I consider myself fairly cultured. I've been to about 13 countries give or take the layovers and have seen most of the US. Japan was my first exposure to anything Asian. I realize that Asia is a massive place but when most of us think about Asian culture Japan, China, and likely the Koreas come to mind. Or at least that's what comes to mind for me.
I've always enjoyed traveling, not only because I simply love learning how big the world is but I'm also baffled by how vastly different it is. Other than traveling to Europe on four different occasions everywhere else I have been would be classified as a developing country. This was somewhat of an adjustment for me in Japan as the wealth, classiness, safety, technology, the brillance of the people amazed me. I guess in all honestly I don't think about Japan. My first desire to travel there arose when my friend Richard got stationed there 6 months ago and I can't say that it was in my top ten list of places I want to visit. (India is still #1 and has been since I was 16).
But how amazing it was. It took me three days to warm up to it. The people are very quiet, reserved, almost cold. They don't smile often and don't seem to talk to Americans except on rare occasions. They are always kind and helpful when approached but at first I was a little put off by how formal everything seemed. Void of color. Similar to NYC or Paris the people dress very well and almost entirely in black. It seems to blend in to their demeanor.
But then there are the cartoons! Women dressed to the nines would have Hello Kitty iPhone cases and even teenage boys would have stuffed animals on their book bags. Every sign possible was illustrated in animation and color. It was mind boggling. Beautiful in its own way.
Perhaps I was most impressed by the tidiness. There is no garbage anywhere...it's almost impossible to find a garbage can. Which.. I realize...makes no sense. Richard has a theory that every woman's purse is stuffed full of garbage. We went to a Japanese soccer game and every person cleans up after their self. They then stand in line to throw their garbage away when the game is over. They sort it. Similar to Whole Foods...into at least four different recycle bins. They waste not. After having briefly lived in a country where it is the norm to eat your lunch out of a styrofoam to-go box and throw the box on the street when you're finished I found this very humorous. Americans would also never take this kind of time! Let's be real...I rarely throw my garbage away correctly the four times a year I enter a Whole Foods.
It's doubtful I will ever return to Japan. I have an ambition to travel to a new country every year. I've been doing it for about six years now. Japan has been checked off of that list.
I am so thankful I went. I got to spend Thanksgiving in a foreign country for a second time. It makes one grateful for many things. For diversity, for color, for new foods, for culture, for America, for creativity, for our wide world, for what makes us different, for what makes us the same and for a God who transcends it all.
2013 is coming to a close and I am more than thankful but my experiences in Japan will rank among its greatest memories.