80 Blogs around the world: Japan
Japan, a land of mystery.
Japan. The home of blazing pink cherry blossoms flitting in the wind. And the booms of bombastic taiko drums, larger than life, reverberating sounds. Sushi. Karate. Manga comics. And wise old Mr Miyagi.
Where how deeply you bow indicates your respect for a person. Long a land of legend.
Japan. Where a rising sun adorns the flag.
Its exotic culture has long captivated outsiders. Traditions, concepts of honour. Stoic swordsmen who slay enemies on the silver screen.
The Samurai, equivalent of European knights – on somelevels – perhaps have imbued Western senses of heroism for over fifty decades. Simply looking at Japanese cinema shows this. Classics like The Hidden Fortress, Seven Samurai, andYojimbodirectly influenced American and European movie-makers to create films featuring Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and The Poncho’d Man With No Name.
Japan’s futuristic city.
Tokyo, a city that is both ancient and futuristic at once, assaults the senses. If you visit, your sense of disconnection will pummel you into a transcendental space. It’s a lonely city despite, ironically, being almost claustrophobically busy. A New York with less place to breathe.
But it has to be experienced, just once, at least. You have to. It’s the inspiration for the hard-hitting sci-fi flick Blade Runner.It is captured beautifully in the anime movie Akira.
Japan has a hazy, misted historical beginning, though it is believed to have begun with colonialists, or refugees, from the Asian mainland – possibly the Korean peninsula.
A brief history of Japan.
Over time, they developed into a feudal society, with an Emperor as head of state – though mostly a figure head. The daimyo, or noble lords, were the true power. And the Shogunthe true ruler. The time most people are familiar with is known as The Warring States Period, where the daimyovied to become Shogun.It is an extravagant tale woven with strands of heroic last stands, cunning plots, dubious alliances, furious battlegrounds, and the decimation of noble families whose dice turned up snake-eyes. Eventually, a man named Tokugawu defeated the last of his enemies, and seized the Shogunate. For over four hundred years, Japan remained in complete culture isolation from the rest of the world.
Then an American warship, powered by steam and threatening fiery hell from her cannons, forced Japan to open her ports for trade. Modernisation happened rapidly. It was a deeply quivering shock.
But the Japanese, as a people, are highly ingenious.
Before long, they became a significant regional power – they even took on Russia in 1905, in a war where they destroyed an entire Russian fleet of battleships. And, to think, only 80 years before, their most advanced weapons were swords, bows, and spears.
The Japanese are a peaceful people, now. But prior to World War 2, they became a ravenous empire. Occupying Korea, marching into China, they hungered for power. It was the bombing of Pearl Harbour that tempered their steel. To the point of breaking. Because the United States entered the war, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Following a devastating defeat, which was concluded by two horrific atomic bombs turning two major cities into ash, the Japanese rebuilt.
It is the greatest quality of the Japanese people. To accept, and move on, and build upon the misfortunes of the past. Within 20 years, a burned, hollowed out country had become an economic powerhouse.
Japan becomes hospitable.
Today, Japan has become a very popular tourist destination. It has 21 World Heritage Sites, and some of the world’s most amazing attractions.
The one most famous is Mount Fuji, as symbolic of the country as the flag featuring a red, sun-disc on white background. An active stratovolcano, seeing Mount Fuji in the flesh is an awe-inspiring experience. Fuji has both a delicate, beguiling beauty and a whispering, disquieting menace. But it has been over three centuries since it last erupted, and so visitors should take the chance to visit.
It can be seen as far as Tokyo, which is 100 kilometres away, on a clear day. And even from that far, it is utterly breath-taking. No wonder it inspires such wonder.
Then there is Himeji Castle. It is a remnant of a long-gone world, the Feudal Era. The castle is a massive complex with intricate defences in place to ensure the safety of its lord and his family. One of its most cunning defence systems is a complicated system of paths down to the keep, which was theoretically designed to confuse besiegers, and have them double-back, or get lost, split into smaller groups, and so make themselves even more vulnerable to attack from the high-perched archers. Today, even with clearly marked paths, tourists still struggle to find their way.
Another amazing experience is the colloquially known ‘bullet train’, the series of railway networked high-speed trains originally constructed to aid in Japan’s economic development.
Forget the speed of the Gautrain. 160 kilometres per hour is nothing. You may as well be standing still. The bullet train will rocket you between 240 to 320 kilometres per hour… so fast, your own shadow is left behind. To say the Japanese are highly industrialised and efficient is putting it as mildly as saying, ‘wasabi has a slight bite to it.’
Japan and her citizens’ approach to foreigners.
Japan is popular for tourism, for the sheer spectacle of a magnificent, yet slightly disorientating, land. Expect a vague sense of dizziness as culture shock knocks into you and flips you over like a Judo instructor. Yet the experience will change you forever.
Funnily enough, there was a cliché, in the 1980s, of the Japanese tourist wandering around with an oversized camera, taking pictures of everything he saw. This cliché speaks to a complete reversal of the isolationist medieval Japan. The Japanese are interested in all things, all cultures, all people.
The Japanese people are friendly and welcome hosts. They are incredibly, though, strict with how long you stay in their country. It is, after all, only a stay. They view their country as their house. You are their guest. But guests eventually wear out their welcome. It is difficult to emigrate there.
If you do find yourself in the country in a semi-permanent role – such as an English teacher – you will eventually be shown the rice-papered door. Takeheart that while you may never be accepted as Japanese – despite how much you wish it – their culture will most likely seep into yours… forever blooming, like the spring time cherry blossom trees.