Japan has always intrigued me since my trip there in the 70s - the people, the culture, the history, the country. It has risen from being the biggest debtor (post world war) to the being the biggest creditor internationally in a few decades. I have studied its business culture as a separate and unique class on its own and I have concluded that their culture and tradition played a big role on how the country became very successful. Japan has very few natural resources, but that didn't stop them. Working together, in harmony, starting from young, the people/the country managed to rise, basically from ashes, to what it is today. Curiously, I wanted so much to go back to see Japan again. Opportunity came when I felt it was time for both of us to take a few days off for ourselves. I think we needed this and we also miss our sailing days when it was just the two of us all the time.
I planned this holiday well because it is only 10 days and there is so much to see in Japan. I booked the tickets way in advance and I even managed to learn the basic Japanese language (up to lesson 30). This came in handy specially in the outskirts of the main cities. From the cosmopolitan highspeed cities of Tokyo and Osaka, we traveled to neighbouring cities - from the mountains all the way to the easternmost coastline. This we did by purchasing (in Canada) the 7-day Shinkansen rail pass. You can only purchase this railpass from outside of Japan and as tourists, it is much cheaper.
Japan, being a major exporter, has been affected by the global crisis. As tourists, it was not apparent to us, but there are subtle hints, here and there. For example, there are now lots of bicycles weaving in and out amongst the hoard of pedestrians on the sidewalk. It is quite amazing actually how they can do that. It is so crowded specially in train terminals and not once do we get bumped or nudged. Another clue we saw are homeless people. More of them compared to the seventies. We also saw Japan helping out by employing more than necessary - we saw 8 people directing pedestrians and traffic while a construction vehicle was backing out. There are some employed just to stand in a crowded place holding a billboard sign - they just stand there all day!! We saw one doing sudoku while holding the sign, just to pass the time quickly. Another sign, which I haven't noticed in the seventies also, are employees standing outside their stores handing leaflets out and shouting invitations to come in. I thought this happens only in the Philippines where the more noise you make, the better.
Aging baby boomers are apparent in Japan. You can see some of them still working, when it is obvious that they should have already retired. But you know what? They are the ones who can speak English. If we go into an information center, it is our natural tendency to speak with the younger staff. Once they hear we speak English, they almost always direct us to the oldest member (who we naturally assume is the boss). One time, we were looking at a map on the street because we were lost. Who came near us to offer us direction (in English)? A tiny, very old, lady! She was quite charming too. My take on this is that these older generation people are those who worked with Americans postwar, in the late forties/fifties.
Culture and tradition - Japanese help each other, work in harmony together, trust and respect each other. They are quite disciplined, and teachings start very very young, at home and in schools. This is one reason why crime incidence is almost non-existent. When you ask for directions, it is common to see them leave everything to walk you to the direction you want to go. They will even leave their stores unattended to go with you. In restaurants, I also see people leave their bags/purses on the chairs first before going to the counter to get their food. Then we also see some rebellions going on. For example - the young ones now go wild in fashion - like a public outcry to be free from restrictions. Google Harajuku - and you will see this famous district where the most outlandish fashionistas are. Fashion is big in Japan. In fact, we feel like we are dressed up like bums amongst them. Men wear suits and their women - wow - they look like they are going to a formal party everyday. Fully made-up faces complete with heavy eyeliners, mascara and false eyelashes, high heels, fancy clothes and accessories. In their high heels (and almost all are wearing high heels), the women can walk very fast and can stand in the highspeed bullet trains without holding on to rails. Being so advanced in electronics, all carry cell phones. Even their cell phones have fancy accessories.
Toilets - you can't go to Japan without noticing their toilets. The Japanese toilets are on the floor, hence you must squat down. Even the toilet tissue roller is at squat level. The other extreme are the Westernized toilets - they are so fancy, complete with warmed seats, automatic lid openers, and warm water shower bidets. Some have automated seat plastic covers. When you are finished, the plastic rolls out to be replaced with the unused new and clean portion. We absolutely adore this - no sanitation worries and no need to bring around toilet paper with you at all times. Also, no need to pay just to go into a public washroom!!
There are some inconveniences, just like any other country you visit. First, it is expensive in Japan and of course, we chose to go when the Yen is in its highest value. Secondly, there is a language barrier but Japan did well this time because there are now signs in English everywhere. This is the beauty of traveling - learning and observing other cultures. We both liked it so much - and Kjartan was awestruck by it all. He said there are a lot of things here that others can learn from. I made a summary video of our trip which doesn't cover all and you are welcome to watch.
Another video - the Tsukiji Market - I've always wanted to visit this place since we were in the Salmon Farming industry in Canada. Very interesting, and I am glad we went there.