This year I set foot on Japanese ground for the first time in my life. I was there for the last two weeks of April and managed to savour the remnants of cherry blossom season. If you recall from my first blog post, this has been a very long anticipated trip (I booked my flights 10 months in advance). And now, two months post Japan trip, I figured I should note my thoughts before they escape me.
In a different life, perhaps my next, I would like to be Japanese.
Sounds like a wacky shower thought. Maybe it is. But I genuinely believe the Japanese culture and lifestyle is special, and one that can only be fully realised by a person born and raised in Japan. Being a tourist is like getting a glimpse into someone’s home, you observe a different way of living, try new foods and attempt a foreign language, then you thank the hosts’ for their hospitality and you return to your own life.
Here in Melbourne, I have entirely re-integrated with my student life – final exams, empty wallets and all – but there are aspects of Japan that have stayed in the perimeters of my mind. I think these are the distinguishing factors that have given Japan its stellar reputation.
I arrived in Tokyo at night so I didn’t notice it immediately, but it is insanely quiet in Japan. On day time streets, comfortable silence is filled only by the sound of nature and machinery, the subway is hushed even when it’s crowded, everything and everyone seems to be under a calm spell. And I love it. I have never experienced anything like this before and was not expecting to encounter quiet in any city, let alone one in Asia. In short, it blew my mind. Japan would be an introvert’s (my) heaven on earth for this reason alone.
Japanese people are very kind and I especially love the elderly. Having zero sense of direction and knowing only four and a half Japanese words meant I had to ask for help daily. I am so grateful for all the people who went out of their way to show me to my bus stop, and helped me translate the writing on my onigiri (gotta find the Tuna & Mayo one!) Moreover, they are the epitome of kawaii (cute) and set strong moral examples for tourists like me.
This was the biggest culture shock I received during my time in Japan. Living in a Western society, I am constantly reminded to not leave my valuables unattended, to be cautious of walking alone at night, to avoid interactions with strangers, etc. However, I felt incredibly safe in Japan, even more so than in Melbourne. Young couples were walking their dog at midnight, and bags were left at coffee tables while the owners’ queued for their order – it was a new found mental freedom that was only possible in a society of trust.
The Distinct Japanese-ness
Japan has preserved its traditions and culture rigorously. Not just their temples and tea ceremonies, but everything, including youth areas and technological advancements are shaped by a force distinctly Japanese. In stark contrast to Melbourne, a microcosm of the world’s different cultures, Japan has allowed little influence from the outside. I think the benefits of homogeneity are clear in this post, but I have to admit, three quarters through my trip I began craving some Vietnamese Pho and Korean Bibimbap.
That is all for my Japan recount. If you are more interested in the sees & dos you can watch my day-to-day adventures in Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto in my vlog.