When you stop to think about it, Japanese culture has found its way into our lives more than we realize. Whether enjoying some delicious sushi, practicing origami, watching anime cartoons like Pokemon, attending an annual cherry blossom festival, or even maintaining a simple, yet elegant bonsai garden, we’ve all been influenced by Japan.
In 2012, I had the good fortune to visit Japan as part of a study abroad program called Phila-Nipponica at the University of Pennsylvania. This trip came a year after the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima so it took on a bittersweet tone. We traveled to Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kobe, Tokyo and Sendai to experience some of the most cordial and gracious hospitality from everyone including local families who hosted a couple of overnight stays and school students who served as local guides in Hiroshima. Representatives from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) met with us to discuss the nuclear crisis and we were especially well received by a delegation at the invitation from the US embassy in Tokyo.
A trip to Japan will leave a deep and lasting impression on you in many ways. First, you’ll be amazed at how meticulously clean, neat and orderly everything is! In addition to this, it is a country that prides itself on precision timing so subways and bullet trains run on time all day, every day. The Japanese also believe in the art of presentation that will prompt you to spend some time just admiring the artistically beautiful way that food is displayed and served. And they are exceedingly polite! After all, in a major city like Tokyo which is one of the most populated cities in the world, it is imperative to get along with well others. And one other very noteworthy and commendable mention: crime – especially violent crime – is practically unheard of here! Would you believe that police in Japan spend more time giving directions to lost tourists than anything else! Imagine that!
I highly recommend spending some time in Japan. It’s a country comprised mainly of four islands. The biggest one is Honshu and it’s the major hub. Here’s just a sample of some of the things to do and see on your journey through Japan:
• Take a ride to the very top of the Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Eye for a spectacular and breathtaking view of this mega metropolis.
• Check out Harajuku in the Shibuya district of Tokyo for a close-up of “kawai” or “cute” fashion and costumes made popular around the world by Japanese teens.
• Don’t miss a chance to indulge yourself at an “onsen”, or hot springs bath, for a soothing way to relax and renew after a day of soaking up the local culture.
• Temples are everywhere in Japan! Try a spiritual retreat at a Buddhist temple to meditate and gain insight and appreciation into the ways of the Buddha.
• A visit to Hiroshima is obligatory. See the iconic remains of a building that was near the epicenter of the blast. It’s called the A Bomb Dome which stands next to the Hiroshima Memorial Museum located in Hiroshima’s Peace Park. It will leave you speechless.
• If you love seafood, you’ll love Japanese cuisine! Expect some familiar and some unfamiliar, even exotic dishes that will tantalize and delight your taste buds.
• Be prepared to experience not just a love of nature but a most profound respect and reverence for nature in Japan. You’ll see flower, moss and rock gardens taken to a whole new level. And cherry blossom (“sakura”) trees are practically sacred.
• You will definitely enjoy the first-class feel of a high-speed bullet train ride! Try rail travel between Osaka and Tokyo where you’ll see the spectacular Mount Fuji, an active volcano and highest mountain in Japan. The locals call it “Fujisan”.
• Whether you like baseball or not, you should attend a baseball game in Japan. The Japanese worship baseball! It’s fun, interactive and reasonably priced!
• If you’re a big fan of Japanese anime (and who isn’t?), then a visit to the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo must be at the top of your to-do list! Known as the “Disney of the East”, adults and children alike will be absolutely blown away by the magnificence of Japanese animation that is known and loved around the world!
A trip to Japan will not disappoint! It’s more than a getaway…Japan is a genuine gem!