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Why does it still seem so improbable to me that a giant aircraft can lift off from the ground and carry me at speeds I cannot feel across vast oceans, then deposit me back to earth in another land?  Each time I fly, the experience seems remarkable, particularly if it is a trip of several hours, traversing invisible timelines, geography, climates, seasons and cultures!

I noticed this trip to Japan and back that there is a short window after I first land in which my experience of otherness is strongly heightened before it becomes familiar again.  It’s like seeing a place through new eyes when at first everything seems foreign.

The city of Kyoto, while thriving and contemporary, contains the wisdom and legacy of hundreds and hundreds of years within it.  You brush up against it daily in the traditions, the food, in the politeness of interpersonal transactions as well as in the more obvious gardens and architecture.  For me, visiting Kyoto is like entering an ongoing river of time.  I am always altered by it in some way during each visit. For the better!

Today, the reverse happened when I returned to Santa Barbara.

We napped and then visited the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. The first thing that caught my attention was the people.  So much diversity in clothing and appearance.  Downright skimpy attire on the women, by Japanese standards.  Total messiness on the part of the street musicians and the obvious hippies. They were views I would not see in Japan, where almost everyone is well scrubbed and neatly dressed.  Even if a man’s hair is wild, it still looks deliberate,as if each strand of hair was studied and then put in its place.  Like making an ikebana arrangement.  The SB Farmers Market scene was random, colorful and exuberant. By next week, I’ll hardly notice the contasts.

It’s common courtesy in Japan, when having enjoyed a meal, to tell the chef  “Gochiso sanma deshita.”  I think its a wonderful acknowledgement to those who work so hard to prepare food for our pleasure. At the end of a fine meal, I frequently say the phrase in Japanese to the cooks who are usually not far away.
They always seem pleased.

Upon finishing a meal, the Japanese also use the polite phrase gochisōsama-deshita (ごちそうさまでした, lit. “that was (the condition of) an (honorable) feast”). Sama is the honorific word which gives respect to the person, therefore, this phrase gives respect for making the meal.

Tonight, after a simple but tasty dinner at a local restaurant, I found myself about to say Gochiso…to  the cooks who were gathered in the kitchen close by.  Just in time, I thanked them in English and had the pleasure of seeing their faces light up!

Yes, back to earth, but so enriched by the travels.

Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.


  • Mora Chartrand says:

    You have perfectly captured in words the feelings my wife and I experience after spending our yearly 6 weeks in Kyoto. It is jarring for the first couple of days as we slowly accustom ourselves to life back home in Portland, Oregon. I so miss the common courtesies I experience daily in Japan.

  • Mark dendy says:

    Glad you’re back! And with courtesy to boot