Return to Sendai

I have made five trips to my wife’s home town. Last year, my radio woke me up with a word I had never heard on air in the UK – Sendai.  A tsunami had struck. Even my intense rationality and Meg’s placidity could not completely cloak our anxiety. It took two days to make contact with her family. All was (relatively) well, but a city that I had developed an affection for was without electricity, gas, petrol and – worst – water.

When we went six months later, things in Sendai city itself were pretty much back to normal. Any discussion was pretty much confined to a matter-of-fact relating of events. Even a drive through areas that were still flattened did not engender the degree of emotional upset one might imagine. This blog gives some idea of the attitude of people in the aftermath.

From tragedy to the commonplace. A recent post on the engagingly quirky site Rocket News was entitled 46 Things That Surprise Foreigners in Japan. It starts

Even things that your average Japanese would consider completely commonplace and boring can be captivating for foreigners.

I would disagree with quite a few, though many are spot on. Here’s a few more that have struck me in Sendai:

  • The presence of traffic guards everywhere – entrances to car parks, on building sites,  by roadworks etc
  • Cyclists nonchalantly riding on pavements
  • Raised markings for the blind on pavements on all major, and some quite minor roads
  • The obligation to dress seasonally even if the weather is unseasonal
  • Bowing in unexpected circumstances – one example: a department store employee might bow when leaving the shop floor to go on a break even when no customers are in sight

And on our last trip I got to go to a maid cafe, something that my wife and her friends found more captivating than I did. The maids’ grubby aprons, among other things, making it less than titillating for me.

Maid in Sendai

You can ring my bell

One of the main reasons for my companions’ enjoyment appeared to be that the maids use the greetings associated with home rather than a public place. You can read more about maid cafes at this entertaining blog here. The irony for me was that we have been to genuinely old-fashioned coffee shops with waitresses in maid-like outfits elaborately preparing your drink – much more impressive!

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