My desire to ensure environmental sustainability.

Point blank on environmental issues.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

This is Japan 1

It is almost a year since I came to Japan, and I have to admit that life has not been easy, going by the huddles that I had to (and still) overcoming. The culture shock has been real- food, culture, tradition, development level…daily life! It felt like each country belonged to its own sphere, except the sharing of great phrases that mention the mystery of the sun; that, Nairobi (Kenya’s Capital) is a “Green City in the sun,” and Japan is “the Land of the rising sun.” My symbolic correlation between these two wordings is that, just as one can view the sun piercing through the peaks of Mount Kenya from Nairobi, so can someone view the sun illuminating snowy Mount Fuji (san) from Tokyo’s amazing skylines. This article details my firsthand experience of Japan, owing to many days of exposure, travel, research and participation in various Japanese events. 

The Japanese language

Though I loved the Japanese language from the word go, I really had (have) a hell of time to understanding and applying it. This is not only due to its newness to me, but also the fact they use three different writing systems that have specific uses; 1) Hiragana (ひらがな) for pronunciation purposes, 2)Katana (カタカナ) for foreign words, and 3)Kanji (感字) for explaining the meaning of words. Here I was, only used to the roman alphabets, now daring to immerse myself into learning the writing and reading of just characters (not letters anymore). In ranking, I think hiragana is easy for me because it is more of curved images that one can easily identify with, but katana (for foreign words just like me, a foreigner) is an uphill task- seems like trying to join sticks together and later on explain what that means (no offence)! However, I have to say that this is what makes the learning even more interesting. I will not talk much about kanji because even up to now I can count the number of those that I know out of the possible thousands that there are; maybe…Japan (日本), river (), mountain (), person (), tree ()…other are still loading! The most amazing thing about kanji is that the physical appearance relates to whatever they mean, just as some of the above directly display. I am used to saying a “kanji ga wakarimasen” (I don’t know kanji) joke in the Japanese class, but I hope by the time I leave Japan I will proudly say “Kanji ga wakarimasu” (I know kanji). これから毎日頑張っています(I will try to learn kanji everyday). I am happy that my Japanese capability is gradually improving! God speed, they say!

The people, culture and tradition

A Japanese is a very mysterious friend! They are great friends when you are with them or need them- great talk, help at whatever cost, company, feeling the laughter and happiness. The mystery comes in that, in the following day or encounter, you may need to start from square but be sure, that all will end up well; the bond has to be re-formed everyday!  
I have not been to most parts of the world, but going by the knowledge accumulated, I can confidently say that the humility and kindness of the Japanese people ranks quite high. This is despite a few shortcomings that are overwhelmed by the positive side. I remember one case in particular when I first came to Japan. It was in Tokyo, Shinjuku (one of the busiest railway stations in Japan, and most probably the whole world), and I got confused on how to change to the next train (they call it “norikae” in Japanese). Though the day was not fully of people as other business days, because it was on a Sunday afternoon, it was a challenge for me, a guest in town. Worse of all, I was not good in Japanese by then; just “sumimasen” (excuse me) and “watashi wa” (I am)…just imagine; double tragedy! My statement was: “sumimasen, watashi wa…mmmh…lost!” Thank God they guy was quick to get what I meant and humbly, left what he was doing, and showed me the way! It was even more worrying when I relocated from Tokyo to a rather countryside place, where Japanese is a must- know but I always experience the “Shinjuku guy kindness” everyday. As much, as such cases are a norm in other parts of the world, getting a person ready to help and serve indiscriminately (i.e. irrespective of race, class, age, or gender) is quite rare.
Despite Japan’s developed level (among the top three largest world economies), her culture and tradition has remained mostly intact. This is evidential in virtually every place that you visit; be it in the office, school, home, shop, vehicle, or even on the lanes. Although I am now used to some of them, I initially found it funny or somewhat weird. Actually, I am yet to find the right inclination angle of the “Japanese bow.” The bow requires one to bend on certain degrees depending on the partners involved (mostly, in order of seniority), and it takes quite a bit long to finish; actually, a certain professor on Japanese business manner told us the bow takes about 3 seconds.  So, the procedure goes: approach each other but keep some distance (I guess this is to avoid collision during bowing), introduce yourselves (you can also exchange business cards if available), and then bow (NOTE: no physical contact). To me, it was more of an exercise rather than a greeting because I am used to the handshake, which sometimes gets vigorous in away releasing the tension in oneself. It is good that now, I can confidently bow, no matter how imperfect it is.
I know punctuality is a culture that should cut across every nation or region, but Japan has my gold medal on that; be in the meeting place at least five minutes before, and that happens! Another example is at the train station; there is a fixed schedule, and if the train gets late by even two (2) minutes, an apology follows automatically!
It is quite impressive that Japan has not allowed dilution of its culture and tradition, despite having an influx of visitors with a diversity of them (tradition and culture). A perfect implementation of the Romans’ principle; “When you get to Japan, do as the Japanese do it!” It is unfortunate that most countries have fallen victim of easily succumbing to cultural and traditional manipulations, leading to loss of identity and belongingness. I wish we could borrow a leaf!
Daily life in Japan is quite busy- every time of the day is just rush hour to an extent of missing time for oneself. All the time is preoccupied with work assignments, business objectives, and other activities revolving around work. This is the same case to my country too, but the people have time to shake it off- forget about any problem or stress that you have and give in to what your heart needs! Somewhere in Africa, one will go for the party, sing, drink and shout the hell out of them, while freely dancing; my friend in Ghana will go Azonto, my broda in Nigeria dey go Skelewu or Sekem, and South Africans will get on their knees vigorously shaking to Zulu tunes. As for my fellow countrymen from East Africa (Kenya, to be specific), they will find their way to the Carnivore Restaurant for the Tribal Nights-Ramogi, Mulembe, Kamba, Kalenjin, Esagasaga, Coast- and rejuvenate the youthfulness in them. As for Japanese, they like keeping it calm and that is how they like it!

Waste management, sanitation and the general environment

As highlighted in an earlier blog post, waste management in Japan follows an organized system characterized with a lot of discipline, dedication, and adherence to the rules and regulations. Most of the companies that collect waste are privately owned, but have a close relationship with local governments with whom they sign contracts of offering the services. One’s work is just to ensure the specified garbage is put in the designated area early in the morning in readiness for collection. Arguably, it is common sense that waste should not be disposed anyhow, but rather follow the systematic flow. However, this is not the case to some us; do you know where you left that bottle of water? What about the polythene paper that had your shopping? And those food wrappings? No idea until you find them washed into your house by floodwaters or creating unsightly conditions on the roadside (better still, talk of poorly managed dumping sites)! On the other hand, that little discipline makes Japan to be one of the cleanest countries in the world.
The waste management discipline in Japan closely interlinks with sanitation levels; off course, the better the waste disposal system, the lesser the pollution. This confirms why rivers and streams passing through Japanese cities are ever clean; amazing! By the way, did you know that water in every running tap in Japan is safe for drinking; no doubt! Tapped water follows strict government regulations that ensure zero contamination and high health standards. Therefore, you rather refill your PET bottle with tapped water rather than (wasting) money in the shop for a new package. Generally, my ranking of the Japanese sanitation levels is quite higher and most countries will need more than average efforts to get there.
Despite having a little endowment to natural resources, Japan has ensured the maximum utilization, conservation and management of the little that they have. Notably, it is one of the most forested countries in the world, with the current forestry cover standing at 67% (note: my residence prefecture- Kochi, 高知県- has 84% forest cover). This is indeed, amazing and at the same time challenging at such a time when most countries have not even attained the minimal global requirement of 10% forest cover. Although the reasons for such a high forest cover, are high dependency on imported wood, cultural/religious practices, and the fact that they do not depend on wood as the major source of energy, their forestry practices are worth an appreciation. The beauty of the Japanese environment is also enhanced by the presence of forest parks, botanical gardens, and beatification projects along roads, cities, and institutions. Indeed, this makes travelling around Japan quite entertaining, breathtaking and therapeutic. Additionally, the presence of various seasons (winter, spring, summer, and autumn), creates a magical mystery in nature. The cold snowy summer slowly ushers in the cherry blossoming spring, then summer full of gorgeous beaches for sunbathing and surfing, and lastly, autumn that naturally creates a variety of colorful sceneries on the tree canopies; just give up on oneself and surrender to the natural way!     
NOTE: Please come back for "This is Japan 2," to know more about the Japanese food, transport and infrastructure among other things :) 


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  2. Wow this is something, I mean what you wrote here is very interesting and also very impressive. You should publish a book about Japan! I really enjoyed knowing all your thought and ideas! Keep writing, I'll come visit sometimes:) From Kanako^ ^

  3. You have awesome writing skills and i must admit i love the way you get the audience at the core of Japan environment. Keep up the great work, am your fan