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Japan – First impressions

    In my very first job, the first dedicated customer project that I worked for was a Japanese one- Suzuki and ever since then always wanted to visit that country. Finally I could arrive there in the summer of 2016 (June) for a short vacation of 9 days.

    If I have to summarize : Japan is magical. Japan is mind-boggling. Japan is mesmerizing!

    Miyajima - a favourite place of mine!

    Miyajima island near Hiroshima- a favourite place of mine!

    Here are some of the things and experiences that highlighted my stay there:

    1. Courtesy:

    The people in Japan in general are very polite. Bowing to others is almost a routine. I have bowed to almost every person after saying : “Arigatou gozaimasu!” (Thank you!) ( Pronounced – Ari-gato go-zai-mas) . The conductor in the Shinkansen (Bullet train) will bow after he leaves your coach, the food attendant girl/lady will bow after she leaves your coach. Even the people who clean the Shinkansen train at its final destination will bow at the train coach after they are done with their job. Though many people won’t understand English, they will try to help you when you face some difficulty. For eg.: on the very first evening when I reached Osaka, I had some problem in locating my hotel and asked a passer-by. He checked his mobile for Google Maps, walked along with me for a fair amount of distance and left me only after showing me the correct location.

    2. Vending machines and convenience shops:

    There is a plethora of vending machines though I have tried only the ones for soft drinks/ice cream and some few where hot beverages are served. You can even get noodles and other food items at some vending machines. Also, there is a convenience store ( konbini in Japanese) in almost every street corner in the main cities ( the likes of Seven Eleven/7 Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart etc.). Also, 7 Eleven is very convenient to withdraw cash if you have a forex card.I used the ATMs there for all my currency withdrawals.

    A vending machine in Arashiyama with a cheeky phrase!

    A vending machine in Arashiyama with a cheeky phrase!

    3. Food:

    It’s a heaven for people who love seafood. I probably never tried any identical food dish item twice, trying to experience as many different varieties as possible. Some stuff which I tried for the first time are whale meat, horse meat, sea urchin, beef tongue, puffer fish (fugu), and a lot of raw stuff! Before a meal, Japanese people say “itadakimasu” meaning “I receive this food.” This expresses thanks and gratitude to whoever worked to prepare the food in the meal, including farmers. After eating, people once again express their appreciation and thanks for the meal by saying “gochiso sama deshita,” which literally means “it was quite a feast!”.

    Really delicious grilled oysters in Miyajima island

    Really delicious grilled oysters in Miyajima island

    4. Efficient network of trains:

    With a Japan Rail Pass, it is extremely efficient and a relatively cost-effective way to use the Shinkansen train network. Since there is a good frequency of trains, it makes it easier to do day trips to one or two places which are around say 200-300 kms away.

    5. Free restrooms:

    Unlike say in Europe, I never had to pay for using a public restroom in the places I visited.

    6. Queue:

    People are patient there in queues. Queues are efficiently organized.

    7. Face masks:

    Even if someone has an innocent cold, he or she will use a face mask so as to not to spread any germs to other people.

    8. Public transport etiquette:

    People refrain from speaking on the mobile phone in buses and trains lest they disturbed fellow passengers. They will generally only SMS or use other messaging media for communicating. In long distance trains like Shinkansen, people will move towards the end of the coach near the door and speak over the phone if required.

    9. A mix of ancient and modern cultures:

    Though I was based in Kyoto for the major part of my stay (as I wished to experience the temples and shrines of ancient capitals of Japan and many UNESCO World Heritage sites around), a brief stay of 1.5 days in Tokyo exposed me to the full assault of the modern culture of Tokyo metropolis. The seamless blend and existence of these cultures make it a wonderful country to visit!

    Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion temple - a highlight of Kyoto

    Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion temple – a highlight of Kyoto

    Shinjuku in Tokyo - the place that never sleeps

    Shinjuku in Tokyo – “the place that never sleeps”

    One thing is certain that if we inculcate the positive behavioural aspects of the Japanese, it would be a wonderful lifestyle to have!

    (Please note: These are only initial observations of the places that I have been. Obviously, there may be deviations to my observations depending on the situation and my lack of full awareness of the culture etc. of that particular place.)

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