Fukushima

When I say the word “Fukushima”, it’s probably safe to assume that most people, myself included, would think of the nuclear meltdown.  That raises a lot of questions about nuclear power.  Some people might ask, why would a country that was devastated by nuclear bombs in World War II attempt to harness nuclear power, especially when they knew how bad the damage could be?  However, it seems like people have started to realize that.  The only difference in opinions is how bad the situation is to begin with.

First, we met with two Fukushima prefectural officials, and they explained their plan to revitalize Fukushima.  They were kind enough to take time from their schedules to speak with us, and to give us postcards and other things that are native to Fukushima.  When asked about the nuclear radiation, they had said that most of the radiation was gone, and that it was safe to move back to Fukushima.

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The other nuclear expert that we spoke to was Koide-sensei.  He was a little more frank about his beliefs concerning the nuclear damage.  He believed that Japan had already done irrevocable damage to itself due to its use of nuclear power.  He wanted them to stop using nuclear power completely, but he wasn’t sure what sustainable resource could be used instead.

Sustainability is definitely a buzzword right now, and with good reason.  We don’t want to waste limited resources more than we already have.  That’s why I think the research being done to find alternatives to nuclear power is commendable.

Of Personal Bubbles and Pruned Bushes

A few days before I left, my brother warned me to leave behind my personal bubble, because I wouldn’t need it in Japan.  Little did I know how right he was.

Japan is cramped.  Between people being compacted into trains during rush hour to the capsule hotels to the narrow streets, it is very tight, and you don’t always have elbow room.  When we traveled out towards Kyoto, I realized that there were fields being preserved for farmland, explaining why the people in less urban areas didn’t spread out more.

However, what really surprised me was how efficiently every single space was used.  Some restaurants split their business between two floors, with one floor being the dining room, and the other floor being the kitchen, register, and waiting area.  One of the restaurants that we went to even placed their cooking area in the middle of the room, surrounded by counters where the customers sat.  And, honestly, after sharing a small room with Sasha, we realized we didn’t really need that much space to begin with.

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Because we were in many urban areas, we didn’t get much opportunity to see any parks.  The greenery that we saw was mainly confined to areas like Kinkaku-Ji.  From what we saw when we were out there, people would visit simply to enjoy the nature.  However, at the same time, this was very manufactured nature. People ensured that the trees were perfectly trimmed that no flowers were out of place on the bushes.  The nature that we experienced was very much like a garden.  Beautiful, but planned.

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I Feel Like a Kindergartener Again…

I guess this comes across as cocky now that I’ve said it, but I was pretty confident in my Japanese abilities before I left on the trip.  I mean, I was a beginner – there was no way to deny that.  But I had my phrases memorized, and I had constantly quizzed myself on hiragana, katakana, and some kanji.  I thought that I’d be able to at least read some signs or menus, and then ask either Armstrong or Takahashi-sensei what the words actually meant.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

Most of my language experiences involved me cycling through head nods, bows, “hai”‘s (“yes”‘s), and “wakarimasen”‘s (“I don’t understand”‘s).  This was mainly due to my lack of knowledge concerning kanji.  I found that meals turned into games of Russian Roulette if I didn’t ask one of the senseis what was in a certain dish.  Luckily, I only got one or two bad things (they had mayonnaise in them, yuck!).

However, my difficulty speaking the language led me to come to the realization that many of the Japanese people were in very much the same boat as me.  The hotels tended to have someone who spoke English, and a few of the more popular restaurants for tourists had English menus.  That was about it.  Despite English being a global language, it seemed that many of the Japanese people only knew a bit of it.  I believe that that shows how ingrained their language is in the Japanese people’s lives.

As for me, I’m going to devote myself to my Japanese studies and further build up my vocabulary and my knowledge of kanji.  That way when I return, I’ll actually know what I’m eating!!!

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Temples, Temples, Everywhere

One of the things that I noticed almost immediately when we got to Japan was that even amongst the sprawling cityscape, there were little traces of efforts to preserve Japan’s traditional culture.  Sasha and I were amazed to discover a little temple outside of our hotel room!

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When we were en route to Kyoto, it was really amazing to see things like this in more residential areas.  Traditional Japanese houses were mixed in with tall apartment buildings.  We saw a few more temples and shrines on our trip, including the famous Kinkaku-Ji, “The Temple of the Golden Pavillion”, and the oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-Ji.

It might be because it was around the beginning of the New Year, and it might have also been because of its status as a tourist destination, but Senso-Ji was PACKED.  Regardless of what direction we were walking in, we felt like we were salmon swimming upstream.  We saw a few women wearing their traditional kimono, and many people were rushing to wash their hands in the purification fountain near the shrine itself.

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Japan is moving forward at a rapid pace, there’s no denying that.  Technological developments such as faster shinkansens and robots that can perform different tasks are coming from Japan on a regular schedule.  However, I was impressed to see the efforts that have been taken to preserve temples and promote the preservation of the nation’s culture.