I have a shelf full of Lonely Planet books. I buy one about six months before each trip and flip through it, folding page corners for coffee shops, quirky hotels and the like. I also hoard travel magazines. I have my favourites – Afar, Conde Nast Traveler, Airbnb. They’re stacked together in white mesh racks. Oh, and Pinterest. I do that too. Gorgeous images. Well researched articles. Insider tips. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I do research. I have a pretty good idea where I’m going and what I’ll want to see when I get there.
My husband is a different story. He once buckled himself in on a flight to Africa and then turned and asked me what countries we were going to. I’m only half kidding. But he makes up for it the minute we land and get back online. Hopefully. If we’re sailing, no WIFI. Same for most of Namibia. But, in Japan, he had unlimited access to sweet, sweet internet. Cue the questions.
J has always be curious. When he meets new people, he asks questions. Lots of them. I’ve gotten used to it. Except for that one time when we shared a table in a Utah brewery with a couple from Texas. I think it took about 84 seconds before he asked them how many guns they had…with them (it was twelve and one of the them was in the motorcycle they had parked outside).
As we boarded the train at the Tokyo airport, J pulled out his newly SIM’d phone and asked a question – Hey Siri, how many people use transit in Japan? I knew it was the first of many. A moment of downtime during which his mind would begin to spin. What could he learn in this country? What interesting facts might he uncover? How weird would the questions get? It gave me an idea. For this trip, I’d keep track of every one.
So, here they are in roughly the order they emerged.
- What are so many people wearing hospital masks? It started out as a courtesy and has become a fashion statement. Thanks Instagram.
- Where are all the garbage cans? Eating or drinking while walking down the street is strongly discouraged, so you don’t really have much to toss out.
- What are those fans in that field for? This one was actually cool. When the weather cools down in the fall, they protect the tea plants from frost.
- How does Japan make electricity? Imported coal and natural gas because, Fukushima.
- What’s the deal with 7-11? You can eat dinner there. Every day.
- Why are there yellow bumpy lines on the sidewalk? We didn’t look this one up for a couple days, trying to figure it out for ourselves. We didn’t guess correctly. Turns out they help those with visual impairments navigate the city.
- Does our hotel room have a modular bathroom? It did.
- What’s in a Japanese breakfast? Two words. Lotta fish.
- Why doesn’t anyone wear sunglasses? Some people do. Thugs.
- How are chopsticks made? It’s complicated.
- Why does everyone have bottled water at their front door? Keeps feral cats from peeing there. Seriously.
- How big is the Kyoto Station? It’s big. It has a mall in it.
- And finally, what is the Nozomi, and why can’t I ride it…again. It’s a bullet train. Visitors with a rail pass are not allowed on it. We risked it, got caught and kicked off.
There were probably more, but on average there was one big question every day. He did some research and shared what he learned. The chop stick question led us to a half hour video that was actually quite interesting. Looking back on the list at the end of the trip was actually kind of cool. I realized that I don’t ask questions. I observe.
Next time, I’ll be curious.