Experienced by Cameron Scott
Recently my wife and I along with about 3200 other passengers cruised around the three main islands of Japan for 27 days. We come from Australia and Adelaide is our home, Adelaide is a city of approximately 1.1 million people the bulk of whom live in private dwellings (houses) that are quite large compared to the houses we saw in Japan.
This was our first adventure to a country where English was not the 'first' language, we flew from Sydney to Narita where we spent our first night in Japan. The hotel was not ready for us so we went exploring on foot. The first impression was how dense and compact the housing was and the fact that light industry was among the houses. We eventually found the shrine that we had set out to locate and consumed our first meal, ate on the sidewalk and watched the daily activities of the people as they passed by.
We were immediately impressed by the courtesy of the drivers. The narrow street that we ate our meal was on a bus route and quite busy, however, everyone yielded which assisted in an orderly traffic flow. Cars and small trucks parked on the footpath but once again everyone just accepted the inconvenience and managed it. In Australia as a general rule the first driver inconvenienced would react in a hostile way and probably just lay on the vehicles horn to try to get the car to move. We were impressed with the cleanliness of the streets, parks and the gardens. There seemed to be a civic pride in the appearance of the streets and of the city. Even when we ventured off the 'beaten track' the streets appeared free of litter and no graffiti on the fences, trains or in public areas.
On one occasion in Yokohama we witnessed an elderly lady in traditional workers clothing squatting on the outside stairs with a plastic bag in one hand and a pair of tweezers in the other prying off a sticky mess of chewing gum off the staircase. Once again this would never be seen in Australia. Discarded chewing gum is a common problem in the city streets although its popularity seems to be waiving so hopefully there will be less and less.
We were further impressed by the willingness of passersby to assist us when we were struggling with locating buildings or historic sites. Many people who had limited English tried to assist us and one man actually went out of his way to provide us with directions. We were very impressed with everything we witnessed and felt safe travelling by ourselves throughout the many places we visited, only once did we feel slightly uncomfortable and that was due to us entering an area that we should not have wandered into. Nothing occurred but we just felt out of place as it was an entertainment area where there were many bar areas and where a lonely male might frequent looking for female companionship.
Just to highlight the openness of the Japanese to include we foreigners I offer the following experience. We were walking past a small garden area in Aomori and noted a tea ceremony being held in the garden, we looked on as interested bystanders and a lady in a traditional kimono in broken English asked us to participate in the ceremony. We declined her offer as we felt that we would be intruding but continued to observe the ceremony from a distance, again we were asked to participate. Once again we declined and decided we should move on so as not to offend, as we left an English speaking male again suggested we should participate and that we would be most welcome to attend. Eventually we did, we were served by the cutest little girls aged 5 and 7 in traditional kimonos, we were aware of some of the protocols in relation to the ceremony and were able not to offend too much at least we hope so. It was very unusual to be the ones photographed rather than the ones taking the photos, apparently we were quite a rarity partaking in the ceremony.
Our trip was wonderful and I have no hesitation recommending Japan as a destination. The cruise was effected by two typhoons and several ports were missed as the captain decided to put some distance between the ship and the storm, certainly an experience being close to a super typhoon.