Japan – a country of paradoxes

Arriving in Japan left me starry-eyed with wonderment of everything that surrounded me. I thought I knew what to expect coming to Japan as it had been on the top of my bucket list for years. My fascination with Japan had actually started in my childhood, with me being one of the biggest fans of the Manga series Attack No. 1 or Mila Superstar in German.

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A traditional shop in Tokyo

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Shitenno-Ji temple in Osaka

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A girl wearing a kimono in ancient Kyoto

If you ever get the chance to visit Japan, be prepared to be utterly mesmerized by the country’s diversity, culture and of course, craziness. The impression that still lingers in my head is that Japan truly is a country of paradoxes. The major cities exemplify craziness in its utmost form – imagine 35 million people living in the area of Tokyo, subway stations with up to 40 exits and gazing out of the windows on top of a skyscraper in Tokyo, desperately trying to make out the borders of the city but failing entirely. Even though the city is so big in size, they still seems to fail to fit all people inside – I have never seen a city that has as many flyovers and streets stacked on top of one another.

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The flyovers of Tokyo

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View from the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka

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Tokyo tower and the headquarters of the Asahi brewery

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View from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices

And then there’s pure calmness, a soothing atmosphere of tranquility and a culture that goes far back in history but is still excessively celebrated today. Whenever you decide to leave the Japanese mega-cities to go visit the countryside or one of the myriad buddhist temples or shinto shrines, this is the aura you will encounter. Suddenly there are no sounds blasting out of shops bursting with colourful items on display, no shop owner is shouting the newest promotional deals across the street and instead of the forest of neon signs, you find yourself in an actual forest with wild deer prancing around you.

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The imperial palace in Kyoto

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Wild deer in Nara

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Scenery in Nikko

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Witnessing a wedding procession in Nikko

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Gateway to the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko

Visiting Japan made me realize yet again that travel is knowledge. The more you see, the more you know you haven’t seen. (Mark Hertsgaard)

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Japanese Garden in Kyoto

Arigatou gozai…what?!

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Arigatou gozaimasu is the Japanese expression for thank you. Sounds super foreign, doesn’t it? As I knew that saying thank you and bowing is just as essential as sushi for the Japanese culture, I knew I had to memorize it somehow. The memory hook I made for myself was Koh Samui – Arigatou Koh Samui.

This small introduction into the Japanese language might already give you an idea of the challenge that traveling to Japan is. But wait for it! When you read arigatou goizamasu in latin letters, it is definitely possible to remember somehow. But what if you’re faced with the various kinds of the Japanese alphabet? The modern Japanese writing system is divided into Kanji and Kana. Kanji is a logographic way of writing, it is adopted from the Chinese alphabet. Kana is a syllabic alphabet and is divided into Hiragana (used for native Japanese words and grammar) and Katakana (used for foreign names and words). Yep, even the Japanese people get confused here.

For foreigners it definitely is not the easiest to navigate through the jungle of foreign sounds and signs. Luckily, most subway stations have signs both in Japanese and Latin alphabet. Going for dinner is a much bigger challenge. Even in cities like Osaka and Tokyo, most of them are kept solely in Japanese. If you’re lucky, they contain photos. If not, just point to whatever the person at the table next to you is having. And be surprised by what actually lands on your table!

 

Fate is for the fearless.

This will be just a quick note. But it does mean a lot to me. Recently, fate seems to be ruling my existence. As Steve Jobs once said, I am true believer of the concept of connecting the dots looking backwards. Sometimes you don’t know what will happen but you just have to trust your instincts, be intrepid and leap – more or less defy gravity.

More and more I seem to be making decisions guided by me listening to my gut. More or less always inexplicable and non-understandable by my loved ones – turning down a perfectly fine job offer, chasing the dream of living and working in faraway places or traveling whilst I should rather stay home for numerous reasons.

But then there are these people that believe in you just the same way as you do yourself. And they not only believe in you but they support you with their whole being. Or even fuel your recklessness and adventurous spirit.

For now, fate has sent me to Japan. A two-week trip exploring Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo. And who would I be to turn down such a precious opportunity to chase my bliss?!