Two Weeks Traveling in Japan
Japan is the twenty-first country I've traveled to. I won't go as far as to say that I wasn't excited about it, but I'll admit that I've definitely been more enthused for other trips. (I feel really guilty and ashamed to admit this now in retrospect.)
In the months leading up to my trip, three separate people described their affinity for Japan with the exact same four words—everything just makes sense. I found it a little odd that three unrelated individuals would echo identical sentiments, but it didn't mean much to me at the time and I didn't really put any thought into what it meant to them.
Now, here I am, twelve days back in America and I cannot find a better way to inclusively describe Japan than just that—everything makes so much sense.
To say everything makes sense is a broad, vague statement. What does that even mean? It really encompasses so many things, so many aspects of my own life, many of which I never really stopped to notice or identify as being unreasonable. It's been a challenge for me to put this blanket observation of an entire country into words, because it really is so broad. So I'll do my best to paint a picture with a few of the countless experiences, interactions and behaviors that exemplify this sentiment.
You need to get on a train to destination A? No problem that you're in a foreign country and can't speak the language; everything is color-coded and easy to follow. Oh, and don't worry about bumping into the sea of thousands of people walking through the busiest train station you've ever been in, because there are arrows on the ground that guide you to walk in a designated lane, avoiding the routine annoyances that occur when being in any overly-crowded place. And the crazier part—everyone abides. And if someone does happen to make accidental physical contact with you, they will make a point to turn around, bow and apologize so genuinely and profusely, you'd think they just killed your puppy.
That train you're getting on will likely be the most pleasant train ride of your life. If it's scheduled to show up at 5:07, it's arriving and departing at 5:07. You'll never dread a ride on public transportation in Japan, because every single surface is clean enough that you could lay your tongue on it without much hesitation. The floor, the door, the handrails, the seats—have at it. Your mouth is probably dirtier.
How does everything get so clean? And remain so clean? Because somehow, the beautiful people of Japan have an incredible level of pride for absolutely everything around them and everything they do. Pride just radiates from literally everything in this country. There is no utter disregard for public property. People treat things as if it were their own.
Speaking of clean, have you ever been in a train station in America and had to pee? You may prefer to wet yourself rather than make skin-to-surface contact with a toilet in a San Francisco BART station. Every single restroom I encountered in Japan was immaculately clean—including the usually-disgusting public restrooms. And if you've never used a Japanese toilet, you're truly missing out. You're greeted with a button to sanitize the seat before sitting, then you're pleasantly sprayed clean with warm water and air-dried. The toilets will even play soothing, distracting music if restroom silence makes you uncomfortable and gives you stage fright.
I could ramble endlessly on how impressively clean, safe, orderly and sensible Japan is. None of this would be sustainable without the regard and habitual devotion of the Japanese people. Not only do they have the utmost respect for the physical space, but also for their fellow humans. Whether you are in a five-star hotel or a McDonald's (we did shamefully eat at a Japanese McDonald's), you will be treated like damn royalty. People are so kind, I had multiple moments where I stopped to think, 'why are they being so nice to me?' It's actually a sad reality to realize I'm asking myself that question, because such a high level of generosity and graciousness is that hard to come by.
My friends and I attended a professional baseball game during our time in Tokyo and it was one of the highlights of our trip. Not only are Japanese baseball fans the most energetic, happy, fun fans I've ever encountered, but they were, again, so unbelievably nice! The locals sitting around us wouldn't stop buying us drinks, making trips to the concession stand to gift us their favorite ballpark snacks, and taking the time to ensure we were learning their team chants and songs, even though we could hardly communicate.
A group of three elderly Americans were seated in the section in front of us. Mid-game, I saw the Japanese family behind them get up and come back with brand new team gear that they just went and purchased from the stadium store. They cheerfully gifted the team merchandise to the three Americans, who looked rather touched to be on the receiving end. Watching this—and having a few beers in me—I actually had tears in my eyes because I was so moved by this act of kindness.
That gesture I observed at the game was the epitome of our entire trip. I don't know if I've ever felt so welcomed into a foreign country, or consistently treated with such cordiality and grace. I find that the outcome of being treated this way is that you then go out into the world and are more respectful and appreciative in return, and all of our days are a little bit brighter.
By the end of my trip, the claim that "everything just makes sense" in Japan really began to resonate with me. Of course it makes sense to take great care of the train you ride everyday; why would you want to trash it? Of course it makes sense to be kind to everyone you encounter; isn't life better for all of us that way? It makes sense to clean up after yourself. It makes sense to be a nice human. That's just scratching the surface of all the things that made so much sense.
I'm sure Japan has its flaws, but they sure are difficult to surface. Japan is quirky, weird, and has an interestingly odd obsession with all things "cute," which I'll have to get into at another time. And the food, which I haven't even touched on—it requires a separate, devoted write-up. For now, I just want to thank Japan for showing me so much "good." Good people with big hearts, good food that was constantly commendable, and good habits that I will now attempt to apply in my own life.
After a half-ass review of 7,028 photos, here is my attempt to present some of the highlights from each unforgettable city we visited on our journey through Japan.