two worlds--belonging to neither one. Coming back to the U.S. has made me see with new eyes, and I'm shocked at what I see.

One of the things I see everywhere is obesity. It's staggering! There are so many really, really overweight people, including very young children. Despite all the so-called "low fat" foods and "diet" soft drinks, people are growing bigger and bigger. My own weight had been creeping up for years, even though I eat a healthy diet of fresh vegetables and fish. I blamed my weight gain on too little exercise, which probably was correct since I've lost weight in Japan. All my slacks were suddenly too big and I've had to have them altered. I walk quite a bit now and have more stamina.

The other thing I noticed when I returned to the States is the sheer excess of purchases. Walk into any CostCo or Wal-Mart and see the enormous shopping carts overflowing with goods. This isn't to say that the Japanese wouldn't love to buy even more things, but it's much more difficult to carry things home if you're walking or using the trains. You learn quickly to buy only what you can carry. And another thing, most Japanese houses or apartments are too small to store a lot of extra stuff.

I've felt lost without a car here, and miss the convenience of the trains in Japan. It's a love/hate relationship with them since at times the trains are too crowded, but at other times I feel such relief that they're so available. They make it easy to get around, no matter where you need to go.

In the U.S., people are clogging the highways in their one-person-to-a-car travel, but in most cities around the nation, there's no other choice. Mass transit, except for bus stops that all seem to be located too far away from most neighborhoods, is pathetic in such a rich, industrialized nation. No wonder so many elderly people feel so isolated. How can they maintain an independent lifestyle when they're unable to drive? How can they get to the doctor or, for that matter, the supermarket, when they don't have a car? America is such a strange place, where the government assumes that everyone has the means to be independent. The reality is that there are many millions of people who have no access to public services, even though they need them desperately. In Seattle there's been talk of a "light-rail system" for at least 25 years, yet no difinitive movement in that direction. Too many worries that expensive homes will lose value if light rail moves into their neighborhoods. How shortsighted and selfish. Meanwhile, traffic is snarled in all directions while people curse their commutes.

Coming home for the holidays has been filled with so many emotions. I'm so thankful to have this time with my family, and to be able to hug and hold each other for a little while longer. With the terrible tragedy unfolding in Asia, I'm especiallyg grateful for the time to appreciate the simple things in life: the love of family and friends, good health, a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in. These are the basic needs for anyone, yet for many millions now in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and several other countries, their lives have been turned upside down.

Much to think about in this new year of 2005.


Anonymous said...

I heard this thing about public transport not operating on public holidays in the US. Just wondered if it is true?

Absolutely Tokyo! said...

No, that's not entirely true. Public transportation still operates, but on a limited holiday schedule which is usually on the hour instead of every 20 or 30 minutes. At least that's the way it works in Seattle.

Anonymous said...

I see. My brother must be staying in a really small town in Champaign,IL. Just wanted to say I enjoyed reading about your experience in Japan and hope to see more updates soon!

Absolutely Tokyo! said...

Glad you're enjoying my blog. I'll be posting more soon, so please check back in when you have a chance. It's been hectic since returning to Tokyo and getting back to work, but I'll try to get caught up soon. Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of the Kobe earthquake where more than 6,400 people died, so there's been lots on the news. I want to write something about it in my blog.

Anonymous said...

Awesome Blog! I was in Japan for New Year's a couple of years ago. Kyoto. Very different from Toronto.

Absolutely Tokyo! said...

Thanks for the compliment! I'm glad you're enjoying my blog. Tokyo truly *is* an amazing place.

[denise] said...

I just have to say that I agree so much about your comments on the way America opperates. It's really kind of depressing living here. It's such a diverse land but so isolated. It's really a tragdy that the melting-pot of the world isn't really what it is. I feel that if tomorrow, America was suddenly half its size than it would do a world of good to its people. I guess that's the way it is. When I was in Japan, I realized how great it was to live in a more dense area. Everything was walkable and public transit got me from point A to point B, C, D, or wherever without fail. I lost weight while I was there now that I think about it. I'm not saying Japan is the greatest place to live but America can sure learn a few things from them. Thanks for writing such a great blog by the way!