On my first trip to Japan, I instantly fell in love. Japan quickly climbed the ranks as one of my favorite countries. I hold close my fond memories of Japan and hope that one day I will return to experience more of this beautiful country. Japan is a nation that’s not afraid of innovation and progress, yet is passionately protective and proud of its culture. Temples, shrines, peaceful gardens and traditional customs, co-exist with towering skyscrapers, futuristic architecture, speeding bullet trains, and a quirky pop-culture.
Tokyo makes a great first impression. Not all cities do, but Tokyo does.
If you arrive at Narita Airport in the morning, your shuttle into the heart of the city will be a dazzling roller-coaster-ride into twisting tunnels, over high bridges, along narrow underpasses, and across arching flyovers.
My first impression of Tokyo and Japan was of a clean, well-organized, litter-free world, filled with polite, non-horn-honking drivers, clutter-free balconies, and immaculate urban landscaping. But what also struck me was what a quiet city it is, considering it is one of the world’s largest with 35 million people living within a 50 km radius of the center. Quietness, politeness and respectful behavior, I soon discovered, is deeply entrenched in the Japanese psyche. It is not feigned or cynically observed; it is a sincere and genuine sensibility, a core value of the society. I loved this aspect of the culture immediately and I grew to love it more and more during my 9-day stay. I will not explain my 9 day stay in Japan day by day because it seems that I can not finish writing all of my experience and expressions…
I got a cultural shock when I arrived to the hotel. The hotel rooms were so small that you could reach a bathroom and a TV in the room at the same time from your bed. I knew that the rooms in Tokyo were small but I didn’t expect the hotel rooms to be that small. I couldn’t find a proper place in the room to put my luggage, so I had to move it around every time I opened the bathroom door or a room’s door. Even iron and the ironing table are very small. This miniature room looked funny but was very comfortable.
In Japan, there was an air of safety and serenity – even in very busy cities. This was most evident in Tokyo, where the incredible density and numbers of people just aren’t intimidating the way they are in. Even though the subway and trains are the world’s busiest, there is almost no shouting or pushing – people are patient and orderly, and subtle features like the train departure melodies are examples of how the Japanese manage to bring calm to places that elsewhere would probably be anything but. Also, when I checked into my hotel, the Hotel Vista Premio in the Akasaka Mitsuke neighborhood, I received another cultural lesson: The Japanese not only love politeness but also multi-functional, push-button toilets. At first, I thought it was a joke. It struck me as an over-mechanized hospital toilet with the far too many buttons. But no, each button performed a specific and practical function, including one that initiated a polite flushing sound (new models play music) and others to launch various washing functions with adjustable pressure control. Also, you are all familiar with the hangtags that are typically used to say “do not disturb” in a hotel? Well, in a couple of places we found magnets instead, which are much more efficient than the hang tags, because they do not get bent, fall off, get stuck in the door, etc. Quite simple and silly thing, I know, but an example of doing something simply and well.
Walking the streets of Tokyo, night or day, even in the bustling “Night Town” areas around Akasaka was a pleasure. I always felt safe and within a short time started to realize that I was surrounded by people who would willingly give me help at the drop of a hat. It was a reassuring feeling, especially not to have people coming up to beg or pressure me to buy this or that or looking to gain some advantage.
Taxis in Japan are delightful. Who doesn’t love a clean, efficient taxi? Japanese taxis set the world-standard, as far as I’m concerned. I took them to Tokyo and Kyoto.
They are clean, quiet and odor-free. The back door opens automatically. Tipping is discouraged. Drivers invariably wear white gloves. You can’t help but feel special as if you have your own chauffeur.
Speaking of public transport, another cliche about the country is that it always runs on time. There’s a big difference in speed and comfort levels between some of the old trains that service regional routes off the main trunk lines, and the gleaming, futuristic Shinkansen (bullet trains), but they all do a hell of a good job of sticking to the timetable.
That was definitely true whenever we had a slightly-too-tight connection to make, and almost all the rest of the time as well. If the train timetable said it’d be departing at 2:36 pm, you better damn well believe it’d be gliding out of the station at exactly 2:36 pm, and not a minute later.
We took a couple of buses as well, and hey, guess what? They arrived three minutes early, and pulled away at exactly the appointed time.
I’m a geek, so one of the things that most excited me about going to Japan was the chance to check out its consumer electronics. There’s so much amazing stuff that doesn’t even make it outside the country, and I wanted to see it all.
Despite spending several hours walking slack-jawed around Big Camera that had a dozen floors and took up an entire city block, I’m sure I barely saw any of it. And even then, it blew my mind.
There were big laptops, and little laptops, and downright bizarre laptops that looked like they were from the 80’s but weighed nothing and had the very latest specs. The television section stretched further than I could see, with everything from tiny models that sit beside the bed to enormous things with curved screens that seemed bigger than most people’s apartments.
The biggest challenge being in Japan – and I knew it would be all along – was the food. I love sushi but Japanese food is way beyond sushi. They eat every kind of seafood, including jellyfish, octopus, you name it, a lot. That’s why we mostly tried to find Turkish restaurants to eat during our visit.
From here I will briefly try to explain our trips and visits in Japan:
Kyoto is by far the most bustling, vibrant, energetic city I visited. Yes, even more dynamic, I thought, than Tokyo. At night, Kyoto is particularly beautiful. Shopping areas are brightly lit for strolling. The city also has some of the most beautiful temples and gardens in Japan, including the Golden Pavilion, Silver Pavilion, Ryoan-ji rock garden, and Saihoji moss garden.
Kyoko-san organized a wonderful trip to Tsukuba University and the Forum with The Nippon Foundation. Where we had a campus tour with International Support Department and teaching staff, meeting with the Computer Science department, experiencing a 3D animation. Meeting Japanese, Central Asian students and professors at the university and exchanging success stories helped me to build confidence that we are going in the right direction.
We visited The Nippon Foundation building which was very close to the hotel that we stayed in. We had a meeting with Mr. Sasakawa and Mr. Mori. Chairman Sasakawa was kindly asking questions about our trip to Japan and meetings we had during the trip. We expressed our gratitude for their efforts for making that trip happen and solving all the problems emerging during the process.
The same day we visited Kantei, the official residence of Japanese Prime minister. While being inside the Kantei, we were greeted and guided by Dr. Taniguchi, a special advisor to Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Then we sat down with Dr.Taniguchi and discussed various events, including Japan Central Asia relations, Japan USA relations, the economy of Japan and so on.
Next day we went to The Nippon Foundation building again to make two visits: Paralympics Support Center and Mr. Ohto from Takeda Foundation. When we had a tour around the Paralympics Support Center floor I was so proud to be a part of Nippon Foundation. The change that they are making in the disabled peoples life with the Center is extraordinary and exceptional. I had a chance of touching real fire torches of the latest to Olympic Games: one is Rio 2016 and the other is Pyeongchang 2018.
Last day, we went to TeamLab which is an art collective, interdisciplinary group of ultratechnologists whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, design and the natural world. Maybe I expected a lot from this event or what, but I was really dissapointed. From pictures,it seems really incredible but in real it is different. First of all you have to wait a long queue and it is expensive)).
Apart from all, I have had an amazing week, with an amazing group and an amazing group leader, Kyoko-san. Special thanks to Chairman Sasakawa, who made us possible to experience this trip. And the people to thank for this extraordinary experience are: Mori-san (for inviting us to such unique restaurants and bringing amazing friends), James-san and everyone else who had worked on this project and supported it. It was unforgettable trip and everything was well organized. Saying goodbye is also something we Central Asians have to learn to say properly from Japanese people. You say it the right way, with a tearful tone, it means I am so sad and don’t want to leave you. So with that . . . Sayonara.