Memories of Japan - 30 years on...by Glenyce Johnson

 


Distinctive Japan…a country where for 200 years no-one went in nor out, it was closed to the outside world. My first visit was in 1986, and at that stage, my only Asian experience, I was a little unprepared for the lack of English which wasn’t widely found, the nudity of communal bathing and the penis worshipper’s festival, which appeared out of place in this conservative land.

However, I embraced their cultural difference and appreciated the generosity and kindness of the local people. I once asked in a barber shop for directions, he left his client half shaven to walk me 2 blocks. And I will never forget a night in a remote local bar, come restaurant a combination of sign language and charades, flapping our arms to signify chicken we ordered a tasty meal. We could only afford one beer, hence we shared a long neck. Half way through dinner another beer arrived, and we attempted to send it back, however it was gestured the man at the bar who was making his way out the door had paid for us. I wish I could thank him for his kindness.


Nothing much has really changed since 1986, however noticeable is the introduction of coffee, French delicacies (patisseries), and a little more English. The Japanese people were as proud as I remember them. Even catching a train where the two-minute interval between the arriving and departing, the cleaning staff immediately spring into action, wiping all surfaces including the windows, then stepping off the train to form an orderly line to wave and farewell the ongoing passengers.


Japan has a uniqueness, the land of Cherry Blossom, the bullet train, Geisha beauties, the department stores full of the most impressively wrapped gifts and immaculately presented foods, not forgetting the manicured gardens without a blade of grass out of place. Electric Town, a corner block of incredible brightness with every possible colour making the night lighter than day, is, as its name sake suggests, Electrifying!


My highlight on this return visit 30 years on, was the sparsely populated Island of Shikoku. Shikoku is way off the beaten track and a window into Japan's rural past. It is a wonderful introduction to many aspects of traditional Japan, with its farming villages, samurai castles, orange groves, craft workshops, mountain scenery - and the most startling Shinto shrine in the whole country.


Shikoku is perhaps most famous for its pilgrimage tour, the 88 Sacred Temples. It is the dearly held ambition of almost all Japanese people to complete a circuit of the island at some point in their lives, following in the footsteps of the country's greatest saint, the revered Kobo Daishi. This was certainly the attraction for me. I feel blessed to have called on 28 of those impressive temples, each with its own character.


However, for me, Shikoku will also be another reminder of the local generosity. One lady stepped out her front door with a wide smile and basket full of mandarins. Another coffee shop owner gathered her family possessions of antiques bags and fans and insisted we took them as a memento. There is still plenty to discover in this exceptional part of the world to keep me coming back.

 

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