I've struggled with starting this post for a few days now. Being a Westerner in Japan is so different from anything I've experienced, it's tough to distill it down into words. I'll give it a shot, though. Here are some impressions I remember...

Anxiety in the Osaka airport, when I realized we wouldn't be met by our contact, and would need to get a cab to the hotel.

Disorientation of a cultural sort, as a flood of unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells surrounded me as soon as I left the airplane. It hasn't slowed down one bit, but I'm getting a handle on it.

My first business card exchange with representatives of one of the companies we're here to visit.

The entire world that exists below the streets of both Osaka and Tokyo. Tunnels lined with shops, restaurants, and other goodies. A continuous river of people going about their lives underground.

The panic of the first time I tried to pay with a credit card, and they told me cash only. I had no cash and had to borrow from our host.

The adventure of eating foods I barely recognize. Thank goodness for the popularity of sushi and sashimi in the States. That brings the recognition percentage up to 50% or so...

The relief of enjoying almost everything I've eaten or drank here (except natto, but who can blame me?)

The realization that this is a culture that moves through the world with as little social (and personal) impact as possible. Just like me. (Much to Jessica's chagrin.)

Riding the Shinkansen (bullet train) that I'd been dreaming about since I was a kid. It was less exotic than I imagined, but still a very cool experience.

My embarrassing, awkward first attempts to speak Japanese, with our host's encouragement.

The sheer panic when I thought I had left my cell phone in the seat of the cab.

The tiny bar in the Golden Gai, smaller than our not-so-big master bath at home, where only 6 people could sit comfortably. There were many, many of these, all crammed into one small area.

Finding out that language is no barrier to raising a glass and toasting with newfound friends. Kanpai!

Watching two giant masses of people in a huge crosswalk surge toward each other, and somehow seamlessly merge and separate again without slowing down.

Of course that's just a taste of what the past 4 days have been like, but I need to get ready to get lost on the Tokyo subway. I think today will be the ultimate immersion. All day wandering, with no guide. Let's hope I find a lunch place with picture menus...

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