It is famous for the majestic Mt. Fuji, its traditional meals, its obedient school children, and the ever-crowded subways and streets of Tokyo. This is Japan, a small country with the population of 125,000,000 rich in culture and history.
At first, driving along the roads and past buildings, Tokyo looks like any American city, but after examining it closely one finds it very different. It is a shock to see men in business suits, old ladies, and mothers with children strapped to their backs, riding amid traffic on bicycles. Many cannot afford cars. Others ride the subway. During rush hour the subway is so crowded one can literally be lifted off the floor by other people pushing and shoving to crowd in before the doors close. Getting out is a bigger problem. If you are not careful you can easily be run over and pushed out. A girl I was traveling with fell, and her shoe was kicked off and fell down into the tracks. What amazed me was that the next day, her shoe was found and returned. That would never happen in New York!
Many children also ride the subway to and from school. In Japan all children must attend school and all must wear uniforms. Most of us cringe at the thought. Walking into a Japanese school is strange at first. All you see is person after person wearing the same shirt, skirt, or pants. It is a bit overwhelming. The children also take off their shoes and wear school slippers in school. Meals in most schools are prepared and served by children. No one may eat before everyone has been served and students clean up after each other. After school was out, they took us to a broom closet and handed us rags and mops. We were then expected to assist them in cleaning the school! They were shocked when they learned that American children do not clean the school themselves, do not wear uniforms, buy their own lunch, and are allowed to wear their shoes in school.
In all Japanese homes shoes are removed before entering the house. The interesting thing about Japanese homes is the bedroom. Most times, unless it is a hotel, there is no bed. The floor is made from rice fibers and woven into mats, called tatami. The bed is a large fluffy pillow with a large over stuffed blanket. The futon, as it is called, looks like an overstuffed sleeping bag, but is much more comfortable.
In a traditional Japanese meal, sitting on a cushion at a low table is customary. It was difficult for all of us at first, being so used to chairs. The food is served in many courses and meals usually last a long time. Sashimi, a term for raw fish, is a great delicacy in Japan. I had some trouble with that! Sushi, filled with raw tuna, and tempura, fried fish and vegetables, are also popular. Rice is served at every Japanese meal including breakfast. The rice is sticky in consistency to make it easier to eat with chopsticks. Our meals took so long because eating with chopsticks took us forever to finish!
I never thought of Japan as a place f ?or a vacation or sightseeing until I went there. Mt. Fuji is one of Japan?s greater known sights, but theater, music, and art are also things to see. Kabuki theater is the most popular form of theater in Japan. To Americans it would seem very strange. The acting is melodramatic and the colorful makeup and costumes would seem out of place to American theater goers, but combined with the Japanese music and chanting, the effect was exceptional.
Many museums in Japan contain both western and eastern art. Some common forms of Japanese art were oragami, flower arrangements, ivory carving, and silk weaving. The Japanese also hand-paint porcelain dolls and dress them in silk kimonos. Most tourists, like us, by these and bring them back to the United States.
Japan was really different than any other place I had ever been. It was a bit of a shock at first, but after getting to know the people, learning how to eat with chopsticks, and mastering the subway system it didn?t seem very different at all.