My first ever glimpse of Japan is mingled with pure fascination: Each single patch of land seems to be built on here! Spotting the island nation from high above in my window seat is watching the gently undulating, forest-clad hills rise above a “sea” of man-made building structures, only to rise as an island from the real sea altogether. I find it to be somewhat overcast here (a misty day or actually smog, I wonder?), as we land right above the water: The runway literally starts a 100 metres away from the harbour wall here at Kansai International Airport. “Welcome to Japan, the outside temperature is 6°C …!” Oh yes. Back to winter it is! But it is nice and cosy inside the terminal building – thank God I can take my time getting used to northern hemisphere climate again after all the lovely New Zealand sunshine. 😉
I take a deep breath and soak up all the magic. The noises, the language, the signs, the people all around me: I am really and truly the only European here! Bursting with emotions, I start talking to myself, in my own dialect of my very own native mother tongue, the only linguistic companion in those rather lonesome first few moments. Since nothing much is making sense just yet, only other Asian people around me talking the most bizarre languages, having like me arrived to Osaka, Japan on this flight from China.
People here are sooo friendly. Respect is truly written all over their faces. I happily share whatever works best across all human beings: Smiles. And lots of them!
Right from the beginning, one of the clichés we all have about Japan is utterly confirmed: People here are not only friendly, but also extremely polite. I get the feeling that it is almost embarrassing to the customs officer to go through my luggage, with the apologetic look he is wearing. For a split second, I am alert in my world of wonders: What if the Chinese have put something into my luggage back over there transiting through Guanghzou in Southern China ?? But no, all good, I am allowed to travel on peacefully. And peaceful is what it is here: Nobody yells, nobody screams, no one is in a hurry, everyone is just so … DELICATE, I shall say. In words same as in gestures. Most people I see here wear a mouth protection, adults as much as children. Fascinating. Walking on, watching in absolute wonder like a girl (but with a plan and an iPhone in hand!), I walk over to the “MK Skyway” airport desk which should have my shuttle to Amherst Guest House at Doshisha University of Kyoto ready waiting for me.
It is here where I am invited to speak in front of the UNESCO Kyoto Creative City Committee the day after. Exciting!
Everything goes as planned. My name is on the list. All set up and organised by my team here in Japan. Off we go then. Again, I have to smile. The ride is being announced to me as taking about two hours. Do I still need to use the toilet? May I carry your luggage for you? My driver, a young guy in what I guess his early twenties, insists ever so gently. We start making our way to the shuttle. A wave of cold air hits me as we go outside, but I am well prepared thanks to my layers of New Zealand Icebreaker shirts & jacket (thank you, clever Kiwis!). Once more, I smile facing the elements – ha! And we wait … and wait, three minutes easily. In front of a pedestrian crossing that maybe has three cars go by, but whose red light bids us to stop. Again, fascinating. Honestly, I know no other place in the world where people would not have crossed long ago, including myself. Japanese seem to be even more respectful of the rules than the notoriously squared Germans and/or Austrians!
A little later, we drive off: No hurry, no worry. Peaceful & quiet, as seems to be the rhythm here in this part of Japan.
All cars go on the left hand side of the street like in New Zealand (the English seem to have left their mark pretty much everywhere in the world), the maximum speed limit I observe is 80km/h, with traffic running smoothly & orderly. The most important street signs are all bilingual, but most of these place or street names (except for Osaka, Kobe & Kyoto) don’t mean a thing to me. Do you read from left to right and/or from top to bottom? Some signs could be anything really. I take a look over at the vegetation growing alongside the highway. It appears to be mostly evergreen, parts of it even displaying light green foliage like in spring. Fascinating! How does this go with winter? In my head, I have a thousand questions – like usual, being the curious and open-minded world citizen I am. Yet I have to be patient. The young man at the wheel is so polite, he does not say a word and I do not want to “embarrass” him. Right at the beginning, I could not help myself but burst at him: “It is my first time in Japan you know! Everything is just so exciting!!” To which he, very politely, very friendly, just smiled and put on his white cotton gloves (!). And as we drove off, he murmured something in his walkie talkie. In Japanese, of course. Could be anything: “Man, I’ve got this young lady here from Austria, she’s kinda nice but keeps talking!”, all the way to “Yip, sweet as, I’m here at the airport ready to go, all passengers on board, leaving as scheduled.” Most likely, this is what he said. But you never know. And this, my dear readers, after all these months of perpetual talking and understanding in several languages across three different continents, is something that is NEW TO ME.
Welcome to Japan, dear Elena! 😉
PS: My first time … at a highway rest stop in Japan !!!
Okay guys. I will try and calm down right now. After all, everyone around me is just this: Forever calm and blasé, really. But I truly, honestly, think that my FIRST TOILET SITUATION here is just hilarious !!! Imagine this. Us stopping at some rest point along the way to Kyoto. Our driver, still all polite and dressed-up in his super white gloves, jumps out of the car in order to open the door for me and point me to the public toilets. But these are by no means the kind of disgusting public toilets you might imagine next to a highway anywhere else in the world, no no: Here in Japan, water trickles from a beautiful, man-made wooden fountain, gentle music plays in the background and … all TOILET SEATS ARE HEATED !!! I squeal with delight, thinking that back home, this surely only goes for comfy BMWs whose rather elderly owners like that – right?! (To use but another cliché). Not in Japan: “This toilet is fully automatically“, I read in English. And I do hardly dare sit down: Is water going to come and clean me and/or the toilet?!? What else may happen? Laughing out loud at myself, I have to suppress subsequent laughter back on the bus while stopping my happy tears from flowing. It is all in the flow, I would say. Once more, I am just happy.
LOVING JAPAN. Right from the start. 😀