After months of anticipation, we are finally in Japan! We’ve only been here for a couple of days and D.C. already seems so distant. Just a couple days ago I was going to school, eating Chipotle, doing my everyday routines, but now I’m an ocean away in the land of the rising sun. Now ramen and sushi pervade the menu, futons replace beds, and Japanese is spoken wherever I go.
Our trip to Japan wasn’t the easiest, however. Like any good trip there were passport troubles, missing luggage, and of course a super long flight. On a more serious note, there was also the incident at LAX. But these didn’t stop us as we made it safely to Japan.
So far in Japan I have been really struck by the trust and safety that I sense from the society. It is an interesting contrast as just before coming we experienced the aftermath of a violent incident in the U.S., but are now living in a country known for its safety. I had heard the statistics about crime (or lack of) in Japan before our trip, and I can totally feel this safeness now that I’m here in Japan. What has struck me most is that bikes are not locked up. Everywhere that we have been I have seen bikes parked on the sidewalk and never are there locks on these bikes. This has been incredible to me! I ride my bike in D.C. and leaving it unlocked, even for a mere minute would be unthinkable.
Another trait that I have noticed about Japanese culture and society is a sense of responsibility within Japanese people. From the very first day, while walking about, I had immediately noticed that there is very little litter on the streets, but at the same time, there are practically no trash cans. I was confused and asked Shinobu, one of the Japanese coordinators on the program (she spends a lot of time with us and is super helpful and great!). She explained that if people have trash while out, they merely wait until they get home to throw it away. A logical thing to do, I guess, yet I cannot imagine the U.S. functioning in this manner. Perhaps this sense of responsibility is connected in some way to the safety that I’ve also noticed in Japan.
Various times throughout the trip people have asked me about how Japan has compared so far to China. To answer simply: they are completely different. In China I was in Shanghai, and although a large city like Tokyo, streets were not as well paved, traffic was chaotic, trash could be found on the sidewalk, the differences were many. Japan, at least from what I have seen from Tokyo, appears to be much more organized. At times there are no sidewalks in Japan, but traffic gives way to the pedestrian and one does not have to constantly look over one’s shoulder in case of incoming vehicles. Buildings are well built, compact, and very few have looked run-down.
Japan has been very impressive so far as not only have the tourist attractions amazed me, but the society has as well. The city is well-kept and is as modern as any other, yet seems to be one of the safest that I have ever visited. When entering shops you are always greeted and after purchasing something, always thanked, maybe even bowed to (the other day at 7-11 the man at the cash register gave me a full-on 90 degree bow after I bought some ice cream; nothing like the U.S!). People have been friendly and a deep sense of respect for one another can be seen in the society. I have found Japan to be very interesting and feel that I have already begun to notice many different things about the culture and society, yet only a couple of days have passed. So far the program has been amazing as I’ve experienced a lot, learned a lot, and know that there is still much more to come. I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to take part in the program and become part of the larger Tomodachi family. I look forward to spending the rest of my three weeks in Japan learning and experiencing another culture in order to understand a society that has really impressed me.