*The words extraordinary, fantastic, incredible and their like are used liberally. Most people are relatively desensitized to the impact of their meaning. I’ll try to stay away from using them. However when I do slip-up, please consider my word placement without a hint of exaggeration.
Upon landing at Narita Airport I faced figuring out an accommodation. My phone had adopted some connection issues caused by a VPN I used in China. However I followed signs that read “Tokyo Station” and asked some backpackers if they knew the names of any cheap accommodations. They did, and mentioned to me several that I forgot almost immediately.
Within an hour I was standing in Tokyo Station. I didn’t have a place to go or a plan on how to find one. My situation was best described as having been completely at the mercy of the city and its people.
These last few days I’ve spent in Japan have unraveled as my life’s most humbling experience. It’s broadened my understanding of people, society, and culture by challenging the assumptions I had grown to adopt. Out of the thirty-plus countries I’ve spent time in, Japan is undoubtedly the most extraordinary. Never have I felt so privileged to visit a place.
In Japan, civilization is more advanced. At least that is what I found. Unlike the many cultures that have jeopardized their traditional ways to adopt western principles, Japan has seemed to cherry pick the most valuable qualities of western culture. Using them only to enhance their own way of life, while at the same time keeping prominent their century old ways.
My trip started in Tokyo before taking me to Kyoto and Osaka. Every night I went to sleep with sore legs from the many miles I walked in each city. At first I thought I had just happened upon the best neighborhoods. Ones that were kept meticulously clean and filled with sophisticated and put together people. But as I kept on nothing changed. Not once.
Every metro attendant and police man wore white gloves and a freshly pressed suit. Not one citizen didn’t overextend themselves to assist me with directions – whether that was taking the time themselves or personally leading me somewhere I would be helped. And the level of service one could expect, whether in a 5-star sushi restaurant or 200YEN soba noodle shop, held equal.
The people embodied a friendliness I’d only ever heard fabled about as an American past time. Everyone behaved as though they strived to be the best person they could be, regardless of their position in society or situation in life. Throughout my trip I was constantly exposed to their obedience, respect, and selfless qualities, demonstrated through seemingly insignificant anecdotes. However when I compare them back to my own country, as well as the ones I’ve visited, they impossible to expect of people.
Here are some examples. You can walk for miles in Tokyo without seeing a trash can. They nearly don’t exist. At the same time any trash, whether it be a bottle or cigarette butt, is a miracle sighting. The public restrooms located in the busiest parts of the city are kept cleaner than I ever experienced at my alma matter. Not a single person jaywalks, no matter how empty a street. Everyone waits for the signal to turn green. And even from an obvious tourist, the taxi drivers thankfully refused accepting my tips.
If I had the money, I’d fly every one of my dear friends and family to Japan immediately. Despite having to duck through doorways, the country has completely captured me. And it has done so in a way that no other country has. Being there has been an education in possibilities. Possibilities of how people can behave and a society can function. I cannot wait to return. And not only become more aware of what’s happening there, but hopefully begin to understand how exactly it’s enabled.