My biggest FEAR on my first visit to Japan was
I don’t speak the language and have absolutely no
idea what a Japanese sign … any sign … is trying
to say to me.
Would I get totally lost? How would I get a taxi or
order food in a restaurant?
And I had my friends with me and I was supposed to
be “the guide” and it got even worse than that …
I had my MOTHER along on this trip too! This was
supposed to be a research trip with me in Japan
solo … but then it took on a life of its own.
And here we were in Narita Airport – after a 14
hour flight – and I had to figure out how to get
to “our” hotel.
How on earth was I going to navigate the trains
and subways of Tokyo, the largest city in the
How were we going to order in restaurants, and not
be presented with something unrecognizable?
How were we going to ask for directions when we
inevitably got lost?
Use the toilets?
The fact that the language, both written and
spoken, is so different and unrecognizable from
anything most of us know was intimidating to
say the least.
When traveling in South America or Europe or
India, you can generally make out a few written or
spoken words because there are some similarities
at times. In Japan that isn’t the case.
But we needed to get to the hotel, so the first
thing we needed to do was validate our Japan Rail
Passes in the airport. How on earth were we supposed
to do that?
And then a funny thing happened on the way to the
Japan Rail office.
We just followed the signs. The ENGLISH signs.
It was all so clearly marked in English that it
would have been hard NOT to figure it out. At the
“travel agency” where you validate the rail pass,
the staff spoke English.
And to find the train into Tokyo? Follow the
English signs of course.
What a relief and a blessing … and then my
nervousness came back …
Surely this was an anomaly limited to the airport.
The clever Japanese had created English language
signs for arriving tourists to help navigate them away
from the airport. Then we would be on our own …
lost in this oh-so-foreign culture.
Not true … thank heavens.
English is everywhere … you might even start to
believe that Japan has two official languages
And when there are no signs in English and you ask
somebody for help, you are not rebuffed. People go
out of their way to help and if they can’t speak English,
they will find somebody that does.
The fact that people are so helpful didn’t come as
a surprise. I fully expected Japanese people to be
kind and helpful, but I had been told that the Japanese
would be shy and that many wouldn’t speak English,
or wouldn’t want to speak English with a foreigner.
But that was not my experience at all.
All of us – even mom – quickly developed a very
real sense of feeling comfortable and capable here
I suspect that a lot of this “comfort” came from
the calmness that seems to emanate from the
Japanese people. They never seem harried
or stressed or anxious … and it is not
like they aren’t busy …
Japan is one of the most technologically advanced
places in the world. They text and surf and talk
on their cell phones in high-speed trains and in subways.
There are incredible modern skyscrapers in most
major cities, vending machines for almost everything,
subways and super fast trains to and from every
part of the country and high tech gadgets for sale
But amid all of this hustle and bustle and
technology, the Japanese incorporate tradition and
customs and culture into many, many aspects
of everyday life.
As you walk down a residential street you see
small shrines where you will find incense and
offerings. Or you might find a traditional cloth
“sign” hanging in front of a shop or restaurant.
I think that it’s the balance that the Japanese
have seemed to find, between the old and the
new, that makes it all work.
There is a respect for one’s self and one’s
environment as well as one’s peers and one’s
elders that I haven’t experienced anywhere.
You quickly notice a general sense that
everybody is at ease.
All is in harmony.
I always knew that I would get to Japan one day.
It had been very high on my “list” for a long
time. I don’t know why it was, it just was.
There is nothing in my ethnic or cultural
makeup that should incline me towards
Japan or things Japanese. I know a few
Japanese people but none I can call
So why the pull towards Japan? I’m not sure.
But having been there I can say that I enjoy
immersing myself in the Japanese culture so much …
that my excitement to return is even greater than
before my first visit.
I took an almost instant liking to Japan. It was
clean and neat and people were respectful and
helpful and kind – and I felt all of this within the
first few hours of arriving there.
Then we all went on to have some of the best meals
of our lives, watched the Japanese partake in one of
their most revered rituals, slept, ate and chanted at a
monastery and learned that Japanese woman are not
as demure as we thought they were.
And so very much more …
So, should you be nervous about going to Japan? I
think you can let that go right now … here’s why …
My Mother isn’t even nervous about Japan … so I
guarantee you will feel right at home too.
That’s all for now …
In my next email I’ll tell you all about sakura
and hanami. Hint – it all has to do with cherry
CLICK HERE To learn everything about our Japan
Cherry Blossom Trip from March 31 to April 16, 2012
and book your spot to accompany me.