I spent nearly three and a half years in Japan, from 2014 till 2017. I loved my life there, I enjoyed every second of it, and I wanted to share my experience about the wonders of Japan. Ranging from the food to safety, here’s everything you need to know about Japan.
Geography of Japan
The island country of Japan lies on the eastern side of Asia, surrounded by The Sea of Japan, The East China Sea and The Pacific Ocean. Its neighbours include China and Korea in the south and Russia in the north.
Japan comprises nearly 4000 different islands; the four main ones include Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, out of which Honshu is the biggest one. Almost 80 per cent of Japan is a mountainous region and has several volcanoes. The Japanese Alps trace down the centre of Honshu, covering nearly 200 kilometres. Japan has nearly 200 volcanoes, out of which 60 are active, making them one of the most dangerous countries to live in. Thankfully, I never experienced an eruption. Furthermore, earthquakes are also very common, adding to the danger factor. Every year nearly a thousand earthquakes hit Japan.
My experiences with earthquakes in Japan
I have experienced many earthquakes during my stay in Japan, but only one comes to mind. I was just about to step into bed when suddenly the ground started shaking violently. Though it only lasted several seconds, it was enough to get my heart pounding. At first, I thought it was just my mother who had kneeled down on the bed (the bed was hollow, so it could easily get pushed down when someone kneeled onto it). When I didn’t see her in my room and heard the special earthquake alarm, that plays on every single phone in Japan, I immediately got up and ran to my mother to hug her. In hindsight, I did realise what I did was dangerous, but I was frightened, and my mother hugged me as she felt my heart racing. Thankfully it was over in a matter of seconds.
As I mentioned, all Japanese phones have alarms that can be activated when an earthquake occurs and sometimes even in advance. All buildings are designed to withstand earthquakes no matter what the magnitude is. Despite this, buildings are required to have proper exit plans in case of a high magnitude earthquake. Everyone will leave their work/houses and go to a safe place assigned until further information.
Japan is situated where many tectonic plates meet, which leads to collisions between them, further explaining why so many volcanoes keep forming and making Japan prone to earthquakes.
The Japanese flag, also known as Nisshoki (or Hinomaru), depicts the Rising Sun as a Red circle referencing the name “Land of The Rising Sun” given to Japan as it receives the first sun rays before all. The white background symbolises peace, purity and honesty.
Culture and Traditions
The Japanese are very kind natured people, and from a very young age, children are taught to respect everyone. Bowing down is a ubiquitous gesture to show appreciation and respect to anyone you have just met.
They mainly follow Buddhism and Shintoism, which is the indigenous religion of Japan. The Japanese also believe that mother nature has a soul; this encourages all the citizens to keep Japan clean and strive to make it a pollution-free country.
Food to swear by
The staple diet of Japan is much different from the West. Their diet consists of rice, fish and a lot of vegetables but little to no meat. Their diet is very healthy as they eat minimal fat. This is also why the Japanese, on average, live the longest amongst all the countries. Personally, I liked sushi, onigiri, chicken fried rice and a variety of noodles.
I loved eating Japanese cuisine because of its unique rice, it is so sticky! Onigiri was my go-to snack; it was a triangular-shaped food with seaweed covering rice and some filling; I always opted for salmon.
My experiences living in Japan for me
I have always been in awe of this wonderful country. Japan is one of the few countries that still have an emperor. Although the position has no power, the emperor symbolises the country and its culture. The current emperor of Japan is Naruhito, the 126th monarch of Japan; he took the throne on the 1st of May, 2019. Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government in which Fumio Kishida is the Prime Minister.
After the second world war, Japan’s economy saw a massive downfall. Despite that, they could recover, as their hard work paid off. Japan now has the second-biggest economy globally and is famous for its high-tech technology and electronics industry.
I remember when a local gang announced that they would attack any school the next day. The schools weren’t shut down, and many parents, including mine, still sent their kids to school as everyone had faith in the Japanese police. As predicted, they were all caught and no one was hurt. Everyone was relieved.
Did you know? We had a “Mamorino”, a small phone created especially for children with an inbuilt GPS system. This small handset could be used to immediately call the police if we were in danger. It was slightly bulky and looked a lot like an old Nokia phone with buttons that went up, down, and right. There was a small screen on top of the buttons, including the emergency handset.
My favourite tourist spots
Out of the several places, my family and I visited, the most memorable ones are – ‘Edo Wonderland’, ‘Gala Yuzawa’ and the infamous ‘Atomic Bomb Dome’.
Edo Wonderland is a Japanese cultural park situated in Nikko. We visited a Ninja village there we got to see many performances showcasing the skills of a ninja. There were many activities that kept my brother and I entertained. My brother even won some nunchucks, an ancient weapon made up of two thick wooden sticks connected by a metal chain.
Gala Yuzawa was a snow resort where my parents, grandparents, aunt, brother and I first went skiing. This was my favourite place to visit during the winter. There were even lessons for beginners like us. I easily caught on as I had some experience in rollerblades, skateboards and rip-sticks. I enjoyed going down hills while moving left and right. I also enjoyed our trip from our house to here; we always took the ‘Shinkansen’ (bullet train).
The Atomic Bomb Dome It is the first place where the atomic bomb was dropped by the United States. It killed nearly 66,000 people and left 70,000 others injured. Even today, the remains of that building still stand, although it is supported by metal rods from the inside. Next to the dome is a memorial of the famous girl ‘Sadako’. She was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 12 due to the radiation of the atomic bomb. According to legend, she was told by her friends that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes, she would be able to make a wish come true, in this case, staying alive. Sadly, she folded 644 paper cranes before going to bed and never waking up again. It was a wonderful place and showed what the people went through. There were accurate markings that showed where the bomb exploded and lots and lots of information.
I think this has left a huge impact on my life. If you ever get a chance to travel, I urge you to visit places within India and other countries like Japan that have come out strong despite a tumulus past.
I am grateful for having gotten an opportunity to live in Japan and learn so much. Indeed, Japan’s lessons have taught me to stay strong and stand up against all odds and come out strong as a leader.
Contributor: Aarush Mohan
About our Writing Program Student
A teenager with a love for football and gaming, Aarush Mohan is a budding pianist and also plays the violin. He is currently teaching piano to an 8-year-old in his neighbourhood. This 8th Grader from Greenwood High International School, Bangalore has lived in Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan.