Over a period of time I would learn that the Japanese love to give gifts. It’s a tradition you have to respect and accept. So much so that even Playboy with its strict corporate policy of its employees not allowed to accept any gifts had to bend the rule in order not to commit the embarrassing social faux pas and risking the congenial relationship with our Japanese partners by letting me bring those gifts home – even allowing me to keep them. And the gifts wouldn’t be perfunctory. I still have their top of the line Canon Sure Shot – came in handy just in time, because I was getting tired of lugging around my heavy camera bag stuffed with Pentax Spotmatic, a set of lenses and filters and other accessories – now made obsolete by the digital cameras. And a set of beautiful Seiko watches, his and hers – the ones both Carolyn and I still wear.

Though I can’t help but wonder, who can afford anything at those prices? Okay, the ones given to me were from the corporate PR budget. But what about the personal gifts that I witness people carrying out of the stores? One of the things that totally flabbergasts me during this first visit to Japan is, how expensive everything is!! The first night Keiko takes me out for dinner at a small unpretentious neighborhood Chinese restaurant costs US$ 30.-. That is just the food. At the time, something you could do back in California for $10.-.  As expensive as the food is, in the most cases you get to see it “live” even before you enter the restaurants. The standard dishes are on display in the glass showcases fronting each place, little hand made signs indicating the names of the dishes both in Japanese and English and the price of the respective dish. I still haven’t been able to figure out whether the food on display looking so appetizing is so beautifully frozen or is made of very natural looking plastic. Even basics like a cup of coffee, a glass of beer, a single tomato in the department store, sight seeing tour, day-to-day clothing, all cost three or four times as much as they do back in the United States. You would think the small luxuries that are made in Japan, like cameras, transistors, Walkman, calculators and such should at least be cheaper, Nope! They are cheaper to buy across the Pacific. Curiously enough, other than the electronics and some things obviously Japanese, such as Kimono and Kabuki masks, the stores are filled with the products foreign – mainly European high fashion and American. American jeans and the movies, the magazines, the McGregor spices and DelMonte tomato ketchup in the grocery store.

When I first arrive in Tokyo, I feel more squeezed and boxed-in like nowhere else. There are ocean waves of people, wherever you set your sight. As I walk the streets, one thing you can’t escape is how loud the people are. And how crowded and noisy are the streets. And the cacophony of the deafening noise made mainly by millions of wind pipes blowing at their highest decibel level seems unreal. There must be something psychological about them being out and a part of the crowd. Because in the meeting rooms and during the social encounters, they are meek as lambs facing hoards of lions. And their multiple bowing at every stage of the life including the petite females with their doll like slit eyes bowing and un-bowing, whispering domo arigato gozaimasu every time you get on or off an elevator. Not only to the attendants, but there is absolutely no tradition of tips even in restaurants and bars.  There are other  things I marvel at: The reverence with which business cards are exchanged. Held delicately by the fingers of both hands and offered with a gesture that of a religious tribute – the way Indian worshipers do when making an offering of flowers in a temple. The cards themselves are simple, a little larger than the standard size, stark white, devoid of the fancy corporate logo, printed on each side in black and white type face with the name, the designation and the contact details of the bearer. In English on one side and katakana on the other. And you are expected to receive them equally as reverently, look at it, bow your head slightly and then tuck into your pocket as delicately.

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