Being one of the destinations I had always desired to visit, I was apprehensive that Japan might not live up to my high expectations. In many aspects, my expectations were exceeded. From the extreme, almost absurd cleanliness, to the absolute regard for aesthetic minimalism. Japan is a uniquely functional, polite and stunningly beautiful country. Of course, as with any society, under such outwardly apparent aspects, there lies many things which are more or less kept hidden. Having only ten short days of observation, I am well aware I hardly scratched the surface of a deeper and highly faceted sense of despair and xenophobia which many Japanese contend with. From such anecdotes as the Aokigahara “suicide forest” in the foothills of Mt. Fuji, where dozens choose a shorter path yearly (Read more if you’re mentally stable here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aokigahara) . Or the readily apparent exhaustion and submission of an overworked labor force one senses on an evening in the Tokyo subway. These and countless other darker issues exist in an outwardly welcoming and exorbitantly polite society.
Perhaps I am predisposed to a certain awareness of less observed, and admittedly darker aspects of certain places. This in no way to say Japan is not full of innumerable positive, and brighter countenances. The sense of satisfaction, and simple joy of a Japanese salaryman loudly slurping his lunchtime Ramen. Or the utmost preparation, and ritual that goes into the simple act of enjoying a cup of tea during a tea ceremony. It is easy to observe among the Japanese ,an imminent desire for personal enjoyment, and gratification. It sadly seems these desires for self fulfillment are often outweighed by a greater need to serve a highly organized and hierarchical economic and industrial overseer. This sense of responsibility and honor obviously stretch far back into Japanese history, and I would be misguided in either judging or opposing them. I’m simply trying to organize my observations on what was a stunning, depressing, and uplifting ten days.
Of course these observations may be patently naive, and I am quite aware of the downfalls inherent in attempting to understand such a complex society in a minute amount of time. Perhaps upon my inevitable future return I’ll be able to break through a few cultural barriers, which I have learned takes much time and patience. But for the time being, color me confused, intrigued, and content with my small whirlwind through what could by any account be the most unique country on Earth.