Because I feel like it’s time.
10. Incredible Natural Beauty
Okay, maybe this is a no-brainer. Everyone knows that Japan is beautiful.
I just didn’t realize that it was mind-blowingly…
heart-achingly beautiful. I wish I could just gather up the green mountains and the black sand beaches and bring them home with me. It’s not that there aren’t beautiful landscapes in America – there are. I’ve just never seen a place that basically stood up and demanded that you acknowledge how beautiful it was. Which, come to think of it, might explain…
9. Respect for Nature
I think I’ve commented before about how in the context of the gorgeous landscapes here, Shintoism makes absolute sense. How could you not feel awe when confronted by these incredible vistas?
This deep-seated cultural respect for the land is visible all over, in ways both small and large. Roads wind over hills and around mountains (or in small tunnels through them) instead of just being blasted flat and level. Bridges extend carefully over entire valleys to avoid disturbing them, and even in densely developed city,
you’re likely to see a well-preserved patch of forest as a shrine to nature. In fact, anywhere you see a particularly beautiful view…
you’re likely to see the awe for that beauty expressed by a shrine.
8. History and Traditions
As someone who grew up in the Midwest, my idea of an old building has always been something about 100 years old. If it was a really old building, it was closer to 200 years old. So, it is quite an experience to get to visit sites that are closer to 400 years old.
These festivals we’ve been going to? Some of them have literally been going on, year after year, for hundreds of years.
The clothes they wear, the songs they sing, the dances they perform – they all mean something, and they’ve meant something for centuries. I just wish I had more time to learn what that is.
I don’t have any cool pictures for this one (how does one show pictures of general safety?), but I couldn’t ignore it. Cars and homes are constantly unlocked. Toddlers are left in (unlocked, remember) cars while moms duck into stores. (This is legal.) Five-year-olds walk home from school unsupervised and alone, crossing four-lane roads when the crosswalk light turns green. I frequently let my preschool-aged children wander a few aisles over in stores we were shopping. I’ve had people say, “Oh, that’s just because you’re living in a rural area,” (and this is true), but Japan is consistently marked #5 or better on lists of the safest countries in the world. Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index has it listed as #3 – the third safest place in the entire world! The United States is #85 on that list…and I’ve seen it as low as #97 on others. (Just for comparison, Canada is #14 on the GPI, and Mexico is #107. Oh, dear.)
6. Ubiquitous Courtesy
Another seemingly obvious point – Japanese people are polite! Undoubtedly this influences the low crime rates. It is culturally unacceptable to behave badly or do anything that would bring shame on your family or community. However, until you’ve lived in it, all that that entails doesn’t really sink in. For example; you can be driving 10k under the speed limit and be straddling both lanes, and you will not be honked at. (If you are, look quickly! Chances are good that you’ll see an American driving the car that did it.) The other drivers may well pass you, but they will do it politely. I have seen with my own eyes two old women bicycling out in the street, taking up the entire lane, and a line of cars slowly and politely following behind them, without so much as a single honk or tailgater. I’ve never seen a place where drivers were more careful of pedestrians and bicyclists – and when you let a gaggle of seven-year-olds cross in front of your car, every one of them will bow on the way across. As much as we grumble about tiny ‘roads’ and creative parking, courtesy on the road makes driving much more relaxed.
Of course we don’t just see politeness when driving, but boy – am I going to miss that.
Now, this post has gone on long enough, so go here for the next five things I didn’t realize I would love about Japan!
What? I wanted to use that picture.