Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bowing diplomacy

Last month president Barack Obama made a 9 day visit to Asia. On this trip, like most of his foreign policy, he was received well but didnt get much actually done. However, this is not what I would like to discuss. Or maybe it is, but only in relation to something else that happened. On his tour he made a stop in Japan. Unfortunately the discussion he had with the prime minister, Hatoyama, did not make big headlines in the U.S. What did make headlines is that he bowed to the emperor of Japan.
I first learned about this from a forum of JETs here in Japan. We all came to the same decision as to what the bow meant. I then heard a bunch about news stories in the US and when I was in Hawaii bought Time, 2 issues of Newsweek, and the Economist. All three magazines mentioned the trip and the bow. Time and Newsweek both mentioned that it was not received well by people in the US, but failed to go furthur. The Economist, however, commented not on the media attention it was getting exactly, but the bow itself and its impact in Japan. I think they hit it right on the head by saying, "There was all the customary talk-show outrage over what much of the rest of the world would view as a gesture of cultural courtesy".
The first thing that people in the US should realize is that they live in the US and while a bow may mean something to them it is entirely different here in Japan. The people of Japan did not see this as the president of the US losing face in front of the emperor, but gaining it. This bow wasn't meant for the people of the U.S. to analyze, it was meant for the Japanese people, in a Japanese context. In Japan bowing is respectful and those who dont are considered arrogant and rude.
For me, and I think much of the rest of the world, that bow was a symbol of respect that went a long way in restoring what was lost in the past 10 years. The world is expecting change from Obama and in matters of foreign diplomacy at least, it seems, that it is happening.


Hawaii was as beautiful as everyone says it is. The weather was great and it only rained a few times, but even those rains were gentle and warm. The ocean was beautiful and the people were equally so. I was most surprised and happy with the number of Japanese people/speakers on the islands and as I make rounds apply for jobs this Spring I will certainly send a few to Hawaii.
As far as sightseeing on Oahu we went to Waikiki beach and the North Shore. Both were beautiful beaches and the waves on the North shore were monsters at about 25 feet. It was amazing to see people surfing them. We missed going to the Bishop museum which I heard was good, along with hiking Diamond Head and seeing the Arizona memorial which I really wanted to do being an avid hiker and history teacher. We also missed out on Hanauma bay, which just about all our friends and family told us was a beautiful bay with great snorkeling.
Near the end of our trip we flew to Hawaii to spend about 12 hours on that big island, and big it is. As we flew in over the land we could only see a scattering of lights as opposed to Oahu which seemed like the vegas strip at night. On the big island we visited black sands beach which was amazingly beautiful at 7am and the Volcano National Park. The park features a number of trails, some of which we got to hike, and lots of interesting things. We didn’t get close enough to active lava, but according to the accounts of friends and family it was stunning. We also made a stop at Rainbow falls which was beautiful. I took a turn swinging from vine (or tree?) that was fun until my abrupt stop against another tree, ouch! How does Tarzan do it?
Overall the islands seemed like very interesting places with much to do, although we didn’t get to indulge that much. We are even thinking of returning this spring for a honeymoon just because we are now tempted to see it all.

The Wedding

Getting married. Well, now I am married. I guess there are two things I would like to say about it. First; how it all went down. Second; how I feel about it. So, first; Aya and I left Japan on the 18th of November, crossed the dateline and spent the 18th all over again in Hawaii. The first day we checked in then immediatly did various appointments for kimono, AV guy, etc. Later met up with some friends at night. We were jet lagged, but refused to go to bed early and by the time we got up the next day we were on the clock nicely. Friday saw us greeting incoming family before renting a car and going to our friend dan’s rehearsal dinner and the bachelor/bachelorette parties which had both of us out late. On Saturday, the day of my friends wedding, I didn’t even get up til 1 though our phones had been ringing since 7am, and even then wasn’t feeling super. Dan’s wedding was quite good and his bride was looking beautiful. All in all good time. Sunday we had our own shebang. By 12 we were both up, although again calls starting at 7am, and getting ready and were to the shrine by 3. The ceremony went well and I cant imagine anything better. The reception that followed was also good and pretty much everything went as planned. There were some really good skits and songs and I think everyone had a good time. Monday we were up late because of the previous nights drinking, though the phone started ringing at 4am, and ended up hitting the road at 12ish with my brother, mom, and uncle. We went to the north shore to see some surfers which was cool. By 5 we were back in Waikiki where we didn’t do much of anything and went to bed early, we had a 5am flight to catch. The flight was fine, but anything at 5am is bound to suck so by the time we got to the big island of Hawaii we were all bushed. We ended up seeing Rainbow falls, the black sands beach, and some stuff at Volcano park such as a lava tube, and sulfur vents. We didn’t actually get to see lava, but could see the active volcano from a distance. That night, pooped out, Aya and I decided to spend time alone. I went for a run and by the time I got home she was out shopping for gifts. We she returned the stress of 6 days of non-stop family and planning came pouring out of her and we ended up going to bed very late. I may have actually fell asleep listening to her. The next day, Wednesday, we vowed to spend alone, doing what we wanted. We were both hurting to relax a little. We got up late,no 7am phone calls, I ran, she slept a little more then we did a small amount of shopping and went out for lunch. In the afternoon we hit the beach for an hour and then said goodbye to my family before heading to the Hilton hotel for a Luau. The Luau was good, but was on a rooftop and so maybe not so traditional. However the dancers were spectacular. I even was called on stage for a dance alone with 5 ladies, spectacular. Aya said she couldn’t see my hips, which was probably good considering I cant dance at all. After we got some popcorn and headed back to our room to watch some TV and slowly pack our bags. Thursday morning we were up early and to the airport by noon. The flight back was good, I watched 4 movies, and getting to Tokyo was a relief, but also depressing as I was stared at on the train back from the airport. OH JAPAN!Good to be reminded that I am a stranger in a foreign land.

Now, part 2; how do I feel about all of this. Well, this was the culmination of months of planning. Many people said to me “I bet aya is very busy”. Well, we were both very busy. Because the wedding was in America we did joint planning and I wasn’t missing for any step of the way, it was hard work for the both of us and involved lots of emails and phone calls to confirm and reconfirm then switch, then switch back, etc. We also received no planning help from parents or friends because well, no one lives in Hawaii and it would be almost more work to have a third person help out. By the time we actually got to Hawaii it was like a dream, not because we were having so much fun, but because we were both looking forward to it all being over with. We had to constantly remind each other that is was just a little more, a little more, a little more. Once our ceremony and reception came the stress was at a fever pitch as people showed up 2 minutes before our ceremony started and things like place settings weren’t finished when we arrived at the reception. By the time the reception was over our relief was palpable. At this point I think we both thought it was time to sit down and relax, but it was not so. My family wanted to spend time with me and that combined with various other things led to us getting little sleep and no alone time in the next two days which ended up with Aya having a small meltdown and me having to stop and reassess what exactly I was doing. We did finally get one day by ourselves and that was a great relief.
Now by saying all that I don’t want to say that I didn’t enjoy spending time with my family or friends or that I had no fun at my wedding or that I saw very little of Hawaii, although all those things are partially true. I had a great time hanging out with my brother and mother. I think my uncle Paul was fun for Aya and I to hang out with throughout the whole trip. Our friends were supportive and if nothing else provided a great bachelor/bachelorette party for us. Especially our friends Brian and Cynthia deserve a huge thanks for helping us at the reception and as various other stages as well as lending us a sympathetic ear as we complained about various things. Although the ceremony and reception were almost too busy to enjoy, I did enjoy it and my bride was beautiful. Much of my family was there and many people came from very far to be there, Germany the farthest I think. Perhaps that is a 16 hour flight? It's pretty much as far as you can get. Everything went off well and everyone we talked to had a good time which is a really good thing considering all the different kinds of people we were bringing together and all the potential for mis-understanding and uncomfortable silences. The cake, food, and drinks that I did get to have were delicious and the staff at the Willows and at Masako Formal Wear was great, along with our AV guy, Myles, who was visibly busting his ass to do everything he could for us. As far as seeing Hawaii and its landscape along with its people I don’t feel full enough, but I did get a taste and from what I tasted the people are relaxed and kind and MY GOD there are a lot of Japanese people there!
To make this all concise, the wedding was great and went well. It was very busy, but also kind of fun. We didn’t get to do much sightseeing and would like to return someday.