The contrasts of Japan are startling. Big cities
such as Tokyo, Osaka
and Sapporo dazzle with bright lights and
high-tech gadgetry, while in countryside villages and enclaves of historic
cities such as Kyoto and Nara, centuries-old Japanese culture is alive
and well: the geisha, the neighbourhood temple or shrine, community festivals
and traditional food.
Since 1950, Japan has seen exceptional economic growth, becoming one of the world's most powerful economies; bustling cities burst with skyscrapers, bullet trains, trendy nightlife and endless shopping opportunities. Despite being afflicted by the familiar economic woes of recent years, to most visitors, it will appear as if the country's rampant consumerism and ceaseless pursuit of the new has hardly been dented.
A vibrant pop culture is a massive draw for wide-eyed tourists. Ground-breaking electronics and leading fashion and design items are available here long before the rest of the world, giving visitors to Japan's cities a sense that they're having a sneaky glimpse into the future. Electronic giants such as Nintendo and Sony thrive here - both have their head quarters in Japan - and manga (still cartoons) and anime (Japanese animation) are experiencing growing global popularity.
Yet, beneath the brash modernity beats an ancient heart. This is still the realm of the exquisite art of the geisha and the skill of the sumo wrestler, where lively age-old festivals are celebrated and food is elevated to an art form. Providing an antidote to the rush-rush of modern life are soothing onsen (hot spring resorts) and beautifully manicured zen rock gardens.
For all the blight of industry and sprawling cities, Japan - dominated by a spine of lofty mountains and made up of thousands of islands - is a land of great natural beauty. The contrasts range from the snow festivals and lavender farms of the northern isle of Hokkaido to the sun-drenched beaches of the subtropical islands of Okinawa. Whether you choose to climb volcanic Mount Fuji or wander through the pine forest of Mount Koya, a journey to Japan is unforgettable.
With thanks to World Travel Guide
Blog 1: Valentines day in Japan is very different from Australia. Its very over done here. meaning everywhere you walk there are shops after shops selling valentine chocolates. (not even joking)
So kinda depressing
To make things worse its the girls who give the guys chocolates and then on the 14th of March the guys either say "yes i like you" or "nah..." this is called white day.
But the upside is when I went to school my Japanese friends made tomo choco (chocolate for friends) so that was cool. i got loads of chocolates and cakes.
In the end the festivities of this day rubbed off on me. So me and Aya (host sister) made chocolates and cakes and gave it to my host dad and friends at school. I now officially love Valentines day :)
Blog 2: Golden week is when the whole of Japan gets a national holiday for a week :) In this week there are heaps of festivals everyday.
The first night I went to a firework festival. It was crazy. It was like I jumped into a lord of the rings hobbit party or something. The fireworks looked alive bouncing in the air and the people were lighting fireworks everywhere, putting them in the ground and running off. Crazy!!
I loved it so much.
Then they set a big hay stack like totem poll on fire. I love how they are so safe here :D
Blog 3: The next festival I went to was a water festival. Kind of like a rain dance. The guys wear a kilt like skirt, and dance with a baton like stick. Except the stick has a knife on the end of it. Thank god it was fake but in the old times it was real and lots of people got cuts hahaha.
It was really fun. They also had a pole that was really heavy with paper attached to it. Here they move the pole around the temple and the men and kids dance around it. If they dropped the pole which they often did, then the men run towards the pole and start the dance all over again. Plus if you get to/manage to rip a bit of the paper that's on the pole it symbolises good luck.
But this festival is also really dangerous. Because the pole often lost balance and would fall on top of those around it. Often photographers and such. This pole was also no ordinary poll. Its was a heavy log.
Another much loved 'safe' festival.
Blog 4: Taikusai, one of my most loved words in Japan so far.
It means sports festival and being in Japan means that we get a whole week of no classes to practice for it!!
It was great :D we played music through out the corridors, painted banners and made t-shirts for our team. It also made everyone closer as we weren’t stuck on our separate one-person tables. We were FREE. People from other classes also wondered in and out at times and I also often just walked around the school talking to everyone. Then the Taikusai=sports festival, came. It was sooo fun. We all wore our T-shirts and played the weirdest games I have ever played. It was so funny.
Normally in sport carnivals you just sit there
and let the sporty people win the games for your team and you just sit there and
relax, chill with mates and eat. However here everyone joins in. This is
probably to do with the fact that the games weren’t the usual run to one end and
see who was the fastest to get to the other side, but different. E.g one game
was you have to quickly put on a costume, such as santa and then run to your
team who has their legs tied together who have to run all tied up to the finish
line. There were also games like wearing a balloon on your head and your
teammates lift you up on their shoulders and you have to pop the other teams
balloon that is also trying to pop yours. It was really hilarious. Especially
when the teachers played the games too.
Blog 5: Simple thing in life are not as simple here.
Take walking on the escalator for instance. The escalators here aren't always moving until you walk on to it or someone is already on it. Not only does it start moving when it knows you are on it but it also talks to you.
Everything here talks to you!!
Buses even. It doesn't just say next stop blah blah but offers you a chance to get off a stop by saying “we are now stopping at shijo if you like flowers you should get off here as there are a range to be seen around this area” or trains "dont forget to check you didn't leave something on the seat"
It gets tiresome sometimes.
Vending machines also say “thankyou”, ticket machines also seem to talk a lot "please take the ticket out" and "thankyou, have a good day". So when in Japan be prepared that some machines are going to talk to you, however weird it is.
But what can I say it is a wonderful country. I guess you can never be lonely in Japan.
My past two weeks in Japan have been filled with new and exciting experiences. Between the 20th and the 22nd of June, 8 members of my rotary club, including my fourth host family, invited me with them on a mountain climbing expedition to the Japanese Alps, as a practice for Mt Fuji, which I will be climbing next weekend. We stayed at a beautiful, home-like cottage, where we ate delicious country-style meals, enjoyed chatting by the fireplace, and were able to use the おんせん- the Japanese baths. It was really relaxing, and well deserved after our 9 hours straight of mountain climbing! The actual climb wasn't too tiring until we reached half way, and we went from climbing on a steady ground at about a 20 degree angle, to slowing tackling an uneasy path, at a 45 degrees angle. However, the amazing feeling of reaching the top, 2,393m above sea level, was completely worth it. As we were above the clouds, the view was not so marvellous, but as we slowing came back down, the clouds cleared, and the view of the mountains and valleys was breathtaking. I felt so lucky and thankful to have been given that amazing experience.
This past weekend, we began to say our goodbye's to the other inbound rotary exchange students, as they are due to return home in about two weeks time. When they first arrived back in August of last year, three of the students I have become particularly close to, found a parfait shop which sells a delicious looking, $100 dollar parfait! So we decided to attempt to eat it before they leave. Despite the fact that the shop suggests that the parfait be eaten by 6-10 people, ten of us could not finish it in 2 and a half hours! It was lots of fun trying, however, and I am quite sure that the 10 of us do not want to go anywhere near a parfait for the next 3 months at least.
Last Saturday, my first host father took me to perform 茶道 (tea ceremony) in a 400 year old traditional Japanese building, called すみや (Sukiya). Once every year, even those people who don`t study tea ceremony can come to visit and perform traditional tea ceremony in this building. Prior to the ceremony, we were able to look through the building at some old お茶碗 (special tea ceremony bowls) and wall hangings, all of which were made in the 17th century. The actual ceremony was performed in a large たたみ room, (a room with a special bamboo-mat floor), and there were about 20 guests present. The lady who prepares the tea is known as the たいゆさん、a special, kind of Geisha, who is quite high in rank and has learnt the skill of 茶道(tea ceremony). She wears a beautiful, long kimono, and is accompanied two six year old girls, who help her present the tea to the guests. There is a special order of events that occurs prior to making the tea, including delicately cleaning the case which holds the tea, as well as the spoon and the bowl. It took about 5 minutes for her to prepare one bowl. The tea has quite a bitter flavour, so before you drink it, you are given special Japanese sweets to eat, to weaken the bitter flavour. I was so lucky to be able to attend this ceremony and actually watch the たいゆさん make the tea, as most Japanese people, even those who study 茶道 (tea ceremony), have never seen this