Castles and Maple Trees in Japan
Castles and Maple Trees in Japan
Castles and Maple Trees in Japan

Typically, I don’t visit museums or book guided tours while traveling because I don’t like to feel constricted. That sort of structure just isn’t me.

Ironically, tours and museums are just about all I experienced this week during a press tour through central Japan (read about it on GoNOMAD.com, where I’m a staff writer: www.gonomad.com/103554-rich-culture-breathtaking-beauty-in-central-japan).

For those who don’t know, press tours are usually hosted by tourism boards to promote specific regions.

My time in central Japan was, literally, a week straight driving from one place to another listening to a translator interpret from local guides.

By the end I just couldn’t absorb any more information. My brain reached overload. The closest analogy I can think of to how I felt is if you take a banana peel and throw it, hard, against your refrigerator.

I felt like the refrigerator.

Don’t get me wrong: the trip was fantastic! That region of Japan, around Nagoya, is amazing. It has such rich, deep, historic, culture. And the natural landscape is breathtaking! Not to mention the many ancient castles.

Okazaki Castle in central Japan

Okazaki Castle in central Japan.

The view from Asuke Castle in central Japan

The view from Asuke Castle in central Japan.

The grounds around Asuke Castle in central Japan

The grounds around Asuke Castle in central Japan.

See what I mean? Stunning. And that’s an understatement! There’s absolutely no other place in the world that I’ve seen with trees so vibrantly red.

Beautiful.

And the culture is beautiful. It just took me a little while to appreciate.

Of all the countries I’ve been to, I found Japan difficult to get a handle on. That’s because the culture is quietly deep. It’s a place you’ve just gotta exist in for a while to appreciate.

Central Japan

Sitting in a historic inn.

Life in Japan is minimal. The architecture is calculated and plain, dating back thousands of years. Clothing is based on tradition. At first glance, everything seems to be simple (except for the food!).

But that’s just on the surface. Underneath is a complex and hierarchal world of strict social norms. School children dress in uniforms; servitude and respect are honorable; everything has a purpose, and has a specific order; work is put on a pedestal.

Or at least that’s the way I perceived it to be (of course, my perception is that of a western tourist).

I found it difficult to really understand what Japanese people value because everything is just so different from my home world – expectations, spiritual beliefs, social standards, etc.

A shrine in central Japan

A shrine in central Japan

Japanese maple trees in Asuke, Japan

Japanese maple trees in Asuke, Japan.

It wasn’t until near the end of my trip that I realized why the tours were so structured, and more completely grasped the difference between our cultures.

Japanese people travel in a regimented, hierarchal, and strict way, simply, that reflects their culture. I’m the exact opposite, a reflection of my own culture: disorganized; random; abstract; wandering.

That came as a welcome realization to me. After that I began observing my tour guide, and paying more attention to how the trip was structured.

It was a way into the culture.

I stepped back, away from my own culture. And, in a small way, I embraced that of Japan. When I did, and as someone who isn’t organized at all, I found the order refreshing.

The tour schedule was detailed down to the minute. We rushed from one place to the next packing in a huge amount of experiences in a short amount of time. It was the most productive week I’ve had in a while.

Right now, I’m writing this from an airport in Detroit, getting ready to make my last hop to Boston, where I’ll drive a few hours home. On Monday I’ll head back to my day job.

When I do, I hope to take a few lessons from Japan with me. Maybe I’ll become a little bit more organized.

Weaving straw baskets in central Japan

Weaving straw baskets in central Japan.

Nagoya, Japan

Nagoya, Japan.

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