Before this trip, I considered myself a well-traveled person, having gone on a study away trip in the fall that allowed me to travel all over Europe. For me, traveling to Japan is on a totally different level than going to a country in Europe. In Europe, it is easier to communicate and read what they are saying, since they use the same alphabet as we do. I will never again underestimate the power of nonverbal body communication and nice manners can do to help you get around a country like Japan.
Moreover, on this trip I have seen some things that the Japanese do that Americans don’t, but I believe should be doing. For example, Japanese people seem to have a higher sense of respect than us Americans do. For the whole time I was in Tokyo, I don’t think I saw one piece of trash laying in the street or a subway station. What makes this even more amazing is that there are literally no trashcans to be found in the streets of Tokyo! When I was in Washington, DC last summer, you weren’t even allowed to have drinks or food on the trains, but there was still trash and rubbish everywhere. On the Tokyo metro, you can eat and drink, but there is no trash to be found. I wish Americans would be more respectful about buildings and streets and not litter.
Moreover, I have noticed that the Japanese tend to respect other people as well. On almost all of the escalators in the city, if you wish to remain on one step, you stand to the left so those who are in a hurry can walk up/down on the right. Additionally, I never heard any yelling during my time here in Japan, as well as no car horns being blown. Everyone respects other people and just mind their own business. This is another aspect of Japanese culture that I wish Americans would follow!
Regarding the cities we visited, I loved both of them. I believe that Okinawa gave us a more historical and traditional view of Japan; whereas Tokyo gave us a more modern, big city outlook of Japan. However, while these cities are different, they are also similar. I noticed many of the same mannerisms from the locals in both cities, like placing money in the trays for cashiers, bowing to say thanks, taking off our shoes in some nicer restaurants, etc.
I also believe that I have grown as a person from this trip. While I loved public transportation even before this trip, I never have been on a subway system so complicated as Tokyo’s. Even though I never (sadly) successfully exited Ikebukuro Station from exit C6, I have navigated getting on different lines named in a different languages, evaluating the pros and cons of express vs. local trains, etc. Now I feel more confident to tackle situations in life that I might not otherwise think I could handle. If I don’t think I can do something, I will just remind myself that I can conquer the Tokyo metro!
Now comes the part where I mention what I enjoyed the most about the trip: THE FOOD! I have had Japanese food before back home in the US and wasn’t a big fan. I now love eating raw fish, which is something that I never would have thought I would enjoy. I would also have to say my most “brave moment” of Japanese food-eating occurred at the ryokan in Kamakura when I ate the whole fish at breakfast (minus the head). It was actually very good, and tasted fresh! This trip has reinforced my love (fresh) seafood.
I am so blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to travel to Japan. It is a country that has overcome many obstacles, but continues to remain strong and consistent in their traditions. This trip also allowed me to see and compare two different parts of Japan, rather than just a one-city visit that tends to be popular with overseas tourists. I loved my time here, and definitely want to come back soon. Hopefully I can convince my family to come with me to Japan soon!