Travelling in Japan (Part III): Reflections and Highlights

“What must be admitted, very painfully, is that this was a disaster made in Japan…Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience, our reluctance to question authority, our devotion to ‘sticking to the program,’ our groupism, our insularity.”            Source

I studied Japanese history at university and have had an ongoing interest in the country since then which has been stimulated greatly in the last few weeks. This third post about our recent travels in Japan will be relatively brief, sharing the highlights of our trip and few reflections about the experience. I look forward to hearing from experienced travellers who know much more about Japan than I gleaned in a brief visit and hope you find the time to comment at this post or email. As always, there are more questions than answers.

Reflections & Questions

It is strikingly obvious that social and technical systems work efficiently in Japan. The collective commitment from Japanese people toward their environment is particularly noticeable. The cities are incredibly clean and the public transport excellent. The reliance on nuclear power seems to assist to keep pollution low. People are unfailingly polite and friendly. There seems to be very high levels of group cohesion but with an acceptance of difference. The traditional and the ‘out there’ seems to be more or less comfortable with each other. Our impressions of Japan and the Japanese are glowingly positive. This impressive culture and society has much for all to appreciate and admire, as witnessed by the incredible number of World Heritage listings.

That’s what makes the above quote, from Emeritus Professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa (chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission), so interesting. The very strengths of Japanese society that I observed are held up to brutal scrutiny. I did, however, see what he meant many times while travelling and the above quote has to be placed into a personal context. Firstly, I read it after having a strange experience on an hour long tourist bus excursion around Tokyo. It was the coldest day in Tokyo for many years and we were sitting, in assigned seats, on top, right at the back of the open air bus with about 9-10 Japanese tourists. The tour was advertised for English speakers and the guide used a microphone that was very well-amplified. She did not speak English and did not pause. We had earphones but the recorded English commentary was difficult to hear because of the guide’s voice. My hat kept blowing off in the wind and my scarf was proving difficult to manage. The sheltered, front of the bus beckoned. I stood up, said to Miss 9, come up the front if you like and holding on to my hat for dear life reseated myself on the near empty bus. Unknown to me, the guide prevented Lucy from moving and a scene ensued. My partner explained my hat kept blowing off and I was seeking shelter. The guide was very agitated but did not come and speak with me. I did not realise any of this until later on.

Reading Kurokawa’s comment later that same day had us talking about what was going on with this incident. Had I been rude? Did the guide not understand my reason for moving or was it simply that I was not following the rules. I had a seat, sit down and cope. Instead, I did what any sensible person would do, I moved out of the wind with no harm done to others. This is a very minor anecdote, trite perhaps, but similar incidents were observed in a variety of contexts. People just seem to do what they are told. Everyone waits for the lights to change before crossing the road, even if there is absolutely no traffic in sight. The designated smoking areas are where people stand to smoke. The Japanese are a wealthy people and their perspectives on what order is in a society and how one contributes are very interesting. Why is there no litter in the streets? Why is it it that one feels very safe here? Paradoxically, what are the costs of this level of order and cohesion? Kurokawa’s quote suggests there are plenty of challenges.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

As always, observing my children’s perspectives is illuminating. Vending machines excited them and were very convenient – especially for hot and cold beverages – but they could not believe anyone could just pay money and buy cigarettes on the street. One does wonder about this freedom. Do many students smoke they asked? I assumed not but did not know the answer.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Absolute Highlights

Food is spectacular in Japan and often very reasonably priced (except for fruit). We had many superb meals and dining experiences of which I will mention but a few. The Sometaro in Asakusa was our first taste of an okonomiyaki restaurant. The pancakes cooked at our table were a hit with everyone and we repeated the experience several times around the country.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

My daughters have no problem with chopsticks after a couple of weeks in Hong Kong and practising when we eat Asian food at home. We had some superb sashimi and sushi in Ponto-cho, in Kyoto and at the Tsukiji fish markets that they used their fingers to demolish. All of us really like gyoza and tonkatsu too. The experience of dining at our ryokan was particularly delicious and informative. We loved the apple sake brewed by the owner and the seafood, particularly the ‘mountain stream fish’ crunchy dishes. The crockery, platters and many different ways of presenting such dainty, delicious dishes was wonderful and we saw more variety at the ryokan than anywhere else. Breakfast was just exquisite with so many tiny dishes and condiments to savour. We are definitely keen to do some cooking, Japanese style, during 2013 and plan a shopping excursion to Northbridge in Sydney during February.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Tsukiji fish markets were another highlight of our stay in Tokyo, partly as we always visit this kind of market anywhere we travel and have never been in such a large, strange and bustling place. If you read my earlier posts or check my Flickr stream there are some photos of the experience and have this book in the mail. I would like to return to Tokyo and attend the early morning tuna sales which were closed to foreigners during January.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

The absolute highlight for all of us was the trek, in swirling snow, to see the snow monkeys. I wrote about this last post but now that we are back in Australia, it seems almost like a dream. Here’s a brief video of the snow monkeys soaking and relaxing to give you an idea of how close to the monkeys one can get.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

We made a good choice to stay in a quality ryokan while visiting the hot springs where the snow monkeys reside. We all loved our onsen experience and dressing traditionally, in Japanese garb, for the duration of our stay. We have discovered that there is at least one good RYOKAN in AUSTRALIA and plans for another closer to home. Maybe we can save our pennies for a special weekend treat one year when missing what Japan has to offer. It truly is a relaxing bathing experience that I thoroughly recommend. We liked it so much that we found another onsen outside of Kyoto, with glorious mountain views and boiling hot water, to spend our last day in Japan.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Ready for the onsen

My daughters also enjoyed learning about ‘the way of tea’ in Gion, Kyoto. They both read up about the tea ceremony before we attended one and they had a chance to make their own brew. They both enjoy the traditional with the new and funky. Spotting maiko and geiko in Gion was as fun for all of us as when we were in Tokyo seeing residents who were into cosplay.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

We visited many impressive shrines, temples and castles but a couple were special for us, mostly due to their awesome design, size or location. I posted about our experience near Nikko but equally as impressive was Tōdai-ji in Nara. The Great Hall you can see in the photographs below houses the largest bronze buddha in the world.

What do you think about the two images below? The first was shot with a a Nikon D700 and edited in Lightroom 4. The second was taken with an iPhone using an olloclip with editing in Snapseed and Eyeem. I like both but which do you prefer? The iPhone does do an amazing job compared with a full frame professional camera.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

The nightingale floor we walked on at Nijo Castle in Kyoto just stimulated all of our imaginations. There was really too much talk about assassination, shoguns and ninja in the following hours and days.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

I love travelling with my family and it is a highlight of all our trips that we get to spend so much time together roaming, talking and having a laugh in the time we have on the planet. I am proud of the way they cope with any hardships we face and enjoy the good times. I especially like simple shared pleasures and the laughter. The two images below caused much mirth, especially from Miss 6.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

When both girls attempted to reach enlightenment, by crawling through the “Buddha’s nostril”, and Miss 9 was temporarily stuck on her path, both parents laughed hard too, enjoying quips about ‘the path’ is not always easy grasshopper’.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Conclusion


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

The above photograph, shot in the gardens near the Imperial Palace, is the image that most seems to summarise what I saw in Japan. A venerable and ancient culture is consciously supported and nurtured as society speeds rapidly into the future. Even though I titled this image ‘Continuity & Stagnation’ I did not see much that could be thought of as stagnation. Tradition does not seem to be holding back anyone and is an important aspect of the success, wellbeing and resilience of the people. I loved the place. My impressions of Japan and the Japanese are glowingly positive. The culture and their society has much to appreciate and admire.

We will definitely return.

 

Your thoughts about Japan?

 

PS Check out my Diigo account tagged Japan if you are interested in travelling here and make sure you keep Hyperdia handy. Here is a slideshow of all my publicly available photos of Japan.

PS We all like dragons.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Share

DISCLAIMER

The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

13 Comments

  1. Fantastic and thought provoking account, and i loved the visual imagery. I look forward to one day making my own trek instead of vicariously enjoying such moments through my daughter who has lived a year in Japan or through accounts such as your own. Once again, thank-you for sharing.
    ailsa.

    • Darcy Moore:

      When one cannot travel, living vicariously through books and pics, posts and others is a genuine pleasure that helps one enjoy the anticipation.

      It must be very interesting to live in Japan. Does she blog or take photographs?

  2. Kristy:

    I am now adding Japan to my list! I never travelled when younger and have just started to do so with my husband and children. I love that we can share the experience as a family. You really do see things differently through their eyes!
    This post was beautifully written and the photos are delightful. I like the first of the two compared images by the way. Love the light. I shall be sure to contact you when we manage to get ourselves to Japan – a few years yet, but only third on the list!

    • Darcy Moore:

      Thanks for your kind comment, Kristy. I have to ask, what countries are first and second on your list? :)

      • Kristy:

        Canada, where my sister lives and then back to Singapore where my husband’s brother lives. We just did Singapore 2 weeks ago, but being a wedding and lots of family activities, we didn’t have as much exploration time as we wanted. Got other, wonderful experiences instead. Highlight for us and the kids? Buddhist blessing ceremony of the couple and the wedding rings. Possibly the most beautiful experience we’ve had!
        Last Christmas we did Canada and New York – just wonderful! This whole ‘travelling with family thing’ is the best thing we’ve done :)

  3. Darcy what you have blogged here is immense. I always enjoy the tangents your mind explores from the erudite to the mundane and your revealing creativity is breath taking. Your sharing is valuable and I know I will have to read and reread the blog a few times. Japan is one of the great showcases of humanity and you have shone many lights onto it.

    • Darcy Moore:

      Thanks Victor.

      We all had a great day wandering Tokyo with you and learnt a great deal. Lucy was highly impressed with your Japanese language skills and knowledge. “Victor knows lots, Dad,” she whispered a one point.

      We all look forward to catching up with you in Northbridge for a shopping excursion next month to buy some Japanese tableware and ingredients. Already the kids are missing udon and gyoza.

      Cheers.

  4. Jessica Lowe:

    Grant (hubby) and I are having a baby in July, but really want to go travelling, so we are thinking Japan next year with bubs. Do you think Japan will be doable with a baby Darcy?

    Great blog by the way! I was instantly drawn in, as Grant has been to Japan several times and lived there for a year. He loves it. Mainly for the snowboarding, but also for the onsens!

    I’m also very interested as a history teacher visiting Japan. I’m fascinated by the Meiji period, and the Meiji restoration; and the ways in which the Japanese aimed to merge tradition with western advances.

    The only bad thing I’ve heard about Japan is that there are a few dodgy (in my opinion) cultural things going on with the sexualization of women; where women who are childlike and innocent are deemed to be sexually attractive, and its demand is reflected in manga, fashions, etc. Ive even heard some crazy stories about vending machines containing used womens underwear. Can’t say i’d be a fan. But aside from that…….

    food! okinomiyaki (dont know the spelling—the pancake things) are supposed to be amazing! I would love to experience the traditional food, and even the modern merging of western and Japanese food.

    I’d also love to see the cherry blossoms!

    Anyway, looks like you had an amazing time with your family! Thanks for the blog!

    • Darcy Moore:

      Jess,

      Thanks for taking he time to comment at my post.

      I am sure that travel in Japan with your baby will be easier than in most countries. It is clean and safe. Grant sounds like he already knows the place well, which will be an advantage. I too find the Meiji period fascinating. I suspect that comments you make re: women are occurring here too. Just check out the supermarket aisle fashion and girls magazines. We came across many vending machines but none were dispensing anything dodgier than cigarettes. You will love the food, especially the careful presentation and tableware.

      Best wishes,
      @Darcy1968 :)

  5. Andrew J:

    Darcy,

    You have summed up what I so love about Japan. I think ‘continuity and stagnation’ is a great way of putting it. I always explain to my classes that it is the fact that it is so modern but so traditional at the same time. I love how you can be in a raging metropolis but can walk around the corner and find yourself in a tranquil temple that has been there for centuries. Or travel for an hour on efficient transport to a place that seems a million miles away.

    Your comments in the first part also resonated with me and are the reason many foreigners living in Japan can, at times, find it so bitter sweet.

    Thank you for this post and for all the wonderful images you have posted. I now have another excellent source of images to spread the good word about Japan with my classes.
    :-)

  6. Sharon Moran:

    Darcy,

    I have finally had time to sit and enjoy your experiences in Japan through your Blog. It truly is one of those beautiful places on earth. I agree with you, an impressive country with equally amazing people!

    You have captured such breadth with your photos and comments about Japan. I certainly enjoyed the stroll down memory lane, whilst i reminisce about my time in Japan. I especially enjoyed those gorgeous Snow Monkey’s too.

  7. Hi Darcy,
    You had left a comment on my website a few months ago and I thought I would stop by and take a look at your wonderful pictures and travels. Seems like you had a great time in Japan and yes, it is indeed a great place to be/live/travel. I am very happy to see that your family also liked Japan and tried many things to really get a sense of the place. Please look me up when you are back and I will be happy to show you around :)

    With best wishes,
    Arif

    • Darcy Moore:

      Thanks Arif. Your photos, especially of Japan, are fantastic. The the maiko and geisha shots are particularly fine!

Post a Comment

*
* (will not be published)


× 3 = fifteen

Random Posts

LOAD MORE
UA-6171563-2