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IF THIS IS MONDAY, ER TUESDAY, I MUST BE WRITING ABOUT JAPAN

My first Saturday morning in Japan, I was scheduled to go to Tofukuji Temple. My feet hurt. After covering my blisters with band aides, I now had a second set of blisters next to the first ones.

I considered not following my itinerary and taking the day to shop. I had no idea what the places I was going to were, and didn’t know if I would like them.

When I saw that the following Monday was a whole day of shopping planned for me, (amazing planning by my tour co.) AND that Takashimaya Department store was on the way today, I decided to follow my itinerary.

The last time I went to Japan, one of the people on the tour recommended I get myself to Takashimaya Department store when they open. I did and what a thrill, it is. When the first customers walk in, all the employees are at their stations and say good morning and bow to you. I rode the escalator up and got bows along the way so much that I felt like Queen Elizabeth. I wanted to video tape the experience so I could post it here.  When I went inside with my camera running to tape the bowing and greeting; my sense was that my videotaping was a social error. Not wanting to make any more blunders than need be, I stopped taping. Here is a picture of  the welcome given by an employee just before opening the doors.

Next, I got myself to the station for a local train line. It was my first train ride on my own. When I got inside the station, there wasn’t any English. I realized to travel in another country where you don’t know the language, you have to be willing to feel stupid.

Being dyslexic, I am no stranger to that feeling. I tried pushing buttons on a machine and succeeded in having the station master come out to see what I was doing. I showed him in English where I wanted to go and he pantomimed how to buy the ticket. It is very easy once you know.

I was off and arrived at my destination station. I walked to Tofukuji. When I go to places I haven’t been before, I don’t know what exactly I am looking for. It’s all a surprise. I started by chasing down every possible turn. So, after taking three turns and backtracking, before finding the one I needed, I changed to thinking the next turns would be apparent. So now I went too far up a hill, until I found a person to ask. My feet were screaming at me.

Was it all worth it? OMG, yes. Tofukuji is a beautiful Monastery. Truth is, I was out of sorts when I got there. In a way, I am glad I was, because I got to feel more and more connected to my peacefulness as I walked through the gardens.

Shanti, shanti, shanti.

© 2011 Jeanne Litt, All rights reserved.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2011 in Abundance, garden, Japan

 

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IF THIS IS MONDAY, ER TUESDAY, I MUST BE WRITING ABOUT JAPAN

Flowers at Oomori cho

Esprit Travel and Tours has arranged for the evacuation center at a Japanese town called Morioka to receive small toys for children. It was arranged by Sakurada-san a tour guide who now works in the relocation program.

The Japanese government and relief agencies provide food, clothing, shelter and education. Toys are further down on the list,

So Steve Biemel has come up with the idea of a Toynami. See here for the specifics, for e.g. the toys need to be small.

Have your best day ever.

© 2010 Jeanne Litt, All rights reserved.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Abundance, Japan

 

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Pray for Japan

Insider Perspective on Japan’s Current Emergency

Here is a post by an American living and working in Japan. I got it from Japan Living Arts

Patrick: I run a small software business in central Japan. Over the years, I’ve worked both in the local Japanese government (as a translator) and in Japanese industry (as a systems engineer), and have some minor knowledge of how things are done here. English-language reporting on the earthquake/tsunami situation has been so bad that my mother is worried for my safety, so in the interests of clearing the air I thought I would write up a bit of what I know.

A Quick Primer On Japanese Geography

Japan is an archipelago made up of many islands, of which there are four main ones: Honshu, Shikoku, Hokkaido, and Kyushu. The one that almost everybody outside of the country will think of when they think “Japan” is Honshu: in addition to housing Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and virtually every other city that foreigners have heard of, it has most of Japan’s population and economic base. Honshu is the big island that looks like a banana on your globe, and was directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami…

… to an extent, anyway. See, the thing that people don’t realize is that Honshu is massive. It is larger than Great Britain (a country which does not typically refer to itself as a “tiny island nation.”) At about 800 miles long, it stretches from roughly Chicago to New Orleans. Quite a lot of the reporting on Japan, including that which is scaring the heck out of my friends and family, is the equivalent of someone ringing up Mayor Daley during Katrina and saying “My God man, that’s terrible — how are you coping?”

The public perception of Japan, at home and abroad, is disproportionately influenced by Tokyo’s outsized contribution to Japanese political, economic, and social life. It also gets more news coverage than warranted because one could poll every journalist in North America and not find one single soul who could put Miyagi or Gifu on a map. So let’s get this out of the way: Tokyo, like virtually the whole island of Honshu, got a bit shaken and no major damage was done. They have reported 1 fatality caused by the earthquake. By comparison, on any given Friday, Tokyo will typically have more deaths caused by traffic accidents. (Tokyo is also massive.)

Miyagi is the prefecture hardest hit by the tsunami, and Japanese TV is reporting that they expect fatalities in the prefecture to exceed 10,000. Miyagi is 200 miles from Tokyo. (Remember — Honshu is massive.) That’s about the distance between New York and Washington DC.

Japanese Disaster Preparedness

Japan is exceptionally well-prepared to deal with natural disasters: it has spent more on the problem than any other nation, largely as a result of frequently experiencing them. (Have you ever wondered why you use Japanese for “tsunamis” and “typhoons”?) All levels of the government, from the Self Defense Forces to technical translators working at prefectural technology incubators in places you’ve never heard of, spend quite a bit of time writing and drilling on what to do in the event of a disaster.

For your reference, as approximately the lowest person on the org chart for Ogaki City (it’s in Gifu, which is fairly close to Nagoya, which is 200 miles from Tokyo, which is 200 miles from Miyagi, which was severely affected by the earthquake), my duties in the event of a disaster were:

* Ascertain my personal safety.
* Report to the next person on the phone tree for my office, which we drilled once a year.
* Await mobalization in case response efforts required English or Spanish translation.

Ogaki has approximately 150,000 people. The city’s disaster preparedness plan lists exactly how many come from English-speaking countries. It is less than two dozen. Why have a maintained list of English translators at the ready? Because Japanese does not have a word for excessive preparation.

Another anecdote: I previously worked as a systems engineer for a large computer consultancy, primarily in making back office systems for Japanese universities. One such system is called a portal: it lets students check on, e.g., their class schedule from their cell phones.

The first feature of the portal, printed in bold red ink and obsessively tested, was called Emergency Notification. Basically, we were worried about you attempting to check your class schedule while there was a wall of water coming to inundate your campus, so we built in the capability to take over all pages and say, essentially, “Forget about class. Get to shelter now.”

Many of our clients are in the general vicinity of Tokyo. When Nagoya (again, same island but very far away) started shaking during the earthquake, here’s what happened:

1. T-0 seconds: Oh dear, we’re shaking.
2. T+5 seconds: Where was that earthquake?
3. T+15 seconds: The government reports that we just had a magnitude 8.8 earthquake off the coast of East Japan. Which clients of ours are implicated?
4. T+30 seconds: Two or three engineers in the office start saying “I’m the senior engineer responsible for X, Y, and Z universities.”
5. T+45 seconds: “I am unable to reach X University’s emergency contact on the phone. Retrying.” (Phones were inundated virtually instantly.)
6. T+60 seconds: “I am unable to reach X University’s emergency contact on the phone. I am declaring an emergency for X University. I am now going to follow the X University Emergency Checklist.”
7. T+90 seconds: “I have activated emergency systems for X University remotely. Confirm activation of emergency systems.”
8. T+95 seconds: (second most senior engineer) “I confirm activation of emergency systems for X University.”
9. T+120 seconds: (manager of group) ”Confirming emergency system activations, sound off: X University.” ”Systems activated.” ”Confirmed systems activated.” ”Y University.” ”Systems activated.” ”Confirmed systems activated.” …

While this is happening, it’s somebody else’s job to confirm the safety of the colleagues of these engineers, at least a few of whom are out of the office at client sites. Their checklist helpfully notes that confirmation of the safety of engineers should be done by visual inspection first, because they’ll be really effing busy for the next few minutes.

So that’s the view of the disaster from the perspective of a wee little office several hundred miles away, responsible for a system which, in the scheme of things, was of very, very minor importance.

Scenes like this started playing out up and down Japan within, literally, seconds of the quake.

When the mall I was in started shaking, I at first thought it was because it was a windy day (Japanese buildings are designed to shake because the alternative is to be designed to fail catastrophically in the event of an earthquake), until I looked out the window and saw the train station. A train pulling out of the station had hit the emergency breaks and was stopped within 20 feet — again, just someone doing what he was trained for. A few seconds after the train stopped, after reporting his status, he would have gotten on the loudspeakers and apologized for inconvenience caused by the earthquake. (Seriously, it’s in the manual.)

Everything Pretty Much Worked

Let’s talk about trains for a second. Four One of them were washed away by the tsunami. [Edited to add: Initial reports were incorrect — four were accounted as missing and presumed lost, but it just reflected communication issues — three were safe, they were just not known to be safe.] All of the rest — including ones travelling in excess of 150 miles per hour — made immediate emergency stops and no one died. There were no derailments. There were no collisions. There was no loss of control. The story of Japanese railways during the earthquake and tsunami is the story of an unceasing drumbeat of everything going right.

This was largely the story up and down Honshu. Planes stayed in the sky. Buildings stayed standing. Civil order continued uninterrupted.

On the train line between Ogaki and Nagoya, one passes dozens of factories, including notably a beer distillery which holds beer in pressure tanks painted to look like gigantic beer bottles. Many of these factories have large amounts of extraordinarily dangerous chemicals maintained, at all times, in conditions which would resemble fuel-air bombs if they had a trigger attached to them. None of them blew up. There was a handful of very photogenic failures out east, which is an occupational hazard of dealing with large quantities of things that have a strongly adversarial response to materials like oxygen, water, and chemists. We’re not going to stop doing that because modern civilization and it’s luxuries like cars, medicine, and food are dependent on industry.

The overwhelming response of Japanese engineering to the challenge posed by an earthquake larger than any in the last century was to function exactly as designed. Millions of people are alive right now because the system worked and the system worked and the system worked.

That this happened was, I say with no hint of exaggeration, one of the triumphs of human civilization. Every engineer in this country should be walking a little taller this week. We can’t say that too loudly, because it would be inappropriate with folks still missing and many families in mourning, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Let’s Talk Nukes

There is currently a lot of panicked reporting about the problems with two of Tokyo Electric’s nuclear power generation plants in Fukushima. Although few people would admit this out loud, I think it would be fair to include these in the count of systems which functioned exactly as designed. For more detail on this from someone who knows nuclear power generation, which rules out him being a reporter, see here.

* The instant response — scramming the reactors — happened exactly as planned and, instantly, removed the Apocalyptic Nightmare Scenarios from the table.
* There were some failures of important systems, mostly related to cooling the reactor cores to prevent a meltdown. To be clear, a meltdown is not an Apocalyptic Nightmare Scenario: the entire plant is designed such that when everything else fails, the worst thing that happens is somebody gets a cleanup bill with a whole lot of zeroes in it.
* Failure of the systems is contemplated in their design, which is why there are so many redundant ones. You won’t even hear about most of the failures up and down the country because a) they weren’t nuclear related (a keyword which scares the heck out of some people) and b) redundant systems caught them.
* The tremendous public unease over nuclear power shouldn’t be allowed to overpower the conclusion: nuclear energy, in all the years leading to the crisis and continuing during it, is absurdly safe. Remember the talk about the trains and how they did exactly what they were supposed to do within seconds? Several hundred people still drowned on the trains. That is a tragedy, but every person connected with the design and operation of the railways should be justifiably proud that that was the worst thing that happened. At present, in terms of radiation risk, the tsunami appears to be a wash: on the one hand there’s a near nuclear meltdown, on the other hand the tsunami disrupted something really dangerous: international flights. (One does not ordinarily associate flying commercial airlines with elevated radiation risks. Then again, one doesn’t normally associate eating bananas with it, either. When you hear news reports of people exposed to radiation, keep in mind, at the moment we’re talking a level of severity somewhere between “ate a banana” and “carries a Delta Skymiles platinum membership card”.)

What You Can Do

Far and away the worst thing that happened in the earthquake was that a lot of people drowned. Your thoughts and prayers for them and their families are appreciated. This is terrible, and we’ll learn ways to better avoid it in the future, but considering the magnitude of the disaster we got off relatively lightly. (An earlier draft of this post said “lucky.” I have since reworded because, honestly, screw luck. Luck had absolutely nothing to do with it. Decades of good engineering, planning, and following the bloody checklist are why this was a serious disaster and not a nation-ending catastrophe like it would have been in many, many other places.)

Japan’s economy just got a serious monkey wrench thrown into it, but it will be back up to speed fairly quickly. (By comparison, it was probably more hurt by either the Leiman Shock or the decision to invent a safety crisis to help out the US auto industry. By the way, wondering what you can do for Japan? Take whatever you’re saying currently about “We’re all Japanese”, hold onto it for a few years, and copy it into a strongly worded letter to your local Congresscritter the next time nativism runs rampant.)

A few friends of mine have suggested coming to Japan to pitch in with the recovery efforts. I appreciate your willingness to brave the radiological dangers of international travel on our behalf, but that plan has little upside to it: when you get here, you’re going to be a) illiterate b) unable to understand instructions and c) a productivity drag on people who are quite capable of dealing with this but will instead have to play Babysit The Foreigner. If you’re feeling compassionate and want to do something for the sake of doing something, find a charity in your neighborhood. Give it money. Tell them you were motivated to by Japan’s current predicament. You’ll be happy, Japan will recover quickly, and your local charity will appreciate your kindness.

On behalf of myself and the other folks in our community, thank you for your kindness and support.

This post is released under a Creative Commons license. Patrick intends to translate it into Japanese over the next few days, but if you want to translate it or otherwise use it, please feel free.]

Patrick McKenzie is an ex-Japanese salaryman who currently runs a small software business. His main product at present is Bingo Card Creator, a product aimed at making elementary school teachers’ lives easier. Check out his blog, MicroISV on a Shoestring.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2011 in Japan

 

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The One Best Place To See Japanese Historical Clothing Design Paraded In Front Of You

Photo by Conveyor belt sushi

Next on my itinerary in Japan was to see the Jidai Matsuri Parade — The Festival Of The Ages.
It has over 2000 participants dressed in costumes from the last ten centuries in Japan.

Photo by Photo by davinelulinvega

By Conveyor belt sushi

By gintacat

by gintacat

By davinelulinvega

Truth is, after I ate at Soumushi’s, the parade was now near the far end of the route and I opted not to walk there. Instead I covered my blistered feet with band aides. That is why these photos are all from Flikr.

I saw the parade the last time I was in Japan and loved seeing all the costumes.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Japan

 

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My Favorite Tea House In All The World.

After my Geisha photo session, my next stop was the  Jidai Matsuri parade. I was at the far end of the parade route, and very early, so I walked toward the place the parade begins. When I got there, I was still early so I decided to stop at Somushi’s, a recommended tea house. Oh my, their link has beautiful pictures.

OMG, I am so glad I went. It is my favorite of all time. It is furnished with old Japanese mixed with contemporary wall hangings.

They had interesting teas like mugwort. I was in the mood for coffee however. I thought this cup and saucer were Bizen pottery but they are not. They gave me this name and I think it is the town they are made in -Ishii Nooto, and a business card that says Do Kka To Yu.

I love this beautiful old bill holder made of wood.

And this fabric coaster.

The checkout counter is made of stone and had this cute fabric cover.

If I could I would take my valentine here. He would like this vegetable chili. I was thrilled by the fresh taste and the variety of vegetables.

I moved a slice of lotus root to the center back of the plate so you can see it’s lacy beauty.  Under the vegetables is a mound of rice.

Enchanted, I went to check out the bathroom.

Blue ceramic urinal

The pot and scoop are to purify your hands.

Blue ceramic Japanese toilet

The bamboo pole is helpful for steadying yourself.

A beautiful old metal sink.

They have counter service and cute little tables if you like. Some are outdoors in a garden area.

I chose to sit Japanese style on the floor.

Wall hangings and antique wood adorn the place.

This one from old kimonos with Sashiko stitches, divides two areas.

I loved these beautifully sewn organza ones.

I don’t know why they have the tails? They are for sale. Maybe I could buy a small one?

Alas, too many zeros for my budget.

Well, I have my memory of this lovely place.

<p> © 2010 Jeanne Litt, All rights reserved. </p>

© 2010 Jeanne Litt, All rights reserved.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Abundance, Japan, Uncategorized

 

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How To Look Like A Geisha

When I left Sanjusangen-do Temple, I heard a clear loud voice chanting. It was this monk.

He goes at a fast clip.

Really fast.

I guess he goes around the perimeter of his temple complex and chants to protect the area. I enjoyed hearing it as I set off to find the Studio Shiki where I had an appointment at a –

Long-established photo shop specializing in Maiko/Geiko Transformation.

I wanted to walk because the last time I went to Japan, (for three weeks), I came home with 1 and 1/2 inches less around my waist. And that was after eating everything I wanted. So, my plan was to walk as much as possible.

I could have ridden, the streets were very steep. I went up and down the hillside a lot trying to find the place.

There were lots of students in this area, visiting the temples. Some classes wear matching hats.  It seems to make it easy for the teachers to find them.

There were lots of interesting shops along the way.

Finally I thought I found the place but it was one of their multiple sites. They sent me off to the one my appointment was with. Being compulsively early, I still arrived in time. I wonder sometimes if my compulsive earliness allows time for getting lost and if I was at the last minute, I could just skip the whole getting lost part.

Anyway, they were nice as could be. I was a little out of place with all the beautiful young women but my inner child was thrilled and happy.

I thought I was getting their Sakura plan – called their reasonable package for 6,500 yen but What I got cost 9,500 yen, (about $115). My lack of command of Japanese prevented me from knowing why.

There are additional charges for tabi socks, eyelashes and using your own hair. They will style and spray your hair dark if needed. I chose to use their wig.

Some women I heard of, kept the makeup on when they left. That would be fun, especially if you had your own long hair styled, but I chickened out had places to go after and washed it all off.

In this post, I showed pictures the photographer took with my camera. I was alone and would have tried taking some long arm shots with my own camera, but the photog kindly took as many as I wanted after my studio session.

You get to choose what color kimono and obi you wear. I was surprised that the white face makeup has a lot of pink in it and they use red around your eyes and eyebrows, in with the dark color. I felt like a princess being dressed by my ladies in waiting. Can you tell I enjoyed it?

And now without further ado, my studio shots.

Would you do this?

© 2010 Jeanne Litt, All rights reserved.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Abundance, Japan, Uncategorized

 

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TRAVEL JAPAN — Sanjusangen-do Temple

Day three in Japan, I took a bus. I’m the kind of person who would walk 5 miles rather than take a bus when I don’t know how to do it. It was less than 5 miles but the tour group gave me such good instructions I figured I could do it. You board the bus in the rear and there are signs in English and Japanese that tell the name of the stop. When you get off you pay 220 yen. I did try to put the money in the wrong place but the driver stopped me and showed me.

So feeling encouraged that I could manage a city bus, I went to Sanjusangendo temple.

I love to be there.

The gardens have wheelchair paths.

You can write a prayer on a piece of paper and tie it here. You can also burn incense or light a candle which reminds me of my Catholic days.

But the really big deal for me is the sense of overwhelming compassion, created by being in a football field size room filled with over 1000 golden statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. It makes me realize that however challenging things are, there is more than enough mercy to handle it. It fills you with awe. Photographs are not allowed. I don’t think they could do it justice.

Last time I bought my nearly impossible to buy a gift for husband, a Buddhist prayer for health. He kept it so this time I got him one for energy and I forget, well being maybe?

In 2003 I got myself a prayer for relief of headaches. I gave it to my daughter because I don’t often have headaches anymore, I’m just saying.

I love the idea that a person can create a place designed to invoke a response. It makes me want to make my garden invoke peace or at least neatness.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2011 in Abundance, Japan, Uncategorized

 

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TRAVEL JAPAN — Toyoko Inn Shijo Omiya — Part III

Let me show you my cute room in Kyoto. My goal was to spend little on the room in Kyoto and save my budget for the ryokans, ( Japanese style inns).

My tour company told me if I stayed in less than a three star hotel in Japan I would be subjected to cigarette smoke. (A migraine and puking would be my response.)

The Japanese value the purifying quality of smoke, water and alcohol. To them, smoking cigarettes is a good thing. I suspect this attitude of theirs is part of the low rate of cigarette related cancers.

This room was lovely, impeccably clean and very comfortable. The front desk had English speaking people and I was very pleased. I never smelt a whiff of cigarette smoke.

There are some very clever things the Japanese have come up with in their hotel rooms.

There is always access to hot water –

This room has a pants presser –

A fancy Japanese toilet

A tub that is shorter than ours, but deeper and you can soak up to your chin –

The faucet on the sink swings over the tub or you can use the hand held shower.

My favorite innovation is that the tub sits on a tray with a drain in it. If the tub overflows no problem. I suspect they hose down the whole room and it all drains away.

I love impeccably clean. In Japanese the same word means clean and beauty.

Do I know the word? Ah no, Jen, do you know?

They provide a fresh cotton robe each day –

And fresh slippers each day, traditionally worn in the bathroom –

Amenities –

And a face mask –

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Abundance, Japan

 

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TRAVEL JAPAN — Toyoko Inn Shijo Omiya — Part II

Hotel breakfast -- rice cakes and pickles.

My favorite flavor rice cake is green colored. You can see a few left in the center row on the tray, and no I didn’t eat them all.

Cheerful ladies worked in a little kitchen  near the dining area from about 5 AM. They declined to let me take their picture.

Vegetable salads

Miso soup

Breads

With butter and jellies.

Green tea and other beverages.

My fav -- The coffee machine

It’s good I was alone there, while I  experimented with the buttons on the machine until I found what I wanted — shots of espresso while I spent some time at the free —

Internet access

Then breakfast and out for the day. It was so convenient to have coffee and avoid a coffee withdrawal headache. And I could still enjoy green tea with my breakfast.

Because of the time difference — 19 hours — I woke up at 4 AM the whole first week. It worked out well, I could write in bed for an hour or so before going down to the internet and breakfast.

A day in the life of a princess. Do you love staying at a hotel, away from the demands of your usual life?

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2011 in Abundance, Japan

 

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TRAVEL JAPAN — Toyoko Inn Shijo Omiya

When I arrived at my hotel in Kyoto, the lady who checked me in asked if I was familiar with their key system. When I said no, she showed me a display and stuck the key fob into an angled slot. Okay “whatever, ‘ I thought.

I took the key and went up to my room, happy and tired. I used the key to open the door and went inside. It was pitch black. I couldn’t get any of the lights to work. I propped the door open for some light and set about trying all the switches in every different configuration I could think of.

Pushing aside feelings of helplessness and failure that pecked at me, I knew there must be some simple explanation, some simple trick to it, like trying to work a computer. Once you know it, it’s easy.

There was an angled slot on the wall and it had a tiny indicator light on it. It was the same as the display at the front desk. I stuck the fob in and voila – lights.

Instantly I went from feeling inadequate to adequate. Life is good. I can do this – get into my hotel room.

This is the Western style room I stayed in at Kyoto.

<p> © 2010 Jeanne Litt, All rights reserved. </p>

© 2010 Jeanne Litt, All rights reserved.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Abundance, How to, Japan, Uncategorized

 

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