After traveling or living abroad for a period of time, one cannot help but look forward to the familiar feeling of home, seeing familiar smiles and having a fill of a familiar home cooked meal. But at the back of it all are the things impressed upon the mind and the heart of the foreign country, its people and its traditions.
One of the remarkable countries that leave unforgettable imprint upon the traveler’s heart and mind is Japan.
Here is my share of the impressions Japan has made on me. Their unique culture amazes anyone who sets foot in their beautiful land. Though some may find some of their practices frustrating too.
Here is my list: (In no particular order)
From small kids in the kindergarten, to elementary kids and highschool and college students to full time workers, Japanese people make it a habit to bring obento! Obento or “lunchbox” is very much a Japanese culture made famous with the rise to fame of the kawaii (cute) designs of it contents.
A traditional obento includes rice, fish or meat with pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped containers. Young mothers who have children in kindergarten or elementary school make their obentos extra special with cute designs to entice the children to eat heartily.
2. Shikata Ga Nai
This phrase is used in some helpless situation! In translates into English as “It should be done” or “It is what is, there is no other way”.
A Japanese friend also told me that this phrase is often used when someone finds it difficult to explain a situation, especially when a Japanese is speaking to a non-Japanese speaker. Which may also mean to a foreigner that, if you dont understand something and dont have someone to explain it to you better, just accept whatever you have a confusion with and move on! And this may frustrate someone!
3. Sumimasen Arigatou Gozaimasu
Being polite is expressed in these words, in English it translates as “Sorry for the trouble but thank you very much!”
It is often used when asking a favor from someone of higher rank or from a total stranger. And it is expressed with repeated bows, perhaps to put more stress on its sincerity.
4. Ojigi (Obeisance)
– This is the Japanese way of bowing as a sign of gratitude and humility. This is one important part of the Japanese culture. In meetings, Japanese people often do this gesture when they are feeling grateful for the opportunity, or when they are asking for some favors from an individual or from a whole team of people. Often, Japanese people bow a number of times too in only one particular situation. This simple body gesture has several meanings.
Greeting Bow (Eshaku) (会釈) 15 degrees: The greeting bow is a simple and slight bow that is mostly used for equals and those that you are already acquainted with. It’s a little more than a simple nod in Japan and is received as a common polite greeting.
Respectful Bow (Keirei) (敬礼) 30 degrees: This respectful bow carries a lot more weight and is used for your higher rankers, bosses, and all those above you on the societal end of things.
High Respectful Bow (Saikeirei) (最敬礼) 45 degrees: Either you’re talking with royalty or you just made a huge mistake. The Saikeirei bow is saved for greetings to people such as, the emperor, maybe a CEO, and your employer who just caught you sleeping on his desk. It’s not something you’d use with friends or family and will likely never be needed, but it doesn’t hurt to prepare.
cited from JAPANREALM
5. Omote nashi
This is Japanese spirit of hospitalty which embodies the word “going the extra mile” and that is without expecting something in return.
In one situation in Kyoto, an old gentleman accompanied us inside the train station and even going farther to the train platforms swiping his own railroad pass even when he wasnt going anywhere, just to guide us to where we needed to go!
In Nagoya, a busy man in suit and tie took an extra few minutes from his time to help me in transferring from one subway line to another. Remarkable. And in both situations, “Sumimasen, arigatou gozaimasu” is the best way to thank them! Though in one blog article, the Japanese “omotenashi” has been described as snobbish by some observers.
It further stated said that this practice seems to imply that the Japanese is the best way, and a foreigners opinion or desires do not matter. Japan knows best in everything
Well, experience is the best teacher and judge! In my experience, its a good practice!
6. The Tea Obsession
Tea in Japan comes in varying packaging and flavors. But the most famous one is the “ocha” or the green tea. “Matcha” or powdered green tea is also becoming more famous now that it is top one on my list of omiyage to bring home.
In tourist spots of Kyoto, as one examole, there are places where a tourist can partake in a tea ceremony! Why tea and not coffee? Japanese people strongly believe that tea is good for the body! Tea can be found anywhere in Japan, they even have various bottles of warm or cold tea conveniently available in vending machines.
7. Jidou hanbaiki (Vending machine)
As mentioned in my previous post, jidouhanbaiki or vending machines are seen everywhere, from out of nowhere, even in the middle of a rice field. I asked a Japanese friend how often do Japanese people buy from the vending machines, and from his own experience he said he buys a can of warm coffee during winter, everyday!
And he buys 2 cans of cold coffee in the summertime. From my workplace, I notice my supervisor at work buy a cold green tea bottle in the morning, and another in the afternoon during hot days. I dont think Japanese people can survive without the vending machines!
8. Keshiki (Japanese Scenery)
Japan’s is lovely in each turning season (see previous post) Also, there are various festivals that celebrates the turn of the season. We begin with the Sakura Festival in spring, perhaps the best in the entire year!
This one is also one of the reasons tourists come to Japan! To see the cherry blossoms and partake in the celebration of its magnificent beauty.
Japan worship silence. As evident inside trains and buses, Japanese people likes the peace and quiet. Although in some cases, there are occasional bikers with noise that ripples around the area for a few minutes but that was that.
This was one of the things I really found strange at first but the more I got used to it, the more I appreciate it too. And surely, the quiet of Japan will be the first thing I will miss.
10. Nature Worship
As manifested in their numerous festivals, Japan is a country whose worship in nature is prevalent. Japanese people even take walks in forest courses, go to pilgrimage in shrines and celebrate matsuris (festivals) to honor the gods! (http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/festivals/)
The list could go on but these are the first 10 that I think everyone who has lived or visited Japan can relate to. These are also the first ones that are shared to family and friends. These impression may be good or bad, it depends on the listener’s perspective!
But, this is what makes Japan living one of the best! Or even if you have only stayed for a week or two as a tourist, one cannot escape the uniqueness of the country and its people! Truly, visiting or living in Japan can be considered as one of the highlights of a traveler’s life.
There may be challenges along the way but its what makes the journey worthwhile!
Sayounara, Japan! See you again soon? 🙂