I’m back home in Cincinnati now, and after settling down a bit (although I’m still pretty jet-lagged), I thought I would put up a final post summarizing my experiences and what I learned during my 10 weeks in Japan.
Obviously, the main goal of my trip was to see as much of Japan as I could, speaking as much Japanese as possible. I wanted to traverse the country, hopping from island-to-island and observing everything that was in front of me, since everything was new and exciting (and very different from back home). I definitely accomplished that, and what’s more is I was able to learn a lot of things about myself and life in general (not to sound too philosophical).
First off, it kept astonishing me how helpful and genuinely kind the majority of Japanese people I met were. Every country has a minority of citizens who are not friendly, cold towards foreigners, etc., and Japan is often unfortunately labeled as such. If you’ve never been there however, it’s not necessarily fair to prejudge a country and its people from what you’ve heard alone. I’m sure there are visitors who have had bad experiences in Japan, but I never felt discriminated against during my 10 week sojourn. Sure, lots of people stare at you, but that’s because Japan is such a homogenous nation that it’s just rare for them to see someone non-Japanese (especially in the less-populated areas).
If you actually meet Japanese people and speak with them, you will find the majority of them to be extremely selfless and eager to help. I cannot count the number of times I ended up in a random part of town (as was my usual plan) and had people eagerly jump to my aid if I asked them for directions. On more than several occasions, they literally stopped whatever they were doing and walked me to the landmark/place I was looking for. Once, in Aoshima (a very small coastal town in Kyushu), I was waiting at the unmanned train station to go to a nearby gorge. I was the only one on the platform, and the train’s scheduled arrival time came and went, but it didn’t come (which is an extreme rarity in Japan). I wasn’t sure what to do, when a middle-aged Japanese man walked across the platform to me and said the train wouldn’t be coming since the tracks were partly damaged (thanks to the onslaught of typhoons this year). I must have missed the announcement when I entered the station, so hadn’t known. The man asked me where I was going, and when I told him, he said I could take the bus instead. He then walked me to the bus stop (a good 10 minutes away). He was taking the bus too, he said, as I kept thanking him, but it amazed me how much he went out of his way to help a total stranger.
It was always fun to practice my Japanese as well. Wherever I went, I tried speaking it as much as I could to take advantage of being in the only country where Japanese is spoken. People would become really excited and curious once I started speaking with them in Japanese, and it was a great way to break the language barrier that normally stands quite high in Japan since the general population’s English proficiency is very low. I would never get tired of answering the same general questions they asked (“How do you know Japanese?”, “Where in the US are you from”, “Do you like Japanese food?”, “Which is your favorite city in Japan?”), because the repetition helped me practice.
Even though I had a blast doing all the sightseeing escapades I did, the most rewarding part was meeting people (both local Japanese and foreign travelers). Everyone has their own story, whether it was the Irish man in Matsumoto who decided to stay in Japan and open up a guesthouse (where I stayed at) or a Japanese girl I befriended in my hostel in Fukuoka who had just completed a pan-Asia tour by boat. You meet all kinds people, from all walks of life, while traveling.
As I said earlier, I learned a lot during my stay in Japan, from concrete things such as improving my Japanese, using an onsen properly, understanding Japanese tradition and culture, to more intangible aspects like the importance of patience and diligence. There is a lot to appreciate and learn from in Japan, whether it’s toughening yourself to the experience of being pressed against hundreds of people in crammed subways or taking a page from the Japanese people’s book and visiting the many parks, gardens and temples to catch glimpses of tradition and nature amidst a heavily-modernized nation.
If there is one lesson that stood-out for me personally during this trip, it is this: don’t worry about every little thing. Being on my own and traveling across a country for 10 weeks can obviously be frustrating and stressful at times, but I kept reminding myself that all I can control is the present, so it’s best to enjoy that instead of fretting over what comes next. It is of course important to plan general outlines ahead of time, but I discovered that it is a lot of fun and rewarding to have things spontaneously come up that are highly enjoyable. And even when they’re not enjoyable, or things don’t go as planned, there’s no point wasting time in thinking what you should have done, because it’s over and passed. It’s more important to take everything as an opportunity to learn.
The Japanese have a phrase, なんくるないさ (nan kuru nai sa), which essentially means “Things will work themselves out”.
Anyway, I wanted to say thanks to all my friends and family who read my blog. I had a great time keeping it updated since it both helped me remember what all I did and enabled me to share my experiences with others.
I don’t particularly have any final note, but I will say that if you enjoyed reading about Japan and viewing the photos here, the real thing is infinitely times more exciting and worthwhile. There are so many places I didn’t visit, things I didn’t do, that there is always reason to explore more. You can loose yourself amidst the organized chaos and flashing lights of Tokyo, and then hop on a bullet train to Kyoto and discover a whole other world that is completely un-Tokyo, but still very Japanese. You can head southwest to Kyushu, where the people are laid back and coastal areas abound, before backtracking your way along the Seto Island Sea to stop in cities like Hiroshima, Onomichi and Okayama.
Oh, before I finish this, I thought I would again throw up a summary of random facts concerning my trip:
– Number of total places (cities, towns, short day-trips) I visited: 26.
– Strangest thing I ate (and liked): fried sting-ray.
– Strangest thing I ate (and didn’t like): chicken intestines… yikes.
– How much I love Japanese konbini (convenience stores like 7-eleven, FamilyMart) on a scale from 1-10: 37.
– Pictures I took: roughly 4,000.
– Things I got really used to: bowing constantly, paying everything with cash, lots and lots of buildings in small spaces (I completely forgot how spacious/far apart things in the US are), never driving (or even riding in) a car, bowing constantly, no tipping whatsoever, walking for miles on end, onsen (really miss that!), bowing constantly, Tokyo’s craziness, Kyoto’s elegance, vending machines every 15 feet. And did I mention bowing constantly?
– Places I didn’t get to visit but would like to: Hokkaido (the northernmost main island that is akin to Siberia in the winter), Okinawa (chain of tropical islands way south of the mainland known for pristine beaches), Shikoku (the fourth main island between Honshu and Kyushu), and many, many more!
And that’s all! Thanks as always, hope you all enjoyed following me as I traveled.
As always, here are a few (quite a few) extra pictures: