DISCOVERING THE MAGIC OF JAPAN IN 10 DAYS
When you come to think of Japan, you tend to think of crowds of people, tall skyscrapers and high technology combined with anime, sushi, kimonos, geishas and the ceremony of tea; and yet Japan is all these things and something else. This something else is what really impressed me, the charm that I truly found captivating: its magic.
You can see the magic of Japan in little details wrapped up in a constant display of respect to others, a strong feeling of community and an efficiency-aimed society. It seems as if whatever Japanese people do is for the sake of this respect to the community, and foreigners fall under Japan’s spell from day one.
Tokyo, such an amazing and vibrant city, is 10 cities in one _as my guidebook said , and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been to some big metropolises before_ New York, London, Mexico DC, Sao Paulo, even Hanoi_ but I’ve never felt more at ease as in Tokyo. Moving around with the JRP or Pasmo card is easy and comfortable. Tokyo’s transport system is far more intelligent and reliable than in other big cities. Passengers are well- informed at all times with digital screens showing the exact time to the next stop and the journey duration to your destination. Indeed, you get into the underground in Tokyo_ with a population of over 12 million people_ and you find out that everything is masterfully organized. The display of information is always at hand and you even have signs on the platforms to help you form a perfect queue to let passengers out of carriages. Problems with the language? Not at all. With a pleasing deference to foreigners, especially westerners, information is written both in kanji and in the English alphabet, as yet another way to show respect . Do we show this respect in Berlin, Paris, Rome or Madrid? You need to know the language of these cities to understand their public transport, but not in Japan; there, you find respectful and agreeable people everywhere you go.
On day two, you go with your Spanish-European mind to have a tea in a tea-shop and you find the relaxed ambience, the exquisite respectful manners of the waiters, a really useful display of baskets to store your shopping bags next to your table and on top of that no threat of pick pocketing around. Young Japanese women, completely free of any looming menace, leave their handbags open with their wallets and mobiles at hand on the table and go to the toilet. No threats around, they can enjoy their tea and the company of their friends without an eye on the look out for bag snatchers. You surely feel at home surrounded by the hospitable language sounding ‘gozaimás’ everywhere:‘arigato gozaimás’, ‘ohaio gozaimás.’
On days three and four, you get mesmerized by the hypnotic beauty of the perfect white and pink blooming cherry blossoms _the sakura. The celebration of the cherry blossoms can be seen in parks and avenues or in the artistic shop windows of the elegant Ginza neighbourhood in Tokyo. Japanese people enjoy this festival everywhere you go and you can easily share with them the coming of the spring season_ the magic of nature. All the cities are garmented with this flower, revered for its changing colour and short-lived beauty. There’s a helpful cherry blossom forecast telling Japanese people when they can spot the first sakura blossom in major cities throughout the country and also the places offering the best cherry blossom views . Even multinational brands such as Coca-Cola and Moët Chandon release seasonal sakura design bottles that show their admiration for the iconic pale pink flowers of spring. I `ve been to the Jerte Valley, here in Spain, where the coming of the cherry blossoms is really stunning too, but the Japanese are by far the leaders in the art of the cherry blossom celebration_ the hanami. Families, work colleagues, classmates and friends get together at noon or in the evening for a picnic under these beautiful trees in city parks. We went to Ueno park in Tokyo and that was our first real contact with Japanese people’s joy and enjoyment. And after the celebration? No trace of garbage anywhere. Actually, no litter dropped on any ground I could step on! Japanese people seem to have been educated to take their litter home. The streets, the underground, the parks are completely clean, immaculate. Once again, magic?
On day five you have a warm welcoming meeting with Japanese students and professors at the Waseda University in central Tokyo and you get a real chance to experience the magic of Japan. How come, if not, could I follow a compelling Japanese lecture on the history of Japan by means of explaining the linguistic origins of the Japanese word for bread_ ‘anpan’ ? The eagerness to explain to foreigners how Japanese culture tries to blend what’s best from other cultures with their ancient traditions was so brilliantly exposed by the professor that we were all hypnotised at once. Spanish students of Japanese felt excited and proud to interact with Japanese students of Spanish and we were all overwhelmed with a sincere emotion of kindness and gratitude.
On days six, seven and nine you take a cable car to enjoy the magnificent and magnetic view of Mount Fuji standing out from the rest of mountains, saying with inner pride, ‘Here I am, the One and Only! .’ You also visit the city of Kyoto where you are mystified with the splendour and soothing serenity of the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) which allows you to retreat into another world; or the city of Osaka with a surprising 8-story castle, a famous landmark in the history of Japan, where 5 centuries before shogun clans battled for power.
On day 10 you plunge into Tzukiji , the undisputed world’s most colourful seafood market, literally a fish heaven, bustling with Japan’s seafood lovers early in the morning, with small restaurants and food stalls showcasing a wide range of Japan’s most popular and amazing fish products. What a fantastic world, you go from one stall to the other and your curiosity can never reach an end, you want to taste it all!
So here you have some of the many magic moments you can experience in Japan. I must admit though that where you can sense the magic of Japan working at its best is with the passion for the Japanese language and culture shown by our sensei Fran. Absolutely the best Japanese ambassador they could ever have! No wonder he has easily passed on his admiration for the Japanese language to students, colleagues and friends. Travelling with such an advantage does make a difference and I felt really honoured to enjoy this experience. The magic of Japan, thank you Fran, thank you proctors!