Some reflections about Japan.

It’s Sunday morning and I sit here in my sunroom looking out at the grey sky.  Last Sunday I was spending my last day in Japan and beginning my travels home.  Terry and I had a great time there.  I’d wanted to visit Japan since I was a teenager, and it has taken me this long.  Terry found tickets on a discount travel site and so for the two of us to go it was $1200 Canadian dollars return, taxes included.  How amazing is that?  Discoveries we made about travelling there.  First, buy yourself a first class Japan Rail pass.  You must do this outside of Japan.  You can’t buy them there.  Then you can travel on any train, anytime, to anywhere in Japan.  If you want to travel in the first class car you just have to book at the rail stations before the journey begins.  We travelled from Tokyo, to Akita, to Juniko, to Aomori, to Sendai, to Kyoto, and back to Tokyo.

The second money tip is that there are hotels everywhere and you should be able to get a small but nice room for no more that $70 Canadian.  The staff at the desk always show you the price before they go ahead and book it for you.  They’ll type the price into a calcuator or write it on a pad and then present it to you in the palms of their hands, like an offering.  It’s quite lovely and non threatening.  We were thrilled with the prices since the one we booked online for the first night was $168 Canadian.

Contrary to what you may have heard, English is NOT well spoken by many people in Japan.  I would say it would be similar to the amount of French that we speak in the Alberta.  You’ll find someone eventually, but most of the time you are on your own.  Since the Japanese use a writing system of ideograms, it is impossible to read without some studying before you.  You will see some things written out with abc’s, which may give you some clues.  Train stations are good that way.  We learned to recognize the symbols for cities we were visiting, which was helpful.

The people were warm and friendly and helpful. We were very careful to wear our Canadian flags prominently, so that we didn’t repeat the experience of being mistaken for Americans that we had when we first visited Europe in Spring of last year (pre Obama).  We met some wonderful people whom we would like to go back and visit and perhaps take friends to introduce.

Japan did not seem as ‘futuristic’ as we had thought it would be.  (Everyone we met had cellphone but few had emails — wouldn’t that be heaven.) It is just as modern as any developed country that we’ve visited but really no more so.  I was surprised but the absence of historical building.  It seems that almost everything has been replaced within the last 60 years and not much of it with really high quality.  I reminded me of what we’ve done here in western Canadian in the 60’s and 70’s.  We took down anything old and replaced it with stucco and vinyl.  The Japanese love plastic, everything was made of plastics.

The last day in Toyko we discovered a restoration taking place of the main train terminal.  The building is just over 100 years old and looks more European than Japanese, but still it quite significant to their history.  The restoration reminded me a lot of the work that is happening in London with the King’s Cross station (famous to us from Harry Potter, platfrom 9 1/2).  The Japanese have the added work of lifting the whole thing up and fitting it with a shock absorbing system that will help the building withstand earthquakes.  There was an earthquake one evening while we were in Aomori — we survived.

The wondrous thing about the Japanese is they way they have preserved their culture.  I recognize that I have no way of knowing how it may have changed but still it seemed to me that in the absence of heritage buildings they have managed to preserve their custom of respect for one another and visitors, through their actions and language.  They value things being tidy and organized.  “You can eat off the streets,” I heard so often. It was amazing.  I which we could keep Sunworks this tidy and clean. (I hear the Sunworkers groaning already).  We learned to bow and to be polite in our requests and our thanks.

I was reminded by this short Japan experience to never take anything or anyone for granted.  I should respect and honour not only the things that I have for a time, but the people in my life.  Connections and relationships are most important, everything else needs to be cared for, for others in the future to enjoy.

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