I absolutely adore Japan. And I am not the only one. More and more foreigners are becoming true Japan-o-holics. But where does this fascination with the land of the rising sun come from? What is so special about Japan anyway?
One of the most interesting things about Japan, at least to me, is that it is just so different. Even the smallest aspect of life becomes an adventure if you have no idea what to expect. The slogan of the Japan Tourism Organization captures this idea perfectly with three simple words: “Japan. Endless Discovery.”
Of course any foreign culture might make for an endless discovery. But in my experience, there is no culture quite as ‘different’ as the Japanese culture. Off the top of my head, I can think of two reasons why Japan feels even more different (to us Westerners) than other foreign cultures .
- Up until roughly 150 years ago, Japan had very little contact with the outside world. During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), foreigners were not allowed to enter Japan. This has given the Japanese culture the opportunity to develop independently of foreign influences for over 200 years, leading to a truly unique culture. I think the influence of feudal Japan can still be felt in today’s modern Japan.
- Japan is a first world country. Usually when Westerners think about cultures that are very different from their own, they imagine third world countries. And naturally we expect a third world country, that is already so different in terms of infrastructure, economy, etc., to have a very different culture as well. But to experience a severe culture shock in the midst of the comforts of modern-day Japan is quite something else.
Another thing that makes Japanese culture so fascinating is that it is a culture of subtlety and contradictions. In Japan, many things are not what they seem at first sight. That often makes it difficult to accurately describe or understand certain aspects of Japanese culture. But of course it also makes life in Japan very interesting (or frustrating, depending on your viewpoint). Living as a foreigner in Japan, just as you think you have something figured out, you encounter a new piece of information that defies your previous logic.
An additional reason for my fascination with Japan is the sheer amount of cultural expressions there are. There is ancient Japan with its temples, ladies in kimono and the age-old arts of tea ceremony, flower arranging and calligraphy. And then there is the colourful abundance of modern-day Japan filled with game centers, Harajuku girls and karaoke. Even as Japan starts to adopt more and more Western influences, the Japanese always find a way to transform these foreign elements and truly make them their own.
Perhaps after reading all of this, you are still mystified as to why I love Japan so much. Indeed the reality of life in Japan is difficult to describe. It is something that has to be experienced. This became most apparent when all of my visitors in Japan were baffled by the diversity and complexity of Japanese culture. And they all became fans, vowing to be back for more.