"In Japan, this is NO!"

One big advantage of travel is that it provides opportunities for learning about cultures other than our own. Understanding and respecting other people's culture is not only for broadening horizons, it also helps us avoid potentially embarrassing situations. An incident of a couple of days ago was a good example.

That day we bought some sushi for lunch. After having it in the car, we looked around for a bin to dispose of the rubbish and couldn't find any. So we kept the rubbish in the car and drove to our next visiting place, which was an art gallery.

When we got there, we searched again for a bin nearby, but again there was none. So we took the small bag of rubbish inside and gestured to the lady at the ticket counter that we would like to find somewhere to dump the rubbish. But the lady, well mannered and elegant like so many other women we met in Japan, said in stuttering English: "Sorry, this is a museum." Thinking that she didn't know we were about to visit the gallery, I tried to communicate our intention through words as well as gestures. Seeing a waste basket next to the office, I hopefully gestured to put the rubbish in. The lady was stone-faced, the smiles quickly evaporated, and she declared solemnly, again in stuttering English: "In Japan, this is NO!" I immediately apologised and took the rubbish back to the car.

The good lessons I have learned from this incident were: (1) in Japan, don't expect to find a rubbish bin in public places, (2) definitely don't take any rubbish to the places you visit, and (3) take the rubbish back to where you live and dispose of it there.

So those sushi containers had the privilege of travelling with us for a day before eventually finding their way in the little basket in our room in the minshuku.

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