Once again having just a short visit of three days here was only enough to scratch the surface.
The city of Tokyo is one of the most modern in the world as well as one of the largest. The greater Tokyo metropolitan area with its population of over 36 million includes development all along the 37 kms of motorway beside Tokyo Bay from where the Volendam berthed at Yokohama to the centre of Tokyo.
The city proved to be a wonderful contradiction of skyscrapers and the tradition Japanese gardens, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines and the Emperor’s palace.
We were lucky enough to have a night out at a small theatre restaurant. Apart from the delicious cuisine and jugs of local beer the entertainment was delightfully traditional Japanese with a Beatles number thrown in for good measure. The stage was segmented and the different sections were raised and lowered to create constantly changing landscapes across which the performers danced and bounded.
We then took a day excursion from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji. We didn’t see the volcano because of the overcast, and we were told that it is quite a rare event to see the summit (so I bought a postcard instead). We had escaped from the megalopolis that is Tokyo into the country where we visited a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine, walked in some lovely gardens and enjoyed some local cuisine, all the time while our guide, Satoru, gave us insights into Japan’s history and culture.
Our several days in and around Tokyo were most enjoyable but with regards to my Japan visit there is another aspect that deserves my blogging about. Japan has held a special significance, if that is the right word, for me because of my own father’s experience as a Japanese prisoner of war in Changi and on the Burma Railway during WW2. I haven’t harboured any hatred of this nation and its people but it has been like a cloud hanging over my feelings that needed to be confronted.
Accordingly I had been looking forward to Japan and particularly Tokyo to learn about this country and its culture that seemed so very different to my own. Learning more about a country’s history certainly helped in my understanding of their culture (and isn’t that one of the main reasons for, and benefits from, travelling overseas).
As explained to us, Japanese culture emphasises humility and belonging to a group rather than individualism. This is in evidence by the respectful bowing that is the norm in society. Unfortunately this same culture has led to some serious social problems especially in retirement. During a career where employees become so dedicated to their company a large proportion do not have time for other interests, and this becomes a real problem for them when they retire.
Without exception, everyone that I have spoken to that has travelled to, or spent time in, Japan has told me that they are a friendly people.
Following WW2 and the virtual obliteration of Tokyo the world has seen how Japan has emerged as an industrial powerhouse in the modern world, largely based on the efficiency and dedication of the Japanese people.
Japan is also particularly prone to natural disasters but these people have a philosophy, as explained by Satoru, along the lines that “thunder, earthquake, typhoon and an angry father, will pass”. To me it seems that this approach in conjunction with their combination of religions is partly responsible for their philosophy – life goes on after such an event.
In our small minibus on the drive back from Mt. Fuji I can say that I have seldom felt more relaxed, content and at peace. The weather during our visit to Japan has been cloudy and often raining, but on a personal level I feel that the clouds have been blown away.