Japan: New-Found Respect Evident on Every Corner
By Norah Omar ’21
Japan is a country of fascinating culture, rich in traditions and quite alluring as natural beauty is bountiful. From Kyoto to the countryside to Tokyo, we immersed ourselves in all aspects of Japanese culture in June. We hiked along the ancient Nakesendo way from the Edo period and received every new breathtaking adventure or hike with enthusiasm and respect. But what was most intriguing was how the country, in turn, received us.
Japan opened our eyes to what respect and compassion can really look like in the daily lives of people. From small shops in rural Japan to the bustling city of Tokyo, there were never barriers such as language that proved difficult in trying to get to know another.
One student, Gianna Paroli ’19 was particularly impressed by the level of kindness she received and said: “The friendliness I was welcomed with was unlike any other. I had never traveled outside of the country before and was quite nervous about the language barrier and certain interactions, but it made me fall in love with the culture. I felt invited, accepted and welcomed back all in one.” There was always a mutual effort to understand one another, share the streets, appreciate surroundings, and take part in rich traditions.
Independence and uniqueness are valued in Japan as we discovered through aspects of the culture such as traditional clothing and the trending fashion, but the idea that one can gain as a whole citizenry or community was a whole new experience for us.
From the very start of our journey in Kyoto, the universal cleanliness was especially striking for us who attend school in America to wrap our heads around. The United States has a trash can on almost every street corner, store, and yet the trash we see piling up on the streets in the country is truly concerning. However, in Japan, we experienced a whole new norm in their society, to respect the cleanliness of the environment.
The whole citizenry takes it in their hands to uphold fundamental tasks that will keep
the country clean, which builds respect for the environment and each other. And us, as tourists made it our duty to adopt and abide by this set of morals. This we learned is done by not littering and respecting the absence of trash cans along with other environmentally friendly options such as biking, walking and recycling. We were told by our tour guide to fight the urge to litter, as it is viewed as disrespectful. It did not take long for us to really appreciate how not littering was such an integral aspect of Japanese culture.
One student, Sarah Kulig ’19, said, “ The idea that you should not only respect everyone you meet but also the environment around you was not something I had ever seen on such a widespread scale.” The Japanese have a tendency to share, and this was evident through their genuine care for their surroundings as we observed. We noticed how people are treated is reflected in treatment towards the streets and environment as well.
The immense consideration that the Japanese held for others and the environment was an all-encompassing experience and our group was in admiration of small actions that individuals could make to contribute to that.
While hiking the Nakesendo way, we came across many aged Shinto and Buddhist shrines. These shrines have existed for possibly centuries and are highly sacred religious structures. Our group would come across them in many unexpected areas including right by the road, to be on the hiking trail itself. What lay beyond the gates of these shrines was open to anyone who sought a spiritual cleansing. These shrines being able to remain one with nature for years on end was a beautiful sight, even though we only had a glimpse of this.
Again, we noticed how people share.
These spaces were meant to provide a cathartic experience through the peaceful vibe felt by the silence and Zen placing of all the structures. Though, our group was perplexed on what component, what standard kept these shrines quiet, clean, free from all disturbance?
There was only one quality that we could use which we realized allowed such places to remain as peaceful in its original beauty and that was respect. Possessing enough respect for the delicacy of nature and structures to not be violated. These shrines symbolized a larger part of Japanese culture where coexistence is possible without selfish intentions. Because when each person contributes through respect and consideration, the whole society can gain. And this revelation about the society in Japan was an unforgettable experience.
Our trip back to the U.S. was accompanied by bittersweet feelings of leaving this country that welcomed, respected and taught us so much about ourselves. However, we knew the qualities we picked up on in Japan would remain within us in our hopes to teach others about them.