Sunday, September 26, 2010

Japan First Impressions

I just returned from a 6 day whirlwind trip in Japan that took me to Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and the Fuji 5 Lakes area, and Osaka.  In such a short time, I could only get a sampling of what Japan has to offer.  Soaking everything in, you can’t help but make comparisons…to America and South Korea.  So, here are the big bullet point first impressions I walked away with.

  • Japan is more western than Korea.  It’s the proliferation of chain stores and restaurants that first lead me to this conclusion.  Then you quickly realize that English is more widely spoken here.  Even in the small alleyways and corner shops a few words can be exchanged and English menus are tucked away. 
  • The Japanese people are friendly.  I didn’t make any big connections with locals, but plenty of small conversations were had.  Their greetings, smiles, and constant offers to take our pictures were endearing. 
  • The youth are displaying some eccentric fashion sense (especially in Osaka).  My best description is that both young men and women dress as though they are rock stars.  The men have long, teased, mussed hair paired with tight pants and metallic belts.  The women typically have long locks bleached orange or occasionally blond.  Leopard print, bold colors, layers, lace, lots of makeup and very high heels – Madonna circa 1985 – it’s a very popular look.  In Osaka, the look was everywhere, making people watching an enjoyable experience. 
  • Old traditions still exist.  Beautiful temples, shrines, castles, and even the Imperial Palace protected by moats and giant fortress walls can loose the feelings of old Edo when they’re filled with tourists and next to souvenir shops.  But, in many ways old traditions are guarded and adored.  Ceremony was very much a part of the sumo tournament we watched and a kendo tournament (wooden sword fighting) we stumbled upon.  Our stay in a traditional Japanese house or ryokan emphasized that.  Festivals, traditional gardens, and theater like Kabuki will show you that the Japan you’ve imagined still exists in many ways.  That was a joy to discover.

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