Why I Love Japan (And You Will Too)

The people are wonderfully polite

Not in a rigid way. They just genuinely think about other people all the time. Japan functions like our society would if everyone put others first instead of being selfish. Nobody will try to rip you off. It’s lovely.

Cherry Blossom Season

 

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I was lucky enough to land in Japan just as the sakura season began. It was lovely to witness hanami, when people go outside each evening and have picnics on blue tarpaulins in the parks and gardens.

 

There are so many quiet and peaceful places, even in the cities

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Like any big city, there are bits of Tokyo that are loud- but it’s nowhere near New York or London levels, and was completely out-Bladerunnered by Hong Kong. Even in Shibuya, turn a corner or two and it’s suddenly so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It allows time for reflection and you feel better for it. This is what life used to be like before the industrial and digital revolutions.

Cute mascots and logos

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The mascots just make you feel happy.

This is an advert for McDonalds. Looks a lot more inviting than our version.

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And just check out these Super Mario crisps. The stars are cheese flavoured, the mushrooms are tomato flavoured. Eat them together and it’s a pizza.

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No Betting Shops

I did not see one. Living and working in inner city London, I’m all too aware of the cancerous proliferation of betting shops keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. It’s wonderful that they’re not part of Japanese culture. Instead, you see many…

Arcades

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Taito Game Stations are everywhere in Tokyo. The Japanese love to play electronic games, from traditional videogames like Winning Eleven, Final Fantasy and my personal fave, Mario Kart, to dance games, Whack A Mole and claw games.

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This place is just beautiful. It has the best train station I’ve ever experienced, complete with beautifully modern design, 11 floors of shops and restaurants, a museum, a theatre, a hotel and an overhead walkway. But Kyoto is predominantly rich in temples. So many beautiful, serene manifestations of Buddhism, and it’s a pleasure to be there.

The Shinkansen

It’s a train. It looks cool. And, with a top speed of 177 mph, it’s really fast. You can travel the whole country on it. Better than flying.

Hiroshima

Again beautiful, but in a different way. What happened here is a terrible tragedy. The spirit of the Japanese people is embodied through the way they don’t look for recriminations. Instead, they honour the dead and pray for peace in the most aesthetically beautiful way possible.

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The view from the Cenotaph

The view from the Cenotaph. Beneath the arch, in a stone box, lie the names of the 70,000 who perished here in Hiroshima precisely 20 seconds after 8:15 am on August 6th, 1945. Behind the arch, an expanse of water, to soothe the burns the victims suffered. Behind the water, an eternal flame, which will be kept burning until war and atomic bombs are no more. Behind that, the skeletal Atomic Bomb Dome, the only building left standing by the 21st second. A beautiful tribute, an opportunity for perspective, a prayer for peace.

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It took me some time to process what I saw in Hiroshima. This is the image which made me cry. It is of the site where hundreds of secondary school children were instantly killed when the atomic bomb exploded above the city.

3401 children went to school that day and never came back.

At Motokawa Primary School, 500m away, all 192 tiny children were killed.

I know what it is to experience the death of a student. What happened here is unbearably sad.

The parents of the children killed arranged for this memorial to be built in memory of their souls. At the bottom is the goddess of peace. On the sides are thousands of coloured paper cranes- a prayer for peace that local schoolchildren regularly refresh. There are 8 doves.

Some sobering thoughts:

Ground Zero, the place above which the bomb exploded- was a hospital. 90% of doctors in the city and 93% of the nurses were killed immediately in the blast. Almost all medical supplies were destroyed.

70,000 people died instantly, the majority civilians.
200,000 died in total through the aftermath, including 20,000 Koreans.
An area of 2 square kilometres was instantly turned to ash.
Black rain fell from the sky.

None of those responsible have ever been tried for war crimes, terrorism or murder.

Yet under Obama, the US has produced more atomic weapons than under any other president.

The spirit of the Japanese people is incredible. There are no recriminations. They speak only of a desire for peace.

I fervently hope we are all granted that.

Gardens

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Unbelievable. The Japanese are the world’s best landscape designers and gardeners. England has it’s fair share of magical spaces but the perspectives and harmony with nature that the Japanese achieve over and over again is so special. The ultimate expression of synergy between man and nature.

Martial Arts

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Karate. Judo. Bushido (The way of the Samurai). It’s all here. It’s all accessible and yet capable of being a life’s work. I love the combination of grace and discipline. Great self-awareness and presence is required for mastery. The samurai way of life contains at its heart an ethos of great honour and fairness which led to hundreds of years of peace during the Edo period. The impact of this can be felt in all walks of life today.

Super-Expressive Theatre

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From Kagura, to Kabuki, to the crazy Robot Restaurant, all of my Japanese theatrical experience were bonkers and brilliant.

Robot Toilets

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It’s so disappointing using a normal toilet after this. In cold weather, the seat automatically heats. Some of them automatically flush when you stand up. The public ones can make running water sounds to mask any you’re creating if you’re having a difficult moment. They come with bidet features that are unisex and also female-specific. The only trouble is that pins and needles are inevitable when you’re as tall as me.

Buddhism

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This book is like the Gideon’s Bible of Buddhism

I’m not a particularly spiritual or religious person, but there’s something about Buddhism that I like. It seems a lot less egotistical than many other dogmas, placing the individual as a drop in an ocean of interconnected beings, things, causes and conditions. I reckon a lot of the good things about Japan stem from the deep roots of Buddhism.

Great food

My favourite is tonkatsu. But nearly all the food is very healthy and comes in small portions. Good for not experiencing a burgeoning waistline after your trip. Unless that’s a goal, in which case just eat lots of it.

Good health

It was four days until I saw an overweight person. The majority of Japanese people are incredibly trim, with none of the excesses of Western diet apparent in this particular high-technology society. But also, I posit that the Buddhist mind-state, the wonderful gardens and the quiet environment all contribute.

Running

AFE

Head to the rivers for traffic free miles. Some feature distance markers along the route. And if you’re in Tokyo, be sure to run with Athletics Far East and En Route Running Club. I’d always loved the AFE slogan, “Do Not Blame Others, But Yourself”. It’s only after being in Japan that I recognise how deeply this way of thinking stems from the samurai tradition. What I thought of as a cool slogan is much deeper.

There is much we can learn from Japan. I hope you make it out there some day. If you’ve been or are from there, what are your favourite things about the country?

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7 thoughts on “Why I Love Japan (And You Will Too)

  1. Lovely photos, especially the blossoms and the gardens. The visit to the monuments was great too, but very sad. Such sorrowful words “it was raining ashes …” and all those young children … Thank you for sharing your experience.

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