This year, for the second time ever, I’m away from snowy Massachusetts for Christmas. My parents and I decided to take a trip to Japan over winter break, all of us deciding that this trip was a bit cooler than yet another Christmas at home.
I’ll break it down with what I love and didn’t love about this place, in the hopes that it sheds some light on it for anyone who is coming from a similar background, hoping to travel to Japan.
What I loved:
The integration of natural and man-made beauty. Really, most of the country is very beautiful and its lovely to walk around and experience the culture along with the sites. But my absolute favorite part was the way they integrate the land with things like temples and shrines. In Europe, a giant, ornate castle or palace overlooks rows and boxes of neatly cropped flowers, whereas here a temple overlooks a landscape that is clearly styled and created by humans, but that gives you the impression of a very beautiful little spot in nature. It gives them more of a feeling of serenity and simplicity and peace, which I found really special.
What I was fascinated by:
How different the culture is. I’ve always felt like it’s important to travel so that you can find the place in the world that’s most right for you, because what are the odds that you were actually born into that place, right? I think I can safely say that Japan is not the place in the world most right for me, but I thought it was fascinating how they can have a big, urban city like Tokyo, which is in some ways so similar to the ones in the US, but go about it so differently. Honestly, it kind of gave me faith that there is a place (figuratively, not literally, see below) in the world for everyone if different corners of the world can be so different from each other.
What I could do without:
The lack of space. Unfortunately, a lot of the places we visited felt a bit like downtown Manhattan, and not in a good way. I’m sure it was in part that we were going to the sites and the places that other people would also want to go to, but I still found that someone was always bumping into me or touching me and it made me miss the space out in the midwest. Never realized how important my personal space was to me until it wasn’t important to anyone else.
My biggest pet peeve:
They’ll label the appetizers section of a menu “Appetizers” but then not write anything below in English. Like, why. If you can’t understand the menu without knowing Japanese, why have any English on there? And if you understand Japanese enough to be able to comprehend the menu as a whole, why would you need the English?
G o T o J a p a n. To visit, definitely. But, don’t move there on a whim without ever having visited for yourself (and DEFINITELY not if you don’t speak English). That’s all.