As mentioned in my last report, the mayor of Suita invited us to the town hall. Suita is the city in the north of Osaka, where Grünwald is located. At the warm reception, where tea was served as usual in Japan, mayor Gotō Keiji asked about my experience in Japan so far and what I expect from the coming weeks. In addition, I learned some important proverbs of the Kansai dialect from him, which has already paid off in the short time since the meeting.
Shortly afterward Consul General Dr. Werner Köhler welcomed us at the German Consulate General Osaka-Kobe. The consulate is located on the 35th floor of the Umeda Sky Building and offers a breathtaking view over the city. In a short but very interesting conversation, Dr. Köhler told us about his experiences in Japan and especially in the Kansai region. I was also invited to the celebration of German reunification, for which I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks.
In the meantime, I have found my way to Osaka and everyday life is slowly settling in. So far, I appreciate two things especially about everyday life in Japan.
On the one hand, I am a big supporter of public local and long-distance traffic. Both are very well developed in Japan. Especially in conurbations like the Kansai region, you always get to your destination quickly, cheaply and in an environmentally friendly way. Kyoto or Kobe, for example, can be reached from Osaka in about 40 minutes. If you take the Shinkansen (the Japanese equivalent of the ICE), it’s even faster.
On the other hand, I am enthusiastic about Japanese food. My high expectations in the run-up were again exceeded. Even though dishes such as Okonomiyaki and Yakisoba are very popular in the Kansai region, my personal favorite is clearly ramen. This noodle soup of Chinese origin has been constantly varied and refined over the last decades. There are now 10,000 restaurants in Japan specializing in this dish. I enjoy the resulting quality and variety over and over again.
In addition to searching for the best ramen shop in the Kansai region, I used my free time to visit the port city of Kobe. The city is bordered on one side by the sea and on the other by mountains. In many places, the distance in-between is less than 2km. I have rarely seen so clearly as here how the two characteristic landscape features of Japan lead to creative and efficient use of space. Beside the highway and train bridges that are literally stacked on top of each other, one can also see some artificial islands here.
As the 18th scholarship holder of the Grünwald Foundation, I am offered the opportunity to gain a deep insight into Japanese society and culture. I had already started learning Japanese in advance. Now I hope to improve my language skills significantly through everyday life in Japan.
The first two weeks flew by, because Mr. Okamoto had already planned many events for me. Among other things I could introduce myself at the Rotary Club Suita, we attended a benefit concert of the Yamaoka Foundation and received a travel group of the law faculty of the University of Augsburg, together with the Japanese-German Society Osaka.
I would like to emphasize the Welcome-Dinner organized by the Grünwald Foundation in a Kaiseiki restaurant. Kaiseiki is regarded as one of the finest forms of Japanese cuisine. The focus is on seasonal and regional products. Due to the high quality of the ingredients, they are only processed to the minimal extent in order not to lose their natural taste. I would like to encounter this principle more frequently in Germany as well. In our case, the feast was divided into eleven courses. Each of them knew how to surprise and inspire. In addition to excellent food, delightful company was also offered. In addition to members of the foundation, Mr. Takahiro Shinyo, the former Japanese ambassador Berlin, for example, attended the evening.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the Mary Ainsworth Ukiyo-e Colletion, which was on display at the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts at the time. Ukiyo-e is a wooden print technique that gave many Japanese people access to art from the 17th century onwards. In the beginning, the motifs were mostly women and Kabuki actors. Gradually, however, artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige began to focus on landscape paintings. Some of the most famous Japanese works of art, such as the ‘Red Fuji’, date from this period and were also part of this exhibition.
I am very much looking forward to meeting the German Consul General and the Mayor of Suita soon. In addition, I will participate in regular meetings for cultural and linguistic exchange in Osaka and Kyoto. I would like to thank Mr. Okamoto and the Grünwald Foundation for the time and effort they have invested to offer me such events and opportunities.
So finally I am writing my sixth and last report. It’s hard to believe how fast these three months have past. Before my journey started I was wondering a lot about what was expected of me, if I would be homesick and if my personality would change as soon as I returned home.
I can tell my journey to Japan has changed my point of view on several things positively. Additionally, I have become more conscious, open minded, funnier and more critical. Japan has helped me increase my ability to travel alone around the world.
Since I was spending a lot of time on my own and did a lot of tours, I got to know myself better and better every day. Because of my lone adventures I realised that I am an independent person that doesn’t necessarily need someone to feel satisfied. In Japan I went out of my comfort zone almost everyday, without a doubt this has turned out to be the most important thing to improve my personal development. Unfortunately it appears that in today’s world, thriving for unreachable perfection is the aim of so many people from all around the world. If we could start accepting ourselves with all our flaws and mistakes, in my opinion, a lot of people would be more happier. Through travelling on my own I learned how to accept myself more, above all this appears to make a lot of things easier in life.
Seeing the diversity of the people I have met during my journey, I realised how beautiful and eye opening it is that we humans live and think differently. Again I’d like to thank family Okamoto, Christine Waldhauser-Kuenlen, Matthias Weber and Miss Menacher from the bottom of my heart. Through your unselfishly support you have given scholars an extraordinary opportunity to thrive for more in life. I would particularly like to express a special thanks to my uncle Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Riederer, without him I’d never have had the courage to apply for the 17th scholarship of the Grünwald foundation.
Now that I am back I often think of my life in Japan, remembering all the gorgeous people I have met, I’d like to thank them for all experiences and memories. Finally, I will keep this shining country in my heart and am eternally grateful for this experience.
The first month of the scholarship allowed me to settle in, to explore the city Suita and to empathize with the Japanese culture. The second month was to focus on learning the language and finally the third month to travel wonderful Japan. Using the express train called Shinkansen which reaches up to 320km/h and enables you to drive from Osaka to the capital Tokyo.
Finally arrived in Tokyo everything didn’t seemed as busy and crowded as I imagined. Maybe I felt that way because I was used to Osaka. Nevertheless, after the first day in Tokyo you abruptly notice how huge and incomprehensible the city is. Innumerable skyscrapers are growing out of the floor everywhere you go. Overwhelming. If you ask me, in order to understand this city, you have to travel there by yourself. In my opinion not even long descriptions can give you an image of Tokyo.
A thing that has fascinated me since I was a little child is Sumo fighting. Therefore, I was very disappointed as I heard that there were no matches offered during my stay. Hence I booked an official Sumo training session in Tokyo. The rules of Sumo are quite simple. As soon as one of the fighters touches the ground with any body part other than the soles of his feet, the match is over.
Additionally, the objective is to force the opponent out of the circular ring. Partially one of the Sumotori turned savage during the fights, therefore it didn’t seem to be a big deal when all of the sudden a fighter started bleeding from his forehead. As the training was over I panicked as I noticed a 150kg Sumotori walking towards me in order to start a conversation. I highly recommend to visit a sumo training in Tokyo! By the way, there are also female Sumotori!
The next destination was more of an unpleasant but in my opinion absolutely essential visit when you are in Japan. It’s called ‘little boy’ 1945 which was the atomic bomb that was dropped over the city Hiroshima during World War II.
A few days later another bomb hit Nagasaki. 100.000 people died immediately, 130.000 more died of the secondary damage. As we arrived in the fully rebuild city nothing but the peace monument and peace museum reminds of the atrocity back in 1945. After leaving the peace museum I felt infuriated, doubting the sanity of humans, but also grateful for my own health and security. As soon as we reached the island Miyajima my sad thoughts were able fade a little into positivity. It is unbelievable that Atomic bombs still exist on our planet. It appears that we humans haven’t learned anything of this cruel incident.
The ‘Aoi Matsuri Festival’ is on of the three most important festivals in Kyoto. It takes part every year on 15th of may. Together with professor Aoji and his students from the Kyoto University I was able to visit it. The main attraction was a huge morning procession escorted by two large bullock carts. The almost 500 participants were all dressed in traditional clothes from the Heian-period. Furthermore another highlight was the so-called ‘Saio-Dai-Queen’, dressed in a extreme valuable silk robe. Her task is to honor all the Shinto godheads.
To my utter astonishment the whole procession was held in silence. Back in Germany such festivals are always accompanied with several music bands and loud drums. I assume the ‘Aoi Matsuri Fetsival’ is held in calmness due to the fact that it is a desperately religious event.
To my way of thinking a stay in Japan makes oneself more sensitive, thoughtful and especially self-confident. Nearly everyday you’re challenged to step out of your comfort zone. Therefore I decided to visit Koyasan, known as the ‘secret monk village‘. It is reachable through a cable car in the middle of mountain Koya. Since the journey to the village is quite challenging, not that many tourists like for example in Kyoto, decide to visit this spiritual place.
The main attraction of Koyasan is the famous graveyard forest ‘Okunoin‘. It is one of the most sacred places in Japan . ‘Kobo Daishi’ the founder of Shingon Buddhism is believed to rest in eternal meditation in between the countless gravestones. As recommended I visited the graveyard by night. Innumerable lanterns bathe the path in an extraordinary atmosphere of light.
Contributing to the mystical aura of the mountain, the silence in this village is somehow contagious. Once when I asked a guard for the way, I found myself speaking under my breath. I highly recommend a stay in Koyasan. Furthermore sleeping in an original temple and joining a buddhist morning ceremony is a magical and inspiring experience!
Before traveling to Japan many people told me that the time will pass by really fast. Right now I realize that more than ever. After two months in Japan my views extremely changed. Never have I thought that I would meet such lovely and diverse people.
During the ‘Golden Week’ Mr. Okamoto signed me up for a RYLA course outside of Osaka. RLA stands for ‘Rotary Youth Leadership Awards’. These events, day seminars or weekend meetings are there to held you specify on teamwork and your own personal development and improvement. Some ways of making this happen is by organizing group projects, hikes an multiple kids of trips.
As someone being part oft he Grünwaldfoundation I was the first one ever to attend such an event. At the arrival all participants were split up in to rooms equipped with traditional Tatami-mats. I was in a room with a bunch of young ladies. Although not everybody was fluent in English, we connected right away. Our accommodation where we 200 participants between 16-30 years old housed, offered besides wonderful food their own hot spring.
In the evening some of my roommates told me that they would visit the Onsen and asked if I would like to come with them. Of course I immediately said yes because, this was a unique chance! My clumsy and awkward way of handling the very ne wand unfamiliar situation in that Onsen really amused my colleagues very much. All in all I tried not to take it to serious and after all the girls explained me patiently the process in an Onsen. For example there is a special way of tying your turban. Visiting an Onsen fort he first time with such lovely, understanding and diverse women was truly a magical experience. Even though we all came from different parts oft he world (Japan, France, Korea, Malaysia, China, USA etc.) we all felt the same.
This reminded me that women around the world have to stick together to be powerful and protect each other. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you have been to, the only thing that matters is to empower and support each other.
In the following week I visited seaport Kobe fort he very first time. I met Nobuko and Naoya Ikawa there. Once a month the married couple prepares together with members of the local church community meals for people in need. This time I had the opportunity to help them.
With eight other volunteers prepared the chinese dish ‘Chuka Donburgi’. It was enough food for everybody including ourselves. Shortly after the meal everybody helped together to clean and organize the dishes. Some oft he people we provided with food came up to me to thank me personally to for cleaning the dirty plates. Some of them even helped us out and others collected the uses dishes. By taking turns everybody was able to help in all areas, therefore only after 45 minutes everything was tidied up. It shows that everybody hast he possibility to help and to support people in need. Frankly. we are all able to sacrifice a few hours a week to make a positive impact on someone’s life.
In the evening Mr. And Mrs. Ikawa showed me Mount Rokko and behind the mountain village ‘Arima Onsen’, one oft he oldest bathing resorts in Japan. It was not as busy and full of tourists as other places I visited. So the trip was very calming and soothing in contrast to the mostly very crowded life in other cities.
On the same evening Mr. Okamoto , I and about 40 other people were invited to a prime dinner with selected wines. At first I really had an odd feeling. A few hours ago I was standing in a tent with my apron on, helping to make meals for people in need and now I am sitting in front of an excellent four course meal with fancy wine. It was truly an amazing dinner and evening. We had a lot of fun but still sometimes I wandered of with my mind to my lunch in the tent together with the volunteers and the people in need. Even if it was something complete different, it was at least as wonderful as my dinner.
Mid-April Mr Okamoto organized a three-day trip to Toyama. Besides some sightseeing, we also planned to visit his parents-in-law, which live in an original Japanese house. Although the parents of Ms Okamoto are way over 90 years old, they appear to be very fit mentally as well as physically. They shared their personal thoughts, opinions, and war experiences with me. Even though I was not able to have an active conversation with them, I was very moved to hear them speak.
As part of our trip we visited the ‘Shirakawa village‘ in Tokayama which is a UNESCO World Heritage since December 1995.
It’s houses are famous for their steep roofs which are connected over massive wooden beams, shaped like hands folded in prayer. Considering the fact that Tokayama is known for its heavy winters, these houses are unique to the region, being able to endure snowfalls of up to 4 meters. We also had the chance to see one of the houses from the inside, which gave us an immediate feeling of how live had been back then. It was an outstanding experience.
Later that day we had dinner at a traditional ‘Shabu Shabu’ restaurant. ‘Shabu Shabu’ is like a Japanese hot pot served with fresh vegetables, tofu, mochi and beef. I was amazed by all the various ingredients, but even more so by how the dinner was presented. Every single time the waitress entered our dining room, she kneeled down, bent over and touched the floor with the palms of her hands. Mr Okamoto explained that this is a sign of deep respect and acknowledgment for the guest and the served dishes.
Furthermore, the doors leading into the dining rooms are purposely build smaller than regular doors, so that the entering person is obliged to bend down.
It appears to me that Japanese perceive being egoistic as one of the worst characteristics one could possibly have. In contrast to other countries people even show deep consideration for one another in in the day to day life. For instance, I haven‘t heard one single honking car since I am here.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyūkan
Unfortunately I have also noticed that most Japanese struggle to speak English. As a result, some of them are a little shy and try to avoid English conversations. I noticed this in particular during my first week and wondered how that is even possible. Since the Japanese school system is known for being very strict and challenging. To my great surprise, I was told that English lessons in Japan are mainly focused on written English rather than the practice of pronunciation and conversational skills. I think that is a pity. What do you gain from being able to analyze English poetry but not being able to discuss it?
So after four weeks in Japan I have become well accustomed. I am being welcomed by name in the local gym where I signed up at. The Members there are mainly above 60 years. Last week an older man came up to me and gave me a little caramel treat. Of course sweets were the last thing I was expecting here but the old man just wanted to give me a little present in order to me make me happy, and it indeed did. That day I found out that it is a typical habit in Osaka and particularly for his generation to show kindness to foreigners this way. I am very impressed about the ambition and motivation of older people and how they focus on their fitness. They participate at various Yoga, aerobic and muscle workout classes whilst children practice their karate lessons next door. I think Germans would do well to draw some inspiration from them.
I landed in Japan after a ten hour flight which was extremely exhausting. I was quite nervous and therefore struggled to sleep on the plane. Mr Okamoto and his wife welcomed me with open arms in the quintessential Japanese manner, with politeness and courteousness. On the same night, Mr Okamoto showed me around Suita, which made an immediate impression on me and I felt right at home.
The flat where I will be living in for the next three months is spacious, open and warm. Additionally, there is a Jacuzzi and a Sauna which I am able to use during my stay at ‘Mädelhaus‘. The first week was centred around orientation and familiarising myself with Japanese customs and to acquaint myself with the Grünwald foundation.
Although Mr Okamoto is quite a busy man, he drew my attention to his personal and business philosophy, and the idea behind his foundation. He explained that it was not about himself, nor for financial reasons. His aim was to give something back to the community. For example, he wisely believes that finding original ways to approaching problems can be achieved through exchanging cultural values and knowledge across different continents.
Japan is one of the most traditional and ritualistic countries in the world. The people are extraordinarly respectful and polite, but unfortunately, Japan’s unique culture is sometimes not recognised in this respect in comparison to other Asian countries.
The second week was more planned and structured. I had the opportunity to meet the mayor of Suita and the city counsel, and the honour of meeting the general consul of Germany, dr. Werner Köhler. The Umeda Sky building, where the general consul is located, has 40 floors and offers a wide, panoramic view of the whole city.
My first trip alone was to Nara, a city an hour away from Suita. It is famous for hiking treks, Nara deer park and traditonal shrines and temples. I decided to trek up wakakusa-yama hill and the surrounding area was home to wild Sika deers, which were calm and loved to be stroked. However, they did not enjoy taking selfies …
As my first two weeks came to an end, Mr Okamoto organised a welcome party for me in a really high class restaurant called „Yamazaki“. We had twelve courses, but much to my surpise, the look and the taste of the various dishes served happened to be miles apart. It made for an audacious evening. I had never before tasted such wonderful Japanese food, and the Japanese sake and beer was also delicious.
I would like to thank Mr and Mrs Okamoto again for their hospitality and warmness. I am looking forward to the rest of my stay and Japanese adventure.
Wow, time passed so quickly in Japan. I basically was busy every single day and gained a lot of experiences as well as I got to know interesting people and worked diligently. The last two weeks of my stay in Japan I spent travelling with the Japan Rail Pass. First, I discovered the south of Japan (Kyushu) followed by a trip to Tokyo and its surrounding. Ahead of my travels I was keen about the cultural, personal and scenic differences.
The first destinations I visited were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both were the scene for a worldwide outstanding, negative incident – The atomic bomb at the end of World war II in 1945. The American bombs were named “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” and ensured a lot of destruction, deaths, diseases and recognition within the worldwide community. Both cities know about their importance as warning signal. This is why they prepared the history in several ways to make it accessible for everybody who visits the cities. It is also not that easy to walk through both cities without recognising its historical relevance. This incident still shapes the cityscape as well as the people living there. The people are very open minded when it comes to their history, are willed to have a chat and are very well educated when it comes to details of the war. I also recognised that people are interested in my opinion which I got asked for several times during my visit, either in coffee shops or randomly when doing grocery shopping. Within this occasion I was able to talk to Mito Kosei, one of a few who survived the attack in 1945. He wrote down his personal experiences in a book which offers a lot of information which was not present in any of the public museums. This experience shaped me lasting as well as it sharpened my mind when it comes to world politics, atomic weapons and conflicts of interests.
Independently of their history both cities are worth a visit. In Hiroshima there is the famous Island called Miyajima, beautiful gardens and museums. Especially, the Shukkein garden is very beautiful and you can find the only tree which survive the atomic bomb attack there. Even nowadays, its seeds are sent around the world to spread a sign of peace. Within this garden I meet a very polite man from London who I talked to for about two hours about Japan, world politics, the challenges for the future and a lot more. A very special encounter. Out of both cities, Nagasaki is the less touristic one as well as the atomic incident is not as present as in Hiroshima. Also, Nagasaki is more internationally influence and therefore less shaped by the Japanese culture. Because of the booming port, Nagasaki was a famous place of trading in the past. Therefore, people from Portugal and the Netherlands had their separate quarter for trading within Nagasaki, which can still be visited today. This might also be the reason why there are many international restaurants present in Nagasaki. Also, English is way more popular than in other parts in Japan. Nagasaki is located within a lot of mountains which makes it a nice spot for hiking, daytrips and a nice view from above the city during the night.
When heading towards Kumamoto I recognised that I left the touristic paths. When living in Kansai I was used to get asked by strangers if I would be up for a picture, however when I moved further south, I experienced a new level of requests. Until today I am not sure why this is the case because European people are not rare in Japan even though you could find less in Kyushu. I also figured out that the relationship of the people to the surrounding nature improves the more I leave the large cities. This might also be the case because it is necessary to take care of yourself since the number of active volcanoes increases the further south I went. Actually, I wanted to hike up the worldwide largest crater of an active volcano (Mount Aso) in Kumamoto. Unfortunately, the increased volcanic activity did not allow this trip. Interestingly the water temperature surrounding the volcano is warmer which is why fish and other seafood has more food available. Therefore, the local food is characterised by a lot of seafood. A highlight of Kumamoto is the Suizen-ji garden which represents the 53 stops of the Tokaido-Shinkansen line.
In Kagoshima I finally was able to hike up on a volcano. However, it is prohibited to climb to the top of Mount Sakurajima, since it is one of the most active volcanoes worldwide. Daily, smoke is rising from the volcano located just a few kilometres ahead of the city centre. It is a very special scenery seeing the volcano being placed in the middle of Kagoshima bay. Even though the danger of the volcano erupting is constantly present, 600.000 people live close by. Therefore, hot springs and free foot baths are located all over the city centre. My personal impression was that people in the south of Japan are more relaxed and live a less stressful life in comparison to the people living in the Kansai area. However, I recognised a less present Japanese influence and an increased internationality within the city. I think this might be the case due to the large distance to Kyoto (the former capital of Japan) as well as Tokyo, the current capital which are both locations representing a lot of the Japanese culture. Also, south Japan is known of several revolutions and their international influence.
Together with a very good friend from Taiwan, which I know from my studies in Great Britain, I spent one week in Tokyo. The world’s largest metropole offered me a totally new experience of Japan. As expected, Toyko was bigger, louder, and faster than other cities I have been before. However, I experienced Tokyo to get more into extremes then other cities of Japan. For Example, there are a lot of very rich people in Tokyo but on the other hand, I saw more homeless people than anywhere else in Japan. Also, each district differs significantly for others. There is a special business district, an entertainment district, an electric town and so on. I also recognised that people try to stand out more. Crazy clothes, strange coloured hair, noticeably looks and cars can be seen everywhere. In general, more people are able to speak English which might be because of the percentage of foreigners. Therefore, customer service and the politeness of people, for Japanese standards, suffers.
Tokyo does not offer a lot of classic sightseeing, however getting to know the different districts is even more fun. Also, the world’s largest fish market, the highest building of Japan, famous temples and shrines as well as the imperial palace can be visited. I especially enjoyed the variety of world class bars and restaurants as well as the city itself by night. For Europeans, the rush hour in Tokyo is a unique experience as well. For me personally, Tokyo is a city that has to be experienced by participating in the daily life by visiting restaurants and Izakaya’s as well as getting in contact with the locals, rather than usual sightseeing. Additionally, Tokyo offers a lot of interesting spots in the surrounding.
I highly recommend a daytrip to Nikko, a city in the mountains close to Tokyo, which is considered as world heritage due to its stunning Temples. The city is contemplative and impressive at the same time. Also, the first impression of the city does not look like it has a hidden city of temples in the forests.
The next daytrip we went to Japans most iconic landmark, Mount Fuji. We were very lucky to see Fuji-San without clouds and we had perfect conditions. The inactive volcano stands out because of its shape, its height and appears mystic. Because of heavy rain the day before, Mount Fuji was covered in snow. In my opinion, Japanese people are rightly proud of their landmark because it is incredible to actually see it. Therefore, it was a special moment for me. It is for sure that I will climb Fuji-San when visiting Japan, the next time.
Before heading back to Osaka to have a final dinner with my friends from Rotact I stopped by Kamakura and Yokohama. In Kamakura its political and cultural importance in the past can be seen. Especially, because of several influential Temples and Shrines. The most famous spot is the great Budda (Kotoku-In). Kamakura also offers an outstanding view on beach, surfers and Fuji-San at the same time. On the other hand, Yokohama seems to be strongly influenced by foreigners. A huge China town and several European restaurants and offers specially tailored for tourists prove that. This might be the case due to the cities large harbour and the short distance to Tokyo.
Concluding I would like to thank everyone who got engaged during my three months stay in Japan. First of all, Mr. Okamoto and his wife as well as the Rotary Club Grünwald. Additionally, I would like to thank my friends and colleges who made my time in Japan very special and valuable. The experiences I gained through the Grünwald-Scholarship are unique and will shape me on a long-term basis.
During my stay I got to know a new culture intensively and gained new perspectives which allowed for questioning processes and structures. I was also able to participate within the Japanese work life as well as learn a new language. Additionally, I personally developed which allows to approach upcoming challenges with an improved set of experiences. Besides my demanding everyday life and intense work, I was also able to meet new people, to participate in an exchange of cultures and to develop my personal opinion about Japan as well as travel the country.
The entire experience was possible because Mr. Okamoto invests a lot of time and energy into his scholarship holders. He also constantly improves his scholarship and promotes intercultural exchange. I am very pleased that I was not just able to develop myself further due to Mr. Okamoto’s foundation, but I also found a good friend and a mentor in him. I want to express my gratitude once more that I was able to spend three unforgettable months in Japan which will shape my further life journey.
In order to experience the Japanese work culture as well as getting to know an international company I spent a few days at Yanmar, a global Engineering company from Osaka. During interesting introduction events of the company, visits at factories and exciting discussions about topics relevant for the future I was able to learn a lot about Japanese work life. I figured out that actions are more valuable than words when it comes to establish relationships with the fellow workers. Well established relationships are the foundation of business relationships as well as a functional working environment. This is also visible when looking at the Japanese tradition of gifting. In Germany we always relate Asia to long working hours. This is also true for Japan, since „9-5“ is more of an exception. However, Japanese workers do have more holidays then you might think. Especially bank holidays expand the holidays to a similar level like in Germany. However, Japanese people tend not to go on vacation for a longer period continuously. I did not understand that behaviour which is why I informed myself about it. I figured out that this behaviour is based on Japan being a culture characterised by collectivism rather than individualism like in Germany (Hofstede). Therefore, taking long holidays will increase the workload of the fellow workers which is considered as negative. I am pretty sure that this consideration
happens rarely in Germany.
Suita Rotact Club offers a special opportunity for me to meet people from Japan which are aged the same as me. Within the first 8 weeks in Japan I recognised that European people are still rare in Japan which is why especially older people react defensive and cautious to foreign people. However, Mr Okamoto is totally different which most likely is because of his long stay abroad. His foundation has a big impact on young Japanese people who get the opportunity to get in touch with foreigners and increase their knowledge about different cultures. Especially the people from Rotact asked me a lot of questions, were open minded and showed a lot of interest in exchanging thoughts. One reason why older generation might act differently could be due to Japan being an island and not getting in touch with different cultures on a regular basis. This is different to Germany where other countries are close by. Additionally, flights have been more expensive in the past, and traveling was not as convenient as it is nowadays. Anyway, the members of Rotact are shaped by a global mindset and grew up in a globalised world. Nevertheless, the influence of their parents can be seen since none of their members is able to speak English.
Within the Kansai area there is only one Christmas market, which seams to be obvious because of the religious background of japan. This Christmas market used to be a German Christmas market which is why I arranged to go there with my German and Japanese friends. Expensive mulled wine, sweets and German sausages shaped our pre-Christmas evening in Osaka. Even though Christmas is not part of Buddhism I was told that Christmas is increasing in importance, mainly shaped by the companies to generate more revenue. This is also visible when walking through Osaka where you can see a lot of Christmas lights, shopping malls which got decorated for Christmas, ice skating areas and Christmas music. Spending time with their families, nice food and contemplativeness are parts of the Japanese New Year’s Eve ceremony, rather than having fireworks like in Europe. However, the Christmas market had a lot of visitors. Nice to see is the incorporation of European and Japanese culture on events like this. While in Germany people tend to by themselves a meal, Japanese people split up and get different things and share everything in the end. This attitude I would like to implement within my daily life in Germany as well since it offers the opportunity to try more different things as well as it is a sign of collectivism.
Even before arriving in Japan I was interested in Japanese ceramic. I like the different understanding of aesthetics. While in Europe it is about perfectionism and clear lines, in Japan its about being perfect while being irregular. Additionally, the shapes and colours different to European standards which I find very interesting. In order to get a better understanding of the products I visited a local pottery together with two students of the Kyoto University. Besides getting information about the understanding of their craftsmanship we were able to try ourselves by preparing two items. Thereby, I got told about the importance of the seasons in the Japanese culture which also have a significant influence on the choice of crockery within daily life. While the Japanese culture is closely linked to their environment, I do not understand why Japan is still using so much plastic. Out of all countries I visited so far, Japan is the most environmentally unfriendly country when it comes to the use of plastic. In supermarkets everything is covered in plastic, mostly more than once and sometimes just for visual purposes. It could also be that strawberries are individually surrounded by plastic. From a developed country like Japan I expect more engagement in saving the environment even though some of the traditions, like gifting or extra enrichment might suffer.
Since the last four weeks have started it is already time to say goodbye to some people. Therefore, Family Ikawa organised another dinner with outstanding homemade food as well as traditional Sukiyaki, beer and sake. We had a lovely evening together and Mr and Ms Ikawa are great chefs. I am glad I could get some of the recipes. I liked Kobe very much from the beginning and I really appreciated the effort of Family Ikawa on giving me more insights about the surrounding highlights. I hope to return the favour next time they come to Germany.
Mr Okamoto, his wife, Ms Moriyama and I made a three-day trip to Toyama (To=many; Yama=mountains), the home of Ms Okamoto. This trip was the first time that I got out of the big cities and saw the rural part of Japan. I was impressed by the different sceneries Japan has to offer. High mountains, autumn leaves, sea and rivers which made their way through the landscape. The main difference to the crowded cities was the pace of living, the connectivity of the people to the environment and the public transport which was not present (even in cities with up to 600.000 people). The close relationship to the environment as well as the appreciation of the sea was also shown by the popular crabs (Kani) of this region. This delicacy is only available during a special season which is why a single crab could be worth up to 400.000 Yen (approximately 3000€). However, people spent the money in order to share this special meat with their family and friends. This behaviour of appreciation has a very high rank within the society and shows once more that Japan is a culture of collectivism rather than individualism. In Japan, I got another perspective to the German behaviour characterised by individualism and I want to critically evaluate my behaviour. During our three—day trip I was able to visit the traditional city Shirakawa, Kanazawa and its impressive castle, mountain peaks and a lot of