Our three weeks of travel in Japan recently were organized to focus on culinary and cultural experiences. It was an eye-opening trip full of exciting new tastes and insight into a highly successful culture which appears to be different from other eastern cultures we’ve experienced in significant ways. Here are some reflections on the highlights and favorite experiences from our trip along with some tips for ease of travel.
TRAVEL TIPS …
How the Japanese are supremely organized, often to the point of perfectionism, fascinated me. A prime example is their public transportation system. Both the impressively designed rail and subway system, including the amazing Shinkansen high-speed trains, run on time like Swiss clocks. Plus, they post arrival and departure info clearly in English for non-Japanese travelers, including where to stand precisely along the track to board your carriage! As a result, travel around Japan, even for non-native anglophone speakers, is incredibly easy, convenient and reliable.
To further facilitate travel within Japan, for both business and pleasure, there is the very reasonably priced and remarkably reliable Ta-Q-bin service for shipping suitcases from one hotel destination to another. Since we didn’t manage to pack lightly enough to fit everything we needed for our 3 week trip into our carry-ons, we used the TaQbin service three times — Osaka to Kanazawa, Kanazawa to Tokyo and Tokyo to Kyoto. In each instance, our hotel concierge simply filled out the necessary forms for us and oversaw the process of shipping our large suitcases ahead of us to our next hotel where they would arrive and be delivered to our room within 24 hours of shipment. No worries. So, we kept just our small rolling carry-ons containing simply the basics with us. Speaking of awesome organization and reliability not to mention convenience!!
CULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS …
The Japanese are hard-working and devoted to study and achievement, with the third highest GDP in the world and a 99% literacy rate. Very impressive for a country which had to face major rebuilding and self-reflection after losing to the Allied forces in World War II. Despite the major migration forces of the past 50 years or so which have impacted the racial and religious makeup of many countries worldwide, Japan remains remarkably homogeneous and the Japanese seem impressively devoted to following their cultural traditions.
One undeniably strong tradition is their focus on “success and achievement” such that very often, anything less than success is simply unacceptable. And that devotion ties in with the “we” culture of the country where people are proud to subjugate their individual goals to that of their employer and their country. Think Kamikaze pilots fighting to the bitter end rather than surrendering, Hara-Kiri (ceremonial suicide performed as the ultimate solution to saving face and family honor, a prime example of which is portrayed by the lead character in the opera Mme Butterfly, and business negotiations wherein speaking “frankly”, if it means “disagreeing”, is avoided in a supreme effort to attain consensus-building. In Japan, quite simply — the tradition of “we think” encourages homogeneity.
Exploring the Japanese mindset and philosophy of life from attending Kabuki Theatre and Noh Theatre performances, and even a Japanese Tea Ceremony, provides additional insight into and appreciation for Japanese traditions and values.
SHOPPING IN DEPARTMENT STORES …
The huge food halls in the department stores truly astonished me. Occupying the ground floor, and sometimes a significant portion of the next floor as well, they are overflowing with a mouth-watering, freshly made international selection of food to take home and eat immediately or heat up and serve. I was particularly attracted to the huge selection of fresh salads — in particular, the seafood salads and duck salads — as well as the magnificent assortment of French pastries. The dilemma is what to choose!
Plus, the Department stores themselves are stocked to the hilt with artfully arranged and eye-catching merchandise and they are staffed with well-informed sales people eager to help assist with your shopping selections. All I had to do was to begin to examine something and voilà … a salesperson magically appeared! You can shop till you drop in Japan … there is no sense that internet sales are disrupting retail sales there! On the contrary — strolling the malls and shopping seems to be as popular a family activity as 4th of July barbecues in the U.S.
Please stay tuned for more reflections on the highlights and favorite experiences from our trip to Japan!
As always, our focus at BonVoyageurs is on the joie de vivre we experience when we travel, and all opinions expressed in our articles are our own.
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