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Life lessons I learnt whilst travelling in Japan

Hello everyone! I'm really happy to be sharing all the life lessons I learnt during my trip to Japan two years ago. In this article, I really want to highlight how travelling can offer so many learning experiences if you remain open and if you let yourself go with the flow in the diverse culture!

(Something to clarify before I start: when I write the "Japanese", I don't want to stereotype or generalise in any case. Every Japanese person is different and has different attitudes and values. It's just a way for me to speak about trends I noticed in Japan. Thanks for understanding!)

Trusting rules over mistrusting

We'll start with one of my most beautiful memories of Japan:

I was trying to find my "Airbnb" apartment I booked, but I didn't have an exact address or any photos of the outside, only a photo of a bike.

So when I saw a similar bike next to a house, I thought it was the right place: I opened the front gate, walked through the garden, went inside the house, took my shoes off, started to walk around inside and finally realised that something wasn't quite right...

When I saw some photos hanging on the wall of a family and somebody snoring in one of the rooms, I realised that this was not the right place and I entered somebody else's house by mistake!

I finally found the right place by asking someone in the street, but I did feel quite embarrassed about it! I found out later that it was very common for Japanese people to leave their front door open, because they're very trusting towards others.

This contrast really stood out to me! Because it's totally the opposite with my neighbours in France. They have all bought guard dogs to make sure that no thieves could go in.

That really made me think about what security means: it isn't absolute. It's up to us to find the balance between trusting others completely and being careful, without always being scared and paranoid.

Note: I've just read a book this morning, and according to some studies, trusting our relatives is one of the most important elements of finding happiness. Interesting...

Not being scared of silence and being alone

In Japan, being silent and feeling at ease with silence is a sign of respect for those around you, you shouldn't feel awkward! Even though in our western culture, we do have a tendency to speak very quickly (in fact, of not letting others finish their sentence), often to avoid this "awkward" silence.

Likewise, it's very common to see Japanese people doing activities alone (going to leisure parks, restaurants... ). Whereas in Paris (in my case), the majority of people feel embarrassed to go to a restaurant alone.

For example, once I went to have breakfast alone to try a new recipe in a restaurant I like, and when the woman realised that I was alone, she said to me: "But are you sure you don't want to invite anyone else? It's sad to eat alone!" And I think that's a good example of the image western people tend to have.

You shouldn't be afraid of being judged. Spending time with yourself is completely normal and it's a wonderful experience! Don't depend on anyone else to be able to do the things you love.

Don't do things half-heartedly, do them with all your might

I had to ask for help several times, mainly for directions, because the address system in Japan isn't clear to me. Most of the time, I asked them where I had to go to find "x", and they would offer to accompany me to the destination. And sometimes, I didn't even have to ask, because some Japanese people saw that I looked lost and asked me directly if I needed help.

Another example would be when I was in a supermarket, trying to find some vegetarian meals.

To save time looking around this huge supermarket I didn't know, I simply asked an employee if there were any vegetarian things.

He looked very flustered and asked for help from one of his colleagues. Then, they both started to roam around the whole shop for around 15 minutes (I'm not exaggerating, they really took their time, just for me).

In the end, one of the employees brought me a basket with all the ingredients to make a Japanese vegetarian meal, using tofu. I felt so grateful and embarrassed at the same time because of the time and energy they dedicated to helping me, I admit that I'm not normally used to that in France!

Food is a blessing, we should all be grateful for it

One thing which surprised me in Japan, is their habit of taking a photo of almost all their meals. Whether it's for their Instagram account or for a personal diary, it really shows an unconditional love for food. But, in fact, I discovered that it goes beyond "food porn".

As a matter of fact, the Japanese say, "itadakimasu" before starting to eat and they finish by saying, "gochisamadeshita".

"Itadakimasu" comes from Japanese routes of Buddhism, which teaches you to respect all living beings. This reflection is heard over mealtime in the form of acknowledging the plants, the animals, the farmers, the hunters, the chefs and everything which is served up in the meal.

The core of the "ikadakimasu" ritual is gratitude and reflection, even if it's only for a second. In this perspective, starting a meal with "itadakimasu" implies that you're going to finish all your meal.

And the same thing applies when you've finished eating: "gochisamadeshita" could be translated as "thanks for the feast".

Selflessness: be aware of your environment and respect it

The Japanese are really careful at keeping things clean, they respect their environment and understand that they're not alone. Each and every one of our actions has its consequences! Whether it's about not throwing out rubbish, non-passive smoking, or being quiet when you move around in order not to disturb others... they think collectively, and that's good.

Free yourself from others' judgement

Whether it's in public baths or changing rooms at the swimming pool, the Japanese (of the same sex) often get naked in front of others. In front of many strangers, that could be difficult! But in the end, I think that it makes us more human, closer and more connected to one another.

For me, it was the first time that I got naked in an "onsen" (hot public baths) in front of other people.

The first time I got naked in a public place, completely naked for that matter! And strangely, I felt at ease and free. I even forgot that I was naked!

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure

For a few days in a row, every morning I heard an alarm going off in the neighbour's house with an announcement. I drifted back to sleep when it stopped. It woke me up every time because I didn't know if it was a seismic alarm or not! With time, I was finally able to recognises a few words and understand what it was saying. An alarm to warn you of the danger of heatwaves!

Another example: the bus drivers. When they're about to turn around, they tell you out loud! They makes sure we're stable and hold onto the bar in order not to fall, even if it's a slight bend. I was really surprised because I have never heard of this in Paris!

Integrity: what you have is enough

Something to note for people visiting Japan (and which always has the same outcome): if you have forgotten or left something somewhere, don't worry, you'll find it again. I've never heard of anyone stealing in Japan! Of course, I'm not saying that it can't happen, but (compared to the people who live in Paris), it's really rare.

For example, one of my friends left her bag in a Starbucks, with her money, passport and all her documents inside... Luckily, she noticed it was missing 4 hours later: she quickly went back to Starbucks, and although the restaurant was packed, no one was sat at the table where she had left her bag, and no one had touched it!

We can take many life lessons from this story, but I think it would be interesting to relate it to integrity: all your possessions are enough, you don't need to steal from others.

What's done is done

Another thing the Japanese tend to worry about is sorting the rubbish (which is a really good thing!).

In my opinion, we're not that educated on this matter in France, and the laws are no longer that strict (not enough anyway). In the streets in Paris, for example, we often don't have bins for each type of waste, there's no way to sort it or recycle it (even though I know it's changing, it's not the case for the majority of recycling stations).

But in Japan, it's really important and it's considered "fundamental". They don't even complain about it because it's considered normal. They do it directly, like robots, without even thinking.

I know lots of people around me who think that it's a boring chore and they'd like to avoid it at all costs. So, they consider sorting rubbish lower on their list of priorities or it doesn't even come to mind, and they put everything in the same rubbish bag.

Once again, the Japanese think collectively. It's a good reminder: it's important to change our perspectives and rethink our "chores" and what "boring" actually means. That makes us think about the reason why we must do certain things. And if no one did it? What would the world come to?

Thank you for reading, I hope you have learnt something!

One last thing: if you love these types of articles and way of thinking, don't forget to take notes when you go travelling (and I mean all the time, as soon as you see something different or surprising, note it down!) It's so enriching, and it allows us to take life lessons from it. Until next time!

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