In March, Les Canter traveled to Japan with an intimate group couples. During their trip, the group visited the gardens of Tokyo, attended traditional kabuki theater shows, marveled at the Inner Shrine of Ise, and woke up at the crack of dawn to visit the famous Tsukiji Fish Market and watch the daily Tuna Auction.
In our first Traveler Dispatch, Les shares his experience visiting a country that has long been a dream and reminds us of why we travel.
I have always loved Eastern cultures and been particularly fascinated by Japan. Something about it emanates grace and humility, strength and dedication. A society that has endured not one but two atomic bombs and retained its distinct culture and identity merits a deep dive. Growing up, Japan meant Sony. I remember my first Walkman and how people would stare at me, with my little foam headphones and paperback book-sized blue player, as I listened to cassette tapes while staring at the surf on the beach. Later my dedication to Sony stuff cost me as I chose Betamax over VHS, but sushi came to mainstream America at about the same time, so all was forgiven. I never lost my dream of visiting Japan, and recently, my dream came true.
Immediately upon arrival in Japan I noticed a difference. It was subtle. What was it? Little things. There were lines at immigration, but unlike most other places, no one tried to cut or gain an advantage over anyone else. Order and calm was obvious.
A shiny taxi and dignified driver, dressed in black suit and tie, white shirt and gloves, wearing a captain’s hat, took us to our hotel in downtown Tokyo. Being an Aman, we were not shocked to see the entire welcome area bowing and welcoming us. When we finished dinner that night, our small group walked out to get into our van, and as we shut the door we noticed our wait staff and the chef standing properly side by side, hands at their sides. As the van began to move they bowed in unison and began waving and smiling, telling us, “Arigatou,” as we rolled away. What was that? Something was different here. They seemed genuinely honored that we had come to visit their restaurant and they showed that with their good-bye gestures.
I went to the hotel gym the next morning and after my workout I was met at the door by an attendant. She thanked me for coming to the hotel gym by bowing and opening the door for me. I thought that was it, but she followed me to the elevator, pressed the button for me, watched as I entered the cab and then, when the doors were about to close, she bowed and held the bow until the doors were completely closed. What a way to start the day. My immediate thought: “This place is awesome!”
There was no litter. Anywhere. One time I saw someone on the street accidentally drop a piece of paper. The person following her stopped, picked the paper up, and walked to a trash can to dispose of it. Little things.
Time and time again and without fail, grace, humility, and genuine appreciation were exhibited by the Japanese people, wherever we went. The taxi drivers who all wore the same formal outfits, the uniformed men carefully tending to the manicured trees in the parks, the staff at the restaurants and hotels, the people in the shops and on the street--everyone had this energy that seemed to say, “I am proud of my homeland and I am happy that you came to visit it.”
We boarded our flight heading home and after the tractor pushed the jet back away from the gate, I peered out the window to say, “Goodbye," to this wonderful, fascinating place. My eyes wandered down to the little tractor and crew of three men who work on the tarmac moving heavy jets about all day long. They were standing properly side by side, hands at their sides, in front of their little tractor, just out of the way of the plane’s path. As the plane began to taxi, they bowed in unison, held the position for several seconds, returned to attention, and then began waving profusely to the plane. I knew that they were not only waving at the plane but also at the pilots and crew and at all of us on board. They were proud of their jobs, of their country, and of their shared Japanese heritage.
I left Japan with a huge smile on my face. Not everyone gets it. But I did, and I loved it! Arigatou Gozaimasu, Japan!