Travel Japan: Culture

Just returned from a two week trip to Japan visiting family. We stayed in Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka with a smattering of day trips like Hiroshima, Enoshima, and Kamakura sprinkled in for good measure.

Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Temple in Kyoto, Japan

I love Japan. I love the abundance of temples and shrines throughout the country. I love the dichotomy between the stoic and imperial history and the flash and energy of the big cities.

I love the courteousness and politeness and how clean everything is. I love how when we looked confused at a train station, someone would come up to us and offer help. Even when we were trying to figure out what to eat, someone approached us and ask if we needed help. When we explained our dilemma, they suggested we try a local delicacy, takoyaki, a fried ball of yummy diced octopus served with a kind of BBQ sauce and mayo and topped with finely shaved bonito flakes and told us how to get to their favourite spot for it. Very helpful indeed.

Outside Shibuyu Station, Japan

Outside Shibuyu Station, Japan

We weren’t surprised with the number of people who approached us. We knew were weren’t confused on which train to take next but it’s the graciousness and helpfulness of the Japanese that makes them so lovely. That and many people want to practice their English with other English speakers, so we amused them by asking them more questions. We were very impressed with how well they spoke English. Maybe it was my pale Canadian pallor or my blonde curly hair, but I was a popular target for a girls’ school English project at one of the temples in Kamakura. We were approached twice by groups of girls who asked us questions like how long we’d been in Japan, where we’d been, if we watched the Olympics and our favourite Japanese dishes.

English project at Kamakura, Japan

English project at Kamakura, Japan

In 2019, Japan will host the Rugby World Cup and of course in 2020, Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics. As such, there’s a big push for students and public service workers to learn English in time for the Olympics. Major train stations and cultural destinations have or are undergoing renovations, and while some signs are in both Kanji and English, there’s still room for improvement. I can’t tell you how many times I picked up a brochure or looked at a map that had English headings only to be dejected to see that all the content was in Kanji! Arrrggghhh!

Stay tuned for the next post Japan Part 2: Food where guess what I’ll talk about? That’s right! Some of the yummy, delicious, weird and wonderful food of Japan.