Japan is strange.
Is that a way to start a travel post on this beautiful country? Yes, why not.
Someone asked me recently why I love Japan. Well, good question. I was thinking of the right answer but couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Of course there are dozens of reasons why you could be impressed by this country. Beautiful temples and shrines in Kyoto, the mega-mega city Tokyo, enjoying hot-springs (onsen), trains running exactly on time for a change or even the respect people have for each other, especially for the elderly.
But this was not it, this was not the answer I was looking for. What really impresses me when I am in Japan? Why do I want to go back again and again?
Japan is strange
Japan is fascinating…to some of us. “I cannot imagine that you fancy a strange country like that”, is the most common heard response when I speak highly of the Japanese culture, the nature and it’s people.
But although there are indeed some strange things about this country, I couldn’t help being drawn to it’s culture, it’s art and it’s people.
My experiences in Japan
I have so much to tell you about Japan: the way I first got in touch with Japanese culture through my Kyoto penpal Hiromi, my very first visit in 1995 as a research student, my 3-month stay in rural area north of Kyoto in 1996 and subsequent backpack travel from Kyoto to Kyushu. Even the return to my rural ‘hometown’ 5 years later, an emotional welcome with open arms and tears. Too much, so many memories, so many unique experiences. Where to even start?
In this first post I will try to explain my fascination for Japan. I call it ‘Part I’ as I might share more travel stories with you. But all my travels where back in the analog days so lots of pictures are not digitally available. Maybe there will not be a second Japan post until I have visited the country again….and for sure I will!
Living in Adogawa for 3 months
Back in 1996 I spent three months in the rural town of Adogawa. It was a time when speaking English in Japan was not very common. That was my challenge.
The town can be reached by train from Kyoto, one hour up north on the left bank of Lake Biwa.
Could I even speak Japanese? I studied Japanese for 2 years and I was able to manage quite well. However, for some people I deliberately played dumb.
For example that very nice lady from NHK television trying to have me pay a monthly fee for cable TV. She knocked on the door of my apartment several times, but I politely sent her back home pretending I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying. But what could I do, my daily budget was very tight! However, I guess this is the moment to apologise to her and NHK. Gomennasai (see me bow deeply).
I was young at that time, only 26 years old. Why not stay in Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto for that matter? Well, I was granted this unique opportunity by a company based in this area. The Japanese company Tokuden invited me to come and work for them. I am still very grateful for Tokuden to have given me this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Arigatoo gozaimasu! (see me bow deeply again).
The secret of my fascination
Enough about the background of my stay in Japan. Figuring out my fascination for Japan could turn into a long, psychological story. But the secret is not that complicated, it’s only hidden. Hidden behind daily life. Hidden behind the first glance of Japanese culture. You have to take a distance first in order to figure it out.
When I’m in Japan, everywhere it feels like I’m at home. Checking into a ryokan, strolling around temple grounds in Kyoto, riding the amazing subway lines, smelling meals being prepared in a Yaki Soba restaurant, walking the busy streets of Ginza, it always feels comfortable and safe. I get a certain sense of happiness and satisfaction. That’s why I’m fascinated.
Although life in Japan can be really stressful, it is very much organised. That’s the safe part, you know you will never get lost because you will be taken care of.
The happiness lies in the beauty of the culture. Taking your shoes of before entering a temple, trying to silently walking the temple’s ‘nightingale floors’, opening paper walls and sliding through to watch this amazing Zen garden. The serenity, the silence, the beauty of simplicity.
Yes, I guess that’s it.