“I’m going to Japan for a few months? Awesome!”
That was my first thought after a request from the company I’m working for since eight years. The Rising Sun, a lifelong dream. Experiencing it not as a tourist, but in its daily life. I am 27 and work as mechanical engineer, but I am also passionate about travel and photography. I’m writing this short article to tell you not about a holiday, but about a piece of my life. I want to describe you Japan as seen from the inside with my eyes and my camera, without any touristic guide.
Sushi and sashimi, temples and origami, geishas and samurais, anime and manga, ramen and udon, kimonos and sake… What really struck me? The people. I believe people are the centre of everything and from people comes the environment that surrounds us. The Japanese environment is close to perfection: Japanese people are kind, warm, polite, and they are able to make you feel like home even ten thousand miles from it. And I feel like home every time I am in Japan.
I live in the Kansai region, in Shin Kobe. I arrived on a cool morning at the beginning of April. “Just in time for the cherry trees’ blossoming.” The first impact with Japan left me speechless: maximum organization, order, cleanliness, respect for all and everything. In three months spent in the Kansai region I have seen only three homeless, and they were working too, collecting paper, plastic and cans. Unemployment rate is below 5 per cent: everyone works. Having a chance to speak in English is almost impossible, but if required the locals will do all they can to let you understand.
Religion here is treated with utmost respect: the most common one is Shintoism, the faith in spirits. Temples are not just tourist attractions, but real cult sites: they are quite, and the only sound you can hear are the bells’ tolls, handclaps, the stream of fountains and the low buzz of the prayers.
I use to define Japan as the place where everything is veiled, from food’s flavour to people’s behaviour. A kissing couple in the street is a rare sight. People are quiet and discreet. Everything is carried out with almost embarrassing courtesy.
One day I went to a noh teacher’s house. Although Shimooka San never met me before, he welcomed me with tea, pastries, coffee and his full attention. He told me about noh – a kind of highly sophisticated theatre – its characters and the 1995 earthquake which hit Kobe. He showed me his private collection of dresses and masks, and even allowed me to try on every item, relics over 500 years old, passed on from generation to generation. And he gifted me with a theatre ticket.
Through these little things I came to understand the true meaning of hospitality for the Japanese people, who are only seemingly cold and reserved. I might be a gaijin – “foreigner” – but I never felt as such.
I love Japan!
Where is Kobe?