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Our first impressions of Japan

Posted by on December 22, 2012

Quiet. Polite. Helpful. …Elusive?

These are our initial impressions after arriving in Osaka, Japan.  Please let me explain…

With our first steps off the plane and into the Osaka airport, the quietness was noticeable. Christmas music was playing very softly (more on that in another post) and people spoke in hushed tones as we made our way through the terminal. As I shuffled along, bemused by a quietness rarely seen in bustling airports, I noticed something that has stuck with me ever since:  a large, vibrant, Japanese animé sign on the tarmac, warning caution to workers who climbed a large ladder. The contrast of the loud, colorful sign against the subdued atmosphere was striking to me.

Happily, our journey through the airport was uneventful (ie, we got our bags without incident) but it did inform our initial impressions of how quiet, polite, and helpful the Japanese people are. They eagerly helped us tired, weary foreigners (for we’d been traveling for 24 hrs and looked like it) figure out which train we needed, and we climbed aboard gratefully. Once we had settled into our seats, my eyes scanned the length of the car in observation (ie, I’m nosy) and at once I noticed how the black trench coats and beige overcoats blurred together in a sea of neutrals until my eyes stopped on the most colorful thing aboard…

Me. And my orange suitcase. Without saying a word, I was the loudest thing there.

In and of itself, this color scheme (or lack thereof) is not unlike what you might see in parts of Europe, with their penchant for black fashion and neutral tones. But combined with the palpable quiet (no one talking on cell phones, for that is rude), the demure atmosphere, and the politeness as people nodded to one another in greeting, it defined this first experience as quintessentially Japanese for me.

That said, as we got closer to Osaka city, a young Japanese woman got on the train with her black and white striped skirt, red jacket, and multicolored, uniquely patterned purse. I got excited. I’d like to know her. For she, just like that animé caution sign, provided a quick glimpse of the colorful energy that exists in Japan, but which is often hidden behind the facade of conservative neutrals.

It is this colorful Japan (from animé, to Kabuki theatre, to the geisha in Gion) that I yearn to experience, but I fear will remain elusive on such a brief trip. For it takes time, and relationships with the people, for a foreigner to scratch beyond the surface and really experience Japan. I think that holds true when visiting any foreign country, but even moreso in a land where I can’t understand the written characters (much less the spoken language). There is so much more to Japan than my foreign eye can see…I am intrigued!

So, Japan, when we have more time and an insider’s help, we will be back. I cannot wait! Until then, we’re off to see what you are willing to show us in a mere 2.5 days…

One Response to Our first impressions of Japan

  1. Kim

    I am intrigued by your introduction to Japan. It reads like the opening of a great story…I, too, want to know that woman in the red jacket! Thanks for sharing your insights..

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