Before going to Japan, I spent a lot of time contemplating and researching what Japan would be like and what I should expect. I heard all about the incredibly advanced technology that’s available. At the same time, I saw many examples of how they uphold traditions. Some of these expectations were met on my trip, some were not, and some discoveries were made for which I had no expectations at all.
While abroad, I saw many ways in which the Japanese people upheld traditional practices and values. Just as my previous research had me anticipate, traditional culture blended in many ways with their modern lifestyle. For example, it was perfectly common to see both men and women walk in traditional dress styles, such as kimonos. The Kebuki Theatre also displayed these values with the classic speech, dress, and acting employed. The day we attended a festival in Tokyo, with men in old styles of dress and shrines being carried just as they would have hundreds of years ago, I saw just how much respect the people had for their history. Upholding these practices wasn’t considered outdated, but rather enjoyed by people both young and old. Japanese traditional and modern culture don’t seem to fight each other, but rather blend seamlessly, just as I had been made to believe it would.
I did have some expectations that weren’t met, at least not to the extreme I thought they would be, though I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. When doing research on Japan, you hear all about the technology they have and the advancements they’ve made. You hear about the hologram concerts, the robots, the hands-free shopping centers. While I’m sure these do exist in Japan, though, they don’t seem to be integrated into people’s lives the way western media portrays it to be. Japan has incredibly efficient public transportation with the Shinkansen trains and the many local stations. The toilets have more gadgets and functions than you can imagine. And of course, the arcades were an experience. But walking through Fujisawa, Hiroshima, and Kyoto, I didn’t see the automated parking garages, people with gadgets or robots, or any holograms. For day to day life, even if more efficient, their daily technological interactions seem to be very similar to our own.
The part of Japanese culture I didn’t even know to expect was the attitude of the people. I knew that Japanese culture was very polite and respectful, but I didn’t know how genuinely kind the people would be. Now of course everyone is different and every country has both good and bad people, still their positive attitudes surprised and impressed me. For example, at the baseball game we attended in Tokyo, I never once heard the crowd boo or shout insults like at American games. If the umpire made what seemed like an iffy call, no one got angry or started yelling. When a batter was up, rather than shouts from opposing fans to distract or insult, cheers from their own fans were used to encourage. We were a big group and most of us didn’t speak Japanese. I’m sure we were often frustrating and difficult to deal with. But everywhere we went, they tried to help us as much as possible. I was nervous about going to Japan and annoying the natives, but they were so welcoming, it didn’t feel that way at all.
So if you do decide to go to Japan or another country, its good to do your research and prepare for your visit, but remember to be open-minded and ready for it to differ from your expectations.