I arrived back in Kyoto Wednesday night, after a one month trip to the US. During the three weeks at home in Montclair, New Jersey and the five days in San Francisco on the way back to Japan I kept my Internet usage to a minimum, did virtually no blogging, read a lot of books, ate and drank a lot, and generally had a vacation. Living in the suburbs of New York City, I naturally spend a lot of time there, and I noticed the following changes while I was back.
There are bike lanes all over Manhattan, and people biking all over the place.
The much heralded conversion of Times Square and sections of Broadway into pedestrian only zones actually happened.
Subway cars with modern electronic signage are gradually spreading. Of course, the MTA only introduced them when retiring cars that are too old to remain in service, so it may very well be another decade or two before they are ubiquitous.
I had never been to San Francisco before, and I was very impressed by the food and general atmosphere, and could easily imagine myself living in that climate year-round. The one slice of pizza I had, however, was an unmitigated disaster, not helped by the fact that it was 3am and I was walking the wrong direction. It was also a bit disconcerting, although not unwelcome, after having just been in the New York area, to be in a major American city where residents feel comfortable smoking marijuana in public, at any time of day and in any neighborhood, and even in front of the police.
Upon landing in Kansai International Airport, I noticed two new things.
First, that there is a dedicated line at immigration for reentry permit holders. Before the recent re-introduction of mandatory fingerprinting for entering foreigners, we re-entry permit holders had the unique right of being able to choose EITHER the Japanese citizen lines OR the foreigner lines, whichever was shorter. However, immediately after the institution of the electronic fingerprinting and facial photographing system, we were lumped in with the general foreigner population. But now, and I do not know when it started, we get our very own line. And while both Japanese and visiting foreigners were piled up 3o deep behind green and red ropes, with a solid wait ahead of them, I managed to glide through the yellow-roped corridor with only one person ahead of me and no more than four behind.
Second, that there are drug detection dogs crawling all over the baggage claim/customs area, and the PA system never shuts up reminding you that they don’t bite. While the dogs themselves are not particularly annoying and it is mildly interesting to watch them work as I wait for my luggage to come out, there is still something a bit uncomfortable about having ones person repeatedly inspected, even if only olfactorily. Needless to say, having just come from San Francisco, where-as I mentioned above-marijuana is basically legalized, I found it a particularly unwelcoming welcome back. While the increased dog inspections are obviously a product of Japan’s recent craze of 1950s-esque reefer madness, having such dogs at the border still feels a bit pointless since, as far as I have heard, all of the marijuana consumed in Japan is actually produced domestically up in Hokkaido and Tohoku, and not smuggled into the country.
Regardless, the convenience of the MK Shuttle and almost comical politeness of the engloved driver provided a sharp contrast to the mildly surly and heavily burly Russian or Eastern European immigrant that had driven my corresponding airport pickup shuttle service in San Francisco.