As someone who likes to think of themselves as decently well-traveled, I have never felt so out of place or so far from home than when I was in Japan. However, what I can clearly say is that the country was absolutely phenomenal and in some ways completely indescribable. After a thirteen hour flight, 42 Boothies landed in Tokyo to experience what Japan had to offer. While the group as a whole got to visit a number of cities including Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nara, Hakone, Tokyo, I found myself recalling specific occasions more than specific cities.
Stepping off the plane, Japan felt like an entirely different planet, but that could be because it was my first time in Asia proper. Tokyo in particular feels like stepping into a sci-fi movie, where you are surrounded by hundreds of people in dark suits rushing about their day. Stimuli in every way, shape and form constantly surrounds you, from an immense amount of human activity at the Shibuya crossing, to maid cafes where you are referred to as “master” in the anime-capital Harajuku. A visit to the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku truly brings all that together with an absurd, larger than life robot show which really drives it home that Japan is nothing that what you may have ever experienced before.
In stark contrast, Kyoto and Osaka had more traditional atmosphere, and our time there was spent visiting serene, ancient sites. One of my favorite things of the entire trip was visiting a traditional farm-to-table restaurant in a cul-de-sac in a residential part of rural Kyoto. Here we sampled the top-grade “legendary” Japanese wagyu beef and then, were able to exercise it off by doing a twenty minute hike up a mountain to a monkey park where macaques roam freely and you get a spectacular view of Kyoto.
What also struck me was that visiting Japan was way more challenging than any other country I’ve been to without having a native speaker accompanying you constantly. Yet the politeness, generosity and patience of each person you meet can take you aback, especially if you are an American living in an urban city. You are greeted everywhere you go with a bow and sent off with a thanks. Even the subway transit conductors will turn around and bow every time they move from train cart to train cart. Try getting the Chicago Metra folks to do that.
Shout out to Yoko Ushioda and Yala Su for organizing a life-changing trip. The Boothies return to Chicago with a greater appreciation of the diverse offerings Japan holds while recognizing that while the country has it all, it could do with a few more English speakers.