Japan – you caught my eye

My interest in Japanese society, culture and language has been like a long distant love affair which began almost 20 years ago. How do people develop an interest in a different culture and language? Does this come about through a positive experience with a person from that culture? In my case, that was certainly true.

I attended an international school in what used to be West Germany, and one of my closest friends happened to be Japanese. Both of us had lived in foreign countries, and had similar experiences and outlooks. Moreover, both of us are Asian women. As our friendship grew, I was exposed to the food, culture, social mores and the arts. At that time, there were several students from Japan in our school. As a result, I began to notice some cultural similarities among the Japanese students.

On the whole, most of them were very polite, conscientious, hard working students. In addition, they were very neat in appearance and tidy with their belongings. These characteristics are probably stereotypes of most Asians but in a school where most of the students and the staff were from Western countries, these characteristics were very appreciated and applauded by the staff.

After graduation, both my friend and I went on to college – she returned to Japan and I moved to the US. Even after all these years, we have still kept in touch by visiting each other, writing letters and emails. For the past ten years, I have pursued learning Japanese off and on, read voraciously about Japan, adore Japanese food and arts. One of my goals in life is to live in Japan for a few years so that I can become fluent in the language.

Until that happens, I continue pursuing my love from afar. It seems fitting that I now share some of my memorable experiences / observations from my trip to Japan in 1991. At that time, I could understand some Japanese but I was not confident in speaking. I remember taking the cable car ride near Mt. Fuji over a scenic valley. My husband and I shared the cable car with others. One of the other women was terrified of heights _ I was scared too, so I sat in the center of the cable car, and not near the windows – and she was freaking out – I was so glad that I did not understand what she was saying because that would have frightened me even more.

On another occasion, I was so surprised to experience the kindness of strangers who helped us find the place we were going to by escorting us to the address. It is also interesting to note how the old and the new Japan have learnt to coexist – since the old buildings and neighborhoods maybe right next to the skyscrapers and the street system is so complex, it is often difficult to find an address – this is in contrast to how towns and cities are always being rebuilt in the US.

Another example of this phenomena is the existence of dark, old fashioned, public toilets in a country which has been in the forefront in the development of high tech toilets.

One of the nicest facts about traveling in Japan is the relative safety and peace of mind that foreigners feel even though they obviously stand out. I could go on and on reminiscing about these events but it is time to talk about the present. I read that the Japanese economy is recovering, the education system is being reevaluated, a distraught mother of a toddler killed another toddler – as with every year, there is some good news and some bad. Pokemon is very popular this holiday season.

Shitsurei Shimasu and best wishes for the new year.

Copyright @ Shoma Nandi Ramaswamy. All rights reserved.

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