Japan is one of the first countries I had always dreamed of visiting. As a kid, I remember watching all these short documentaries about Japan on TV that were frequently shown on this local channel in the Philippines. It would talk about the cherry blossoms, the festivals, their special cuisine and the beautiful places of interest. I was a big fan of these documentaries that greatly influenced my interest in this country.
I finally got to visit it in October 2009 to see my Japanese friend, Yoshie. I met her back in my voluteering days in the Philippines. She was working in Tokyo then for The Red Cross and was living in Shinjuku. She was kind enough to let me stay at her place and to serve as my guide.
While in Tokyo, I took the time to see the city by myself during the days when my friend was working. I purchased a bilingual guide and asked my friend to write down the names of the places and subway stations in Japanese for me. It also helped to know a few words and phrases in Japanese when I was going around the city on my own.
I was surprised to find that the people are all so polite and so helpful. I remember once at the subway station, I was trying to figure out where I was supposed to go and one very nice woman approached me and asked me if I needed some help.
One of the best parts of the Tokyo trip for me was watching a Kabuki Show on my own. It was a long queue to get in and I was in line with only old Japanese people who didn’t speak English. All the while I was queuing, I was alternately reading a book or writing in my journal. One of the old ladies in the queue got really curious and started talking to me in Japanese. The young Japanese lady close to us kindly translated and I found out she wanted to know whether I was a student and from which country I came from.
Before coming to Japan, I had the impression that the people are reserved and xenophobic. But I was surprised to find that they were all so polite, so kind and so nice to foreigners.
Another first time for me in Japan was getting all naked inside the onsen. I grew up in a very conservative culture and I was not used to walking around naked even in the presence of women. It also didn’t help that I’m extremely self-conscious, but I got the hang of it after a while. It felt so relaxing to be bathing in the thermal waters out in the cold autumn air.
In Kyoto, I saw The Festival of the Ages with my friend, dined in a very nice Japanese restaurant where we made our own tofu, saw the amazing temples, visited the bamboo forest, walked down a place called Philosophy Street, had matcha tea facing a beautiful bonsai garden, and had some photos with the maikos trying to cross the street. But honestly, I think I didn’t do enough, so I think I am definitely go back.