This is the fourth feature on a recent group tour to Japan co-sponsored by this newspaper and the Hokubei Hochi Foundation. We are pleased with the positive experiences from the tour, and believe it will help growing interest in visiting Japan. If you wish for more information on the North American Post group tours to Japan, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Cheryl Lamphere
For The North American Post
Japan was never high on my list of countries to visit. Strange, right? I mean, I am half Japanese after all! I studied the language, love sushi and have been to several Bon Odoris throughout my life. Yet for some reason, visiting the country itself was never super appealing. Then my mom mentioned wanting to visit Japan, as she’d never been either. I knew this trip had to happen and we were fortunate enough to sign up with the North American Post tour.
I began researching and asking others who’d visited how they felt about Japan. I consistently heard how amazing it was, and how they wanted to go back one day. I started getting excited! Will I learn something about myself on this trip? Will I feel more Japanese? What about all of the cultural things I had only learned about in Japanese class?
Fast forward to the day we exited the train in Tokyo. Our group entered a crowded sea of busy Japanese people who were maneuvering the masses, commuting to work. The first thing I noticed was that despite the lost, bright-eyed, obvious-tourist look about us, the locals welcomed us with grace and kindness. It quickly reminded me of my first time getting off the subway in NYC, only to be pushed and trampled upon by the busy commuters. I questioned how two groups of people, with the same goal, behaved so differently.
After being in Japan for a few days, I realized how different the culture was compared to any other country I had known. People bowed to us everywhere, from 7-11 to the local bakery to the train attendants. Every place we encountered was extremely clean. I never saw garbage in the streets, yet trashcans were not commonplace. I found myself stuffing my pockets with litter until I was able to properly dispose of it. And public toilets? Pretty sure they were cleaner than my toilets at home!
I had one profound moment that I’ll never forget – losing my rail pass in Tokyo. We often had to show our pass when leaving the train station, but this time I couldn’t locate my pass. Totally gone. Elaine and Shigeki, two of our guides, told me not to worry, because the Japanese people are honest and likely turned it in. I doubted them, of course, because the pass was worth well over $200! Well, 30 minutes and a couple officer calls later, my rail pass was found. It had been turned in nowhere near the spot we’d gotten off the train. I remember Shigeki giving me a big hug, after running around the station, while I got a bit teary eyed. THIS was the type of scenario I’d only heard about in Japanese class. My faith in humanity had been restored, and I was so humbled to experience the honesty of the Japanese people first hand.
To sum things up, Japan blew me away. It exceeded all my expectations and presumptions I had prior to visiting. Japan is not just another modern country with all the niceties of America; it’s a place full of deep culture that’s remained true through the years. A place where I could identify a bit more – recognizing mannerisms from my Japanese side, seeing other “hapas” like myself, and understanding and bonding with my mom more than ever. Japan, I miss you greatly, and cannot wait to return someday soon!