This Thursday I returned to Israel from a three-week trip in Japan. I have to say that this was probably the best trip I have ever made in Japan. I enjoyed almost everything I experienced there this time. The only problem I had was that I lost my purse with a credit card somewhere on my way to my parents' place and was left with no cash and credit card; somehow I managed to solve the problem.
The official reason for this trip was to give three talks in Kyoto and Tokyo. Fortunately, all the talks were accepted favorably. I am used to inserting spontaneous jokes in my talks even in Japanese, which is not so "friendly" to jokes; this time I also told ready-made Jewish jokes during my talks. In spite of my initial fear that the Japanese audience might not understand my jokes, they seemed to have appreciated the jokes even more than the contents of my talks per se. This has made me think of giving a talk on Jewish humor in my next visit to Japan at this time of next year; I would like to analyze what makes Jewish (or to be more precise, Ashkenazic) jokes Jewish.
The pinnacle of this trip was, without doubt, a private lesson in Total Immersion Swimming. I was taught the basics of freestyle swimming according to this method. To my great surprise and joy, I could start swimming freestyle after several hours of learning though I had never tried this swimming style in my life. I am already planning to take another private lesson in this method of swimming during my next visit to Japan in order to have my style checked and corrected. This is one of the most amazing and revealing learning experiences I have ever had in my entire life.
It is ironical (or probably natural?) that I had to lose my Japanese citizenship and live abroad in order to enjoy what Japan has to offer. But I am not ready to live there as a citizen, and I was glad to return to Israel. What impressed me more strongly than before about Japanese society is that no joy of life is felt there. Having spent three weeks there, I felt as if my "battery" of positive energy were about to run out and needed to be recharged. The only place in Japan where I could recharge my "battery" was the synagogue in Kobe, where I spent my first Sabbath there. It is so sad that many people in Japan look so sad in spite of all the material affluence. In a sense this material affluence may be a compensation for lack of joy of life.