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BellaNaijarian Kemi O. Shares 7 Lessons From Her Exciting Culture Trip to Japan!

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Traditional Japanese dining attireFor a while, I’d been trying to get my Asian travel fix but between visa issues and other logistics, I had not been successful. However, the opportunity to join a group of my classmates on a trek/culture trip to Japan presented itself and I immediately indicated interest. Although I had a conflicting event in Boston, I chose to go to Japan because well, there’s always Boston ๐Ÿ™‚

The 9-day trip covered 5 cities โ€“ Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama, Nara and Hiroshima โ€“ as well as a quick stop at Japanโ€™s highest mountain, Mount Fuji, several UNESCO World Heritage Sites spread across the country.

I can confidently say that I made the right decision because my Japan experience was nothing short of transformative and mind-opening. I will attempt to capture the major highlights and main reflections from the trip. Words won’t do justice but I will try (done is better than perfect, right?)

Unparalleled hospitality
The Japanese have to be the hosts with the mosts (whatever that means, it just sounds good to me… Hahaha)Starting from the 5 classmates that hosted us, to every service provider we encountered – cab drivers, hotel/hostel staff, chefs, waiters, immigration officials, train station staff, etc – we were treated with unbelievable warmth and kindness. Gosh!

Everyone was polite and profusely thankful. โ€˜Arigato gozaimasu’ which means ‘thank you very much’ has to be the most used phrase in that country. For example, at the train station, there was usually a station attendant who thanked everyone (locals and foreigners) who went through the ticket reader! At first, I thought it was a one-off occurrence but I observed this every single time I was at any train station.

At restaurants, our entry was greeted by a warm welcome by all the staff (who were alerted by either a bell at the door or someone announcing that new customers have arrived) and our exit was greeted by another round of (you should know this by now), arigato!Japan kanpai-24

At the UNESCO site

The joy when you find agbado in a foreign land

Our hosts (remember these guys are our classmates, not professional travel agents or tour guides) were exceptional. In addition to organizing an incredible trip covering countless historical sites across many cities, they personally attended to each person’s special needs. It was so humbling for me to see my classmates serve us. Due to the language constraints, they never let us wander off without one of them guiding us. Every day, they woke up before the rest of the jet-lagged/wasted crew and ensured everything was set for the day, and they went to bed last as well, ensuring everyone was home safe from crazy nights out. A lot of times, I could see they were clearly exhausted and just wanted to go sleep after dinner, but they would put aside their own need for sleep and still chaperone the folks who wanted to go for post-dinner drinks in the city.
My Japanese twin - at the Japan's Universal studios - home to most Samurai movies Japan Kanpai-380
I remember on one of the days, my faithful sunglasses decided to misbehave and I lost one of the screws. I casually told one of the hosts that I’d like to visit a sunglasses shop to get it repaired at some point. The moment we had the next break (about 45 minutes before dinner), instead of going to rest and catch his breath, he insisted on walking with me to the shop to get it fixed. It wasn’t urgent and I felt I could figure it out with Google maps, but he insisted and walked me to the store. And of course, in true Japanese hospitality style, they fixed my sunglasses for me for free!

I can go on and on about our hosts – they were extremely thoughtful and selfless. They put us, their guests, first in everything and found a way to accommodate all our different requests. And seeing how other people treated us and other guests in the various establishments across the different cities we visited, I’m convinced this is a Japan-wide phenomenon.

Balance
Japan is a perfect balance of Western sophistication and warm Eastern hospitality and cultural heritage. Nothing was over the top in Japan. Everything was modestly done, but excellently done as well. It felt like the best of both worlds – where everything works but people are not cold and machine-like.

Tokyo at night Toko bay The Golden Pavillion at Kinakuji temple - Kyoto The Golden Pavillion at Kinakuji temple - Kyoto 2 Todaji Temple - houses one of the biggest buddha statures Temple Sanjusangendo Temple - Home to a thousand Buddhas Panoramic view of Itsukushima shrine - Hiroshima
For every new neon skyscraper, there’s an ancient temple structure housing decades/centuries of history and cultural heritage. Even the fancy restaurants serve authentic local wine and brews and the national dish, sushi. Although they have fancy WC toilets that are heated and have tons of buttons (can you imagine what joy it is to sit on a warm seat on a cold winter day?), they also have traditional Japanese toilets available side-by-side these modern toilets.

Japan has managed to maintain that fine balance and show that you don’t have to trade off your heritage for development/advancement.

Serenity & Organized chaos
Japan is a peaceful and serene country. Streets were quiet and calm in all of the cities we visited. Despite the dense population, their train stations have to be the most quiet I’ve ever experienced. There are no loud people on the trains (well, except for us, but we adjusted quickly), no loud gum chewing, no loud phones ringing, no loud conversations on the phone or between people. Everything was serene! Even the busy crossings at major highway intersections never got clumsy/disorganized. Everyone moved in a straight line, stayed on their lanes, cars didn’t honk unnecessarily (they didn’t even need to), drivers indicated well in advance of their turns and stayed on the right lanes. In spite of this, people were willing to stop and answer questions or give directions if needed. So it was easy, efficient and organized, yet still humane!

My by-force selfie with a deer Efficiency for days
First sign of efficiency I experienced on getting to Japan was at the airport. It was the fastest immigration process I had ever gone through – from plane to luggage was about 20 minutes! I kept wondering if there was another process I had to go through after I got my passport stamped. For the first time, I saw all the 20+ immigration counters open and manned at an airport. Even in the most developed countries, you find extremely long immigration queues because only 4-6 counters are opened and I’ve wondered why build/equip 20 counters if you’re only going to use 5??!! The Japanese do it wayyyy better! And I didn’t have to wait for eternity for my luggage, it was waiting when I got out. For someone like me who loves to travel but doesn’t like airports (queues are a waste of time and all the nice shops at the airport are a huge temptation), the Japanese airport efficiency is a dream come true!

The great Torii - famous gate of the floating Itsukushima shrine - HiroshimaThis Japanese efficiency shines through in everything – the way the restaurants manage seating arrangements, the way the cabs queue at the right places (almost on every major corner so you don’t have to walk too far to get a cab), the way vending machines are a dime a dozen all over the city so you don’t have to go into a store to queue for just one can of coke or bottle of water, the way the escalators are designed in train stations (most only go up, and there are regular stairs to go down since it’s easier to walk down a flight of stairs) and so much more.

Testing out my samurai skills

Dignity of labour
The Japanese are not only efficient, they are also very hardworking. They take every job seriously and are always dressed properly. All the regular cab men (not Uber or fancy chauffeurs o) dress in suits. At first, I thought it was a Tokyo thing but in every city we visited, it was the same – a suit, white shirt and tie. You also find them cleaning their cars while they wait for passengers. You’d think they were chauffeurs to royalty.
Even the way the chefs prepare food is impeccable. The way they serve and present food is excellent. This is not limited to just nice restaurants but also to low-end local spots. I’m a picky eater and I’m usually put off by how food looks but I was so taken by the beauty of the food, the colors, the flavors, the aroma, the balance between cold and hot, the presentation, that I forgot a lot of my finicky ways. Every meal was a hit, back to back!

2 impeccably dressed taxi drivers waiting for passengers

2 impeccably dressed taxi drivers waiting for passengers

The commitment to excellence in everything they do was evident – from serving only fresh meals, sourcing the best ingredients, maintaining high levels of hygiene (hello hot towels at every meal), to courteous well-dressed staff at all service points, and English-speaking volunteers roaming at main metro stations to identify lost tourists and help them, just to mention a few examples.

Honesty
I knew the Japanese were kind and good-natured people but one particular encounter at a restaurant (food again? Yup!) blew my mind. We were at an ‘okonomi-yaki’ joint in Hiroshima and as usual, I was fascinated by the expertise the lady making the ‘pancakes’ displayed as she tossed veggies, cracked eggs and seasoned food like she was working with play dough.
That food glow Sushi boat

As a true Nigerian with a love for chilli, I’m always on the lookout for good chilli sauces (please don’t bring Tabasco near me) that I can use to spice up my food when I’m abroad. I tried one of the habanero (fancy name for ‘ata rodo’) sauces on the table and fell in love instantly. It was perfect! I sharply asked one of the hosts to enquire where I could buy the sauce from and the lady could see how excited I was about the sauce. She said she had one new bottle left and would sell it to me. Pause! At this point, I was suspicious. If it was my country (and a few other people at the table echoed the same thing about their own countries), my excitement would have instantly translated to a price premium being placed on that bottle of sauce, especially since no one at the table knew what the actual price was. However, this woman shocked me and everyone at that table. She brought out the sauce AND the original receipt from the grocery store where she had bought her supplies from. She showed us the wholesale price and said I should just pay that amount for the sauce. I was weak! She didn’t try to take advantage of my desperation and ignorance – she sold it to me at the exact price she bought it at. Who does that? Even if I had any reservations about Japan, that lady’s actions won me over!

Mount FujiOn the last day of the trip, our hosts even returned part of the initial deposit money to us because some exchange rate fluctuations had been in our favour. Everyone was excited to have extra cash but if they didn’t give it to us, we would never have known or bothered to check what the exchange rate was.

The few times I dropped my PassMo (a generic preloaded metro card similar to the UK’s Oyster card), someone would chase me down to return it to me, when they could have just kept it since there are no names inscribed on the card. The Japanese are honest people, period!

Bowling in style

All things Orange and Holy - yet another temple in Kyoto

In addition to these profound observations above, I also noticed a few quirky things:
โ€ข Their obsession with green tea (also known as matcha) is real. There’s green tea flavour of everything imaginable – milk shake, ice cream, chocolate, popcorn, nuts, noodles โ€“ you name it and there is a match flavour of it.

Green tea ice-cream

โ€ข Apart from my other Nigerian classmate on the trip, I was the only black person in sight for days, lol. I eventually saw about 5 more black people over the course of the 9 days I spent there. This made me wonder where my Naija brothers at? I thought there were Nigerians everywhere. In spite of being so obviously different, I never felt uncomfortable, stared at or treated weird (apart from the extra 3 minutes, a customs official grilled me for upon arrival at the airport.

Hanging with the scare-buddies

Hanging with the scare-buddies

As I returned back to base, I have renewed hope that we, as a nation, can become great if each and every one of us imbibed and embodied all the amazing things that Japan stands for, and more! It begins with me and you. The change has to be bottom-up. I doubt that a legislation or policy was what made Japan great. Laws alone are not enough to birth the skin-deep, inside-out awesomeness of Japan and its people. I am challenged to be a better person and a better Nigerian โ€“ to obey rules, to embody integrity, to be kinder, to be excellent at whatever it I do, and to be so awesome that people fall in love with my country and want to experience it again and again.

Japan kanpai-44Japan, I love you and I will be back!

56 Comments

  1. kemi

    March 21, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Kemi i love you and will be back
    why didnt you drop your contact details now?
    You and i are like 5 & 6
    ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Hadassah

    March 21, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    Kemi!!! Oh my days!
    I love love love this….
    Now I know where my next vacation will be! (am #teamunusual vacation places)
    Thanks for sharing your story…..

  3. Bennie

    March 21, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    lovely, your write up makes want to make my next travel destination Japan! well done!

  4. Sege Bee

    March 21, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    Nice one Kemi… Japan it is then …???

    • jo jones

      March 21, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      @Segebee you?

  5. Nuna

    March 21, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    I HATE travelling to countries like this because immediately I land at MMA it hits me how messed up our country really is. And to think of all the horrible things that have happened to Japan….they always manage to come back bigger and better. God dey *sigh*

  6. Bellemoizelle

    March 21, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Wow this is so beautiful,you did have a great time!!
    I would love to go to Hong Kong tho….
    Japan is such a cool place too!!!

    La vie est belle….

  7. Kikelola

    March 21, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Kemi, thank you so much for providing such a thorough write-up of your experience in Japan. I had been very hesitant to visit, but I’m glad to say I am adding Japan to my 2017 must visit destinations!

  8. iyke

    March 21, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    I love Japan โ€“ especially Tokyo, Kyoto (Island of Honshu) and Nara. Amazing people, exotic and beautiful cities/locations.
    Hopefully Iโ€™d visit again!

  9. Tobi D

    March 21, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Wow Kemi!!
    Lol @ agabado in a foreign land.
    Truly inspiring..makes you want to live better as a person, and influence same in our Nation.
    #inspiredbyJapan

  10. Anon

    March 21, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    Very different. Well done.

  11. AB

    March 21, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    OH WOW! I am totally jealous in a good way…..
    You managed to make Japan a must visit.. its just beautiful sights and scenes
    Really happy for you
    I must also visit Japan because i love it already

  12. Big Tee

    March 21, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    I love Kyoto, the local handmade saba (pasta) is very unique… this post seems to confirm my hypothesis that a visit to Japan without going to their Bowling Alley is not a complete visit.

  13. ogechi

    March 21, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    that is nice, but u didn’t say how much a trip like this will cost. is it pocket friendly? ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Onyinx

    March 21, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Awesome write up…..made me feel like I was wit u….hv always wanted 2 visit China BT after readingg ds…I think Japan would be more fun

  15. beauty

    March 21, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Now I want to go to Japan, who’s coming???!!!

  16. j'suis belle

    March 21, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    you girls look very beautiful but the kimono looks like its made from ankara fabric,well just saying

  17. larz

    March 21, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    I wanna go to Japan ๐Ÿ™

  18. Dee

    March 21, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Kemaz!!! Totally loved this write up. By fire, by force, I must make it to Japan!!! lol. One of my brother’s has always been fascinated or should I say obsessed about everything japanese from their culture, to their food, technology, comics and even to japanese people themselves which my siblings and I could never understand, but I think your write up gives me some great insights :). Thanks for this awesome piece!

  19. Jay

    March 21, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    Kemi Kemi!!! bright babe for days!!! she hasnt changed from secondary school… japan looks so lovely in pictures but bia woman, nothing bad at all??? maybe its what they let u see and becos ur INSEAD classmates took u around the best places, i m sure there s more.. Oh well good to know u had fun..

  20. Dee

    March 21, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    And YES, I totally agree that a policy or legislation (alone) didn’t transform Japan into the advanced nation that it is today….the personal discipline and diligence that their culture promotes has a lot to do with their success as a leading economy. So we all have our responsibility as Nigerians and Africans ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Abz

    March 21, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Even the deer was fierce and giving duck lips. Love it!

  22. Sayo

    March 21, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Really well written article Kemi! These are the beauties of being in Bschool, the array of cultures you experience. Thank you for sharing and for strengthening my resolve about the world, culture and Business school. Always proud of you!

  23. dj

    March 21, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Now i am dreaming. was just talking to a firend recently that i will love to visit a cool asian country and i mentioned japan. you just confirmed my tots. like someone asked earlier hope its pocket friendly? You make it feel like we are all missing something really big. thank you so much for this wite up

  24. Cynical

    March 21, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    I’m totally green with envy. This is what gets me envious of someone,the beautiful new places travelled to and memorable experiences had not how many red bottoms or birkin bags(pun intended) one displays.
    I want to start with Europe then Japan I am coming for you….lol.
    God,when am I going to get this travelling job I’ve been talking to you about????

  25. jo jones

    March 21, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Now, I want to visit Japan. Nice story!

  26. Rrrrrrr

    March 21, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    FEGGIP representing. It’s always refreshing to witness other cultures, This will definitely fall in my bucket list.

  27. Seun

    March 21, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    lovely Kemi

  28. Lala

    March 21, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    Am not jelous oooooo :p on a more serious as a proud OTAKU I have japan on my bucket list,this write makes me want to go there like now *make I work more sha* nice one kemi ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

  29. Lala

    March 21, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    Am not jealous oooooo :p as a proud OTAKU I have japan on my bucket list and this write up makes me want to go there like now *make I work more sha* nice one kemi ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

  30. Luqman

    March 21, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    They are really hardworking people as it was stated by you. Sometimes Japanese and Koreans could make someone scared in terms of work. I had seen a scenario where a son told his 80year old Papa to stay at home and his Papa was insisting in doing the security job to while away time.
    Ise lago n se ku

  31. Ber'acha

    March 21, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    I actually imagined myself with you throughout the journey. Wait o. All you guys saying, you will go to Japan is it just like that? Mbok, help the need. We that are yet to even visit the airport. Aliz wel. Nice write up missy. I would like to visit some day.

  32. Nike

    March 21, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    Very lovely piece,Kemi. Thanks a bunch for the thorough write up & for sharing. Yup! Japan it is!

  33. Tee boy

    March 21, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Kemi, wow!!!! Girl wey I for marry. Remember u from Ogba days. Good to c u on here. Love the write-up. Take care dear.

  34. Tee

    March 21, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    Very good write up! sure you had a very good experience, the most interesting part of this article for me is ….” our hosts even returned part of the initial deposit money to us because some exchange rate fluctuations had been in our favour. Everyone was excited to have extra cash but if they didnโ€™t give it to us, we would never have known or bothered to check what the exchange rate was” .. honesty is the best legacy , those you met on your trip has left a permanent legacy in your consciousness everyone works for the betterment of their country., this is the type of attitude we should be inculcating in ourselves and the young but alas compare to naija they will even over charge you, everywhere you look it noise and dirt we postulate alot and pretend to be wither than snow but what you see is wickedness and selfishness and evil no respect for the law no humanity, even our leaders are not patriotic so cannot lead by example from politicians to so called religious leaders who takes advantage of the masses; its a sad reality, we really need to change our mind set .let’ all try to emulate good things. i wish you all the best well done!

  35. element

    March 21, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    Gud experience I will love to visit there also

  36. oladipo

    March 22, 2016 at 12:18 am

    Lovely experience Sis!! Japan will be my next destination!!:)

  37. Bruno Oaikhinan

    March 22, 2016 at 8:09 am

    Interesting! I like the ” the meals were hit, back to back!” and “who does that?” It reminded me of certain people. Great write up.

  38. Sarah

    March 22, 2016 at 8:19 am

    I had the opportunity of teaching Japanese teenagers at an English Language school. I was blown over by the way they showed courtesy, always bowing their heads when they passed me along the corridors and in class. This reminded me of the Yoruba way of greeting. Your write up clearly shows that there are lessons to be learnt from a progressive society that has held on to its culture and also embraced the advances in technology.

  39. Mzphunby

    March 22, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Awesome! I’d love to travel to beautiful places like Japan as you have described it. Oh Lord, pls give me a job that enable me and my mum enjoy all this.

  40. Amenebue

    March 22, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Lovely wow!!! your description was so vivid I felt I was there with you. You really enjoyed yourself it shows clearly and you captured the essence of Japan with your pictures which are quite beautiful. Kemi, thanks for sharing.

  41. Idowu

    March 22, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Kemolola!!! My run-away friend! Very nice and detailed! Didn’t expect any less from you though..lol..Japan must have really really wow-ed u o! ahahn..lol..I’ve always heard japan is a really cool place though…kool stuff!

  42. Princess P

    March 22, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Japan wait for me….I’ll be visiting soon when the pocket is ready
    Till then, it has to be Obudu and that will be in December sef

  43. snatchedwig

    March 22, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Do we have any travel clubs in Nigeria?where people who love to travel can make plans,pull resources and tour together?

    • Timmy

      March 24, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Please this is a great business idea, let’s discuss it please. Email hotchocolatetti @yahoo.com. Thanks

    • Yori

      March 25, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      Start one! A business idea right there (remember me when you make the millions!)

  44. Dee Lamz

    March 22, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Wonderful piece, i didnt bother reading, i was just excited to see more of Japan.. Can’t wait to visit some day ..:D

  45. Ola Brief

    March 22, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    Interesting piece. Japan…..hmmmmn

  46. BosedeOyebodeAyodele

    March 22, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Nice write up Beloved Niece.Suprise no mention of Their Cars:Toyota Series.Or They are for Export only.

  47. Gbenga Oluwatoba

    March 23, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Nicely scripted!!! You make one hungry for Japan. I hope one day we will be able to say same of Naija. Kemi miss you though!!!

  48. Tai omo yoruba nimi

    March 23, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Honestly I’m up for this ,if you Bellanaites are game then I say lets arrange a club

  49. Tai omo yoruba nimi

    March 23, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    I’m up for This and if there’s none then I’d suggest we start one cos I really wanna go

  50. Ichi Ban

    March 23, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    You sound like my family, I too have been obsessed with everything Japanese since my first anime, Ninja Scroll! You can see all the qualities highlighted in this article woven into the various wonderfully weird anime and manga they produce. Japan has always been on my go to list but alas money and time! Just remembered my mum dangling a honeymoon in Japan if I considered her Friend’s son. Sorry ma, wrong sex!

  51. Tobi D.

    March 24, 2016 at 1:19 am

    Wowwww!!!! Thank you Kemi for this very amazing and informative write up. “Every meal was a hit, back to back!” -Cracked me up. Very inspiring! makes you want to live better as a person, and influence same in our Nation.

    I like like like this piece

  52. GreenDiamond

    March 26, 2016 at 2:53 am

    KEMI!! dehm girl you basically said it all!! japanese people are the best peopl have met so far!!!! girl! i am here on an exchange program for 2 and the half month although this is just my third day i have experienced son much already as i am having to do everthing on my own.. try ordering food with no japanese and no picture my goodness you will die of laughter but these people asre still so dehm patient!!.. anyways i guess i wont be writing for bella as you already said it all.. guys everything she said is so true, even i taught i was the only one that noticed how quiet the people here are!! anyways..Sayลnara

  53. Emil Hirai-Garuba

    May 11, 2016 at 6:00 am

    Great article and every bit as true. I’ve been to Japan twice (currently living in Tokyo) and I’m planning on relocating fully soon. Besides Nigeria, I’m honored to consider Japan as my second home. Domo ๐Ÿ™‚

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