It's winter in Kyoto. Or it is supposed to be. January, 2018, has so far resembled late March weather. The news often announces that freezing days are heading our way. Not yet. True, up in the north of the country there has been tons of snow, literally. One JR train was stuck in the white stuff for 8 hours. Oh my; could I have withstood that? Must have been torture for some. But in Japan, the culture has developed ways to handle discomfort. Several years ago there was severe flooding in the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture. There was a famous news video viewed around the world showing passengers climbing up onto the roof of the bus to avoid getting wet, or drowning. The flood waters tried to push the vehicle, but someone found a rope inside, and tied the bus to a nearby tree. Would something smart like this occur in the West? In America? I doubt it. Someone would have pulled out his gun and begun shooting.
If I have learned anything by living here, it is patience. Do not show your feelings openly, especially feelings of anger or hatred. Be calm and resigned. But be alert also. And as a Christian Scientist, be sure that there is a solution available, right at hand, ready to be employed. Panic and fear kill. Trust and love save. No exceptions.
Another interesting discovery from living in Japan is to realize, after some time, that I've never been busier than when living here. NYC was an afternoon nap. There is much to do, and much to accomplish. The culture is rule-ridden, as i have mentioned before. These seemingly endless rules are what keep society more or less in peace. Obeying the rules brings safety; flouting or ignoring them ends in chaos and rejection. Foreigners have a larger margin of forgiveness. it is assumed they know nothing about Japanese society, so they can't help but make mistakes. It used to be that, when I owned a car, and a policeman would stop me for some infraction I had just committed, I would speak to him only in english. He would give up and tell me to be more careful. But that excuse no longer works. I gave up the car and owned a middle-sized motorbike, a 125cc Honda. At first I could get away with lawbreaking. Eventually, this didn't work.
I was caught making a right hand turn when the light had just become red. The motorcycle cop on the other corner watched me, and since the light was green for him, he crossed the intersection, caught up with me, and told me to drive ahead a little to the police station there. I did. He was friendly and I was cooperative. Interestingly enuf, the penalty was to be chosen by me from a short list. Paying a fine was the easiest. But I chose to do community work. I was assigned a day and a time to go to the police station in my neighborhood. I went. There, I and a few others got into a van and were driven quite some distance thru the city to an area I did not know. There, we got out to meet several other guilty souls standing around in a small children's park in front of a JR train station. The officers there kindly told us to put on some safety banners and a reflective vest. I and one other gentleman were instructed to go sweep the predestrian tunnel that went beneath the railroad tracks and along side a street, which ran lower than our passageway. The tunnel was not long, perhaps 50 meters. It was wide and not dark. There were many walkers and bicycle riders during the one hour we had to sweep the sidewalk. I took one side and the other man took the other side. It was obvious that this was not his first time. He knew exactly what speed to sweep at, when to pause, and when to push the collected papers, cans, dust into a large plastic bag. He was a pro. Me, I got to the further, open end of the tunnel first, and could rest awhile looking at the garden in a small temple there. Eventually we finished our task and made our way back to the children's park. We were thanked for doing what we had been told to do, and handed back the safety garb. I had photos of myself taken by someone with my camera. We piled back into the van and returned to the police station where this adventuresome punishment had started. For me, it was a glimpse of Japanese culture and society that no foreigner otherwise would have. Paying the fine, ¥10,000, would be easy and chosen by everyone for sure. But I saw an opportunity to peek into the Japanese mind and life; a chance never to be missed. Most impressive was the kindness, even the apologetic mien of the policemen. Where else could this be experienced? And, when will we be able to experience this everywhere?