I suppose our Spring Break cultural trip began the day we left, which, since we were on our way to the other side of the Pacific Ocean, was a very long day. I guess we could have slept on the 10-hour plane ride, but most of us were too excited: we were going to Japan!
After we arrived in Japan, we were all exhausted and facing the initial shock of the 16-hour time difference. Our first big observation was the language barrier: almost no one spoke English. Our second observation was that the buses in Japan were awesome; we got to ride to our hotel on a private bus. We all fell asleep after arriving in the hotel (a day of travel does that to you) and slept quite well until the next day when the cultural trip really began.
We did a lot in Japan and one of my favorite parts was our Temple Day. We visited several temples, including a temple where we could feed crackers to deer (and what a lot of deer there were!) and a temple that was a shrine, with several lanterns and even more deer. With the sun beginning to set just as we visited the shrine, the natural beauty of the surrounding plants and wildlife was beautifully highlighted.
I particularly enjoyed some of our more scenic outings to gardens and while riding on the Shinkansen high-speed train system. The respect for the land, and the design, both on purpose and as an accident because of cultural and building standards, amazed me. Particularly, the respect for the land seen in Japanese landscape architecture put me in complete awe. These are sights that you have to see in order to fully understand.
See, I told you. It’s awesome.
We also went on a lot of shopping trips throughout our stay. We bought mostly anime, ice cream (there was a lot of really good ice cream in Japan!) and shoes. I personally spent more money on unique pens than anything else on the trip, but I’m putting them to good use already. Another shopping item of interest was earrings, which are very tasteful and surprisingly cheap in Japan.
There is also this wonderful mode of transportation called the bullet train. I was told how fast these trains were before going to Japan, but it was hard to really appreciate the speed until I rode them. These trains are fast. I like to think of them as one of the defining traits of Japan, along with anime and landscape architecture. The bullet trains are wonderfully practical modes of transportation, and, again very fast.
Some other wonderfully practical cultural things about Japan that we learned about:
- Underground Japan. By this, I do not mean criminal activities, but going physically underground. Under Japan, there are several tunnels connecting overground train platforms, as well as connecting underground subways. Historically, you could purchase tickets and adjust fees here, but at some point these turned into malls. You can purchase many things under Japan, including food, clothes, and I even saw a fabric store, restaurants and a party daycare (they had a ball pit and trampolines). Unfortunately, that can be hard to navigate, so our group frequently got lost.
- Convenience stores. They are everywhere and they are extremely convenient. You can buy supper and any other meal of the day there. The stores also sometimes sell basic medication and hair supplies, though you usually buy those at the drug store, which are also nearly everywhere in Japan! Even though we have convenience stores in Canada, there is a much stronger convenience store culture in Japan.
One of the biggest takeaways for me from Japan was just how extremely different the culture is; namely, the architecture and physical composition of the cities. Tokyo in particular was far larger than any city I have ever seen, and it seemed as if each building was far taller than any building I’ve ever seen. Seeing the city skyline from atop Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Skytree really highlighted this fact.
What gave me great pleasure was everything is made for someone my size. At 5-feet, I am particularly short by Canadian standards (I frequently find seats on buses are too big, as are hotel rooms, and beds are far too large), but in Japan, however, everything fit me. It was wonderful!
Language was a large barrier for us, as many people in Japan don’t speak English or only speak very minimal English. This made for several memorable cultural experiences, including writing conversations on a napkin while translating through what we presumed to be Google translate.
Even though both Japan and Canada are both well-developed countries, they are very different. Languages, customs, food, and even the architecture make each one unique, and make both countries fully operational. Visiting a country that is completely different from Canada is great because it allows me to see things from a new angle. I will try not to forget this trip. Japan is an amazing country to visit.
(photos by Judy Tobacco)