The third week started with a daytrip to Nara. Within Germany the city is known for wild deer which can be fed and touched. Sometimes you can see a deer which is actively looking for food in handbags which are close by. Additional, Nara offers a lot of culture. For example, the famous Asura statue and the Todai-ji Temple which is known for the biggest buddha statue within Japan. The 08.10.2018 is the national health and sports day in Japan and a bank holiday. Therefore, Nara was packed, and a lot of locals spent their day off there.
The next morning, I met Mr. Okamoto and he taught me how to write Japanese letters with a fountain pen. Even though it was difficult in the beginning I got used to it quite quickly. In the evening we went to a round table, which was especially organised for a delegation coming from Luneburg. The provided Bavarian food and the Bavarian music showed me once more that Bavaria shapes the „German Culture“ abroad. Furthermore, a local high-school provided a high-level chorus for a relaxed atmosphere.
Within the second week I was able to visit Mrs. Ikawa at her High-school in Kobe. The visit ended up in a special and remarkable German language class for her students. Afterwards, I got a city tour guided by Mrs. Ikawa and her daughter including a lunch break at the local Chinatown. The first impression of Kobe is positive throughout and I am already looking forward to spending another day there. In the evening Mr. Okamoto and I visited the Economic Round Table at the Swiss Hotel where several interesting people participated. The invited guest speaker was talking about Corporate Social Responsibility and its development. However, the following discussion showed the differences between political engagement and the truth within the business environment.
As part of the scholarship I go to a language class in Suita, twice a week. The lectures are in Japanese only and the pace is high when considering it is a beginner class. Especially, learning Hiragana and Katakana by heard is a challenge, since it is the basis for reading and pronunciation. However, I greatly enjoy having those language classes and I invest even more time and effort in learning Japanese.
Especially valuable are the nice people I met. I meet most of them on a regular basis which allows for friendship, close contact and trips. Therefore, I was able to play Badminton at a court close by the other day. Further trips, sports and evening events are already planned. Part of that is the German wine evening which takes places on a regular basis, serving a four-course meal accompanied by well-chosen wine from Germany. Additionally, the location provides a great view on the prominent, red ferries wheel in the city centre of Osaka. Afterwards, a small group and I went for the traditional „second round“ to a nearby bar.
As every sunday I spent the day with students of the Kyoto Prefecture University. This time we got accompanied by Prof. Aoji heading towards the south of Kyoto which is known for its Sake breweries. Therefore, the Sake museum as well as several sake tastings took place. Additionally, we went for a boat cruise on the river and had a look to the surrounding.
The Japanese-German Society publishes a magazine called „Der Bote von Osaka“ on a regular basis. For the upcoming edition, Mr. Okamoto and I were responsible for an interview with the General Manager of the Swiss Hotel in Osaka. While having lunch in the 35th floor we asked questions about his assessment on the development of tourism in Japan and Osaka as well as his career and personal desires.
At the end of the fourth week I was able to do two daytrips to Kyoto which I used to check some of the “Must See” places in Kyoto. Part of that was the bamboo forest at Arashiyama, Tenru-ji temple, Ryouan-ji temple and the Golden temple.
A positive cultural difference I discovered during my four weeks in Japan is the presence of appreciation, which is deeply integrated within the Japanese culture. In basically every life situation appreciation is visual by gestures or words. For example, before and after a meal there is a ritual of thanks as well as you do not refill you drink by yourself which asks for high attention during a meal. When getting a refill, you provide your glass with both hands which automatically shows respect and gratitude. This is similar to handing over business card. Overall this behaviour reflects a society with a distinct sense of respect and appreciation.
As 16th scholarship holder of the Grünwald Foundation, founded by Mr Okamoto, and the cooperation with the Rotary Club Grünwald, I have the outstanding opportunity to experience multiple aspects of Japan. First, I would like to thank everyone who got involved and made this adventure possible for me by providing planning, trust and engagement.
I arrived September 23rd, 2018 and since then I have a busy schedule to get to know and understand the Japanese culture. Part of this program is participating in language class twice a week, trips within the Kansai region, individual lectures by Mr. Okamoto as well as a close contact to local people by joining round tables, events and making use of cooperation’s.
The first authentic impression of the Japanese culture I experienced when having a layover at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, one of the wold’s largest airports. At the airport silence, no rush, efficient operations, automatic processes and excellent customer service is present.
One hour later I got picked up in Osaka and received a warm welcome by Mr Okamoto.
After setting up my apartment I was invited for a welcome dinner at the day of arrival. The dinner allowed me to try different small, local dishes as well as traditional food like Okonomiyaki. On the first day, the Japanese meat has already set a new benchmark when it comes to texture and flavour.
Besides several organisational tasks, like signing in for the language class, the first week was primarily used to get to know the surrounding and get in contact with Japanese people. As part of that I met the local city council, Goto Keiji, as well as the German General Consul Mr. Dr. Köhler. During our meetings we had extensive and interesting discussions about politics, economics and topics which are relevant for the future. Those appointments also reflected the distinct relationships between Japan and Germany.
I realised quickly that the Grünwald Foundation of Mr. Okamoto is highly regarded in Osaka and its surrounding. Within the eight years of existence, the foundation developed into a brand which is shaped by the engagement of Mr Okamoto. Furthermore, the experience gathered during the last years affects my journey since I benefit from organised cooperation’s, regular’s tables and a well-established network of friends.
During the first week I had the opportunity to accompany Mr. Okamoto to the 15th anniversary party of the Swiss Hotel in Osaka as well as I made a trip to Osaka and Kyoto by my own to discover the cities. Even though Osaka and Kyoto are massive cities it is very convenient to get along the public transport since they are well structured and efficient. Both cities are very different. While Osaka is the biggest business metropole, apart from Tokyo, it is characterised by tall buildings and business people. Kyoto on the other hand, has a lot of sightseeing spots and historical influence since it was the former capital.
Traditionally, the first week ends with a welcome party. Mr. Okamoto and his wife invited for a 12-course dinner at a Michelin star restaurant. This evening allowed me to try several Japanese dishes while having interesting conversations.
One of the previous mentioned cooperation’s is a partnership with the Kyoto Prefecture University which I work with twice a week. On Monday’s, we work on academic topics and every Sunday the students take me for a trip to the surrounding. The first trip went to the traditionel Otsu festival close to Kyoto and next to japans largest lake. Overall, the students are very motivated and interested in learning Germany and have different reasons why to learn the language.
Another highlight of the second week was the tour to Japans oldest and highest quality whiskey distillery in Yamazaki. This tour also showed the high expectations for service, efficiency and cleanliness within the Japanese culture. In general, I experienced several aspects that are not present within the German culture, however we share many values and cultural settings. This also reflects on the positive political and economic relationship between Germany and Japan.
One of my personal highlights is the diversified evening program due to invitations to events, traditional dinners, or round tables. Those activities allow me to get direct contact with locals and experience the Japanese culture first hand. Another benefit is that most of those people speak German, which helps to get around the present language barriers caused by me not speaking that much Japanese yet. My target is to improve my Japanese knowledge as soon as possible to be able to start small conversations.
I am looking forward to the interesting experiences of the upcoming weeks, especially to get to know more of the culture, the language, the history and the local people. The first impressions were positive and exciting throughout. Once again, I want to thank Mr. And Mrs. Okamoto for spending so much time and energy to make my stay unique.
After many further adventures with the Shinkansen, a number of new friendships, and more culinary highlights, I am puzzled to realize that my three years in Japan are already approaching the end. Soon, I unfortunately need to leave this beautiful Japanese home in Osaka.
During the past few weeks, I was again able to travel throughout the country and explore Japan from many new and different angles. Starting in the south-west, I visited places such as Hiroshima, Itsukishima, Matsuyama, Takamatsu, Kurashiki, Koyasan, Ise, Kyoto, towards northern areas such as Tokyo, Kamakura, Nikko and Hakone. This allowed me to see a huge variety of traditional, historic places, spiritual monasteries and temples, mystical and fascinating ceder forests, versatile museum exhibitions (ranging from traditional Japanese to modern Western and contemporary digital art), and experience the busy crowds rushing through the streets of Tokyo.
Besides all exciting trave experiences, the last months also showed me again how hospitable, caring and kind the Japanese mentality is. The many invitations to dinners, day trips, and bars have been a great pleasure to me and allowed me to feel at home in Japan despite the short time being here. Thank you very much!
Last week, once again I realized thecloseness and sincere friendship to Japanese friends during the afterhours of the earthquake on June 18th. I was not only impressed by the professional and level-headed, almost routinized way of how the Japanese were dealing with the earthquake, but also touched by the many personal helpful messages I received from Japanese friends, asking about my well-being only seconds after the shock.
Without any doubt, Japan is a country full of curiosities and pecularities. After three unique and versatile months, I was was able to gain insights into the country’s history, language, culture and get to know the country and its people better. At the same time, I could realize that many stereotypes are not entirely true and that in fact, there are many similarities between Japan and Germany. I also learned about many Japanese customs and pecularities that should serve as example for Germany and the Western world too.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Mr. and Ms. Okamoto for their outstanding hospitality and their inspiring motivation and committment and time to give young students like me the chance to gain these unique insights through the Grünwald scholarship. Their motivation and drive to foster intercultural exchange and bilateral understanding between Japan and Germany is one of a kind and will certainly be a guiding priciple for me for my entire life.
Fresh fish, large piles of snow, and wide rise fields – these three terms can summarize the last few weeks in Japan. So far, I have been able to exlore the urban and well-populated areas of Japan, such as Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Tokyo. As a matter of fact, the majority of Japan’s population lives in these well-known areas, simply because one third of the country is unhabitable due to geographic conditions (forests, mountains). Yet, what many visitors miss out is the rural Japan and its incredibly beautiful areas outside the big cities. During a short trip with Mr. and Ms. Okamoto and Ms. Moriyama, I was given the chance to get to know some of these parts throughout the last weeks. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. and Ms. Okamoto for these unique insights and days!
On our journey to Toyama, we drove along the coast though Ishikawa prefecture, where we made a lunch break at a little fishing village and also bought some crayfish for dinner. A variety of fresh sea shells and fantastic sashimi – I have rarely before had such a delicious seafood lunch. I also learned that Japan people, on average, consume 40 kg of fish every year, more than national fishing industry is able to satisfy. In fact, 10% of global fishing is consumed by the Japanese population.
In the historic traditional house of Ms. Okamoto’s parents, we enjoyed the crayfish for dinner. I was also able to experience the special peaceful, harmoneous atmosphere of a traditional Japanese home. Untreated, natural wood, filigree sliding doors that are covered with transparent paper create a plain and simple architecture and an impressive pleasurable feeling.
Besides aesthetic aspects, the movable walls also appear to be very practical.
On the next day, we went 3,000 metres up to Tateyama Kurobe, where we enjoyed a breathtaking view over the Japanese alps and crossed the famous alpine street, that winded its way from pretty chestnut forests up to the snow. Furthermore, we hiked to a number of impressive water falls and saw how beautful rural Japan is, with its forests, rise fields, and mountains. In the middle of Gifu Prefecture, we also visited the village Shirakawa, were we saw traditional vernacular houses. On the way back to Osaka, we stopped at Inuyama close to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture to visit the city’y historic castle.
These days, offside the popular urban areas, have allowed me to get to know a wholly new perspective on Japan. I would recommend every tourist to visit these rather untypical rural areas too.
„Karoshi“ (過労死) literally translates to “death by overwork” and is an expression, that probably only exists in the Japanese language. Having known this term already for longer, I probably arrived in Japan with a slightly biased opinion. How does a typical Japanse working day look like, what standing does an employer have in one’s life, and are foreign stereotypes true? Throughout the past few weeks, I was able to delve into these questions, as I was given the great honor to spend one week at Yanmar, a diesel engine manufacturer headquartered in Osaka. Their core products include a wide range of applications such as seagoing vessels, construction equipment, agricultural equipment, and generator sets. I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Yanmar, particularly to Mr. Yamaguchi, Mr. Yukino, Mr. Matsumoto, and Ms. Kano for the impressive days inside your company, the great organization, and especially your time and commitment to answer my questions and thereby allowing me to learn more about Japanese working culture. Thank you very much!
During my stay at Yanmar, I was given the chance to not only get to know the group’s organizational structure, its core business areas, firm history, and culture, but also to learn about the current trends and challenges Japanese companies are facing today. Changing employee requirements, equal career opportunities and diversity at the workplace, a better work-life balance – all these topics are of growing significance in Germany too. Besides insights into the fields of human resources, I was also introduced to the brand management and the manufacturing divisions, being guided through the production and assembly sites in Nagahama, Kurashiki, Okayama, and Kurume.
What particularly impressed me are the kind and welcoming employees, the sustainable and employee-oriented layout and architecture of the Yanmar headquarter, and the highly automated, clean and innovative production plants. At the manufacturing sites, I could delve into the philosophy of Japanese operations management and experience concepts such as Kaizen in real life.
These experiences let me overcome and adapt my previous stereotypes about Japanese working culture. It appeared to me that extreme overtime work at the expense of one’s health, contrary to my previous stereotypes, are an exception rather than the rule. Instead, there is a growing demand for a better work-life balance and a stricter separation of private and professional matters. Certainly, there are still cases of workers that die from working too much. Yet, statistics prove that today only every fifth Japanese employee works more than 49 hours a week, including breaks. Therefore, the term “Karoshi” appears to be not representative anymore.
What proved to be right is the assumption that Japanese workers have an increased level of loyalty towards their employer. This is reflected in a number of aspects. First, Japanese people tend to work much longer for the same company, if not even stay there there for entire life. Even though this tradition is currently subject to change, life-long working vacancies still seem quite popular. The close relation and the high commitment to one’s employer can also be seen in the regular evening events among colleagues. Another exemplifying observation showed me that workers always try their best to maintain a positive appearance of their employer to the outside. When wearing the company badge, workers would for example not cross at a red traffic light.
For all these exciting and inspiring insights: どうもありがとうございました!
Lots of hours in the train, impressive temples and gardens, and getting lost within the crowd in urban Tokyo – this is how my last two weeks can be briefly summarized. After having settled in Osaka, I was now able to travel and explore further regions of Japan. Together with my visiting family, we had the pleasure to visit different cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Himeji. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Okamoto for his time and committment at all time and his hospitality!
Throughout the past few weeks, there were two particular Japanese pecularities that attracted my attention: (1) The punctual and perfectly running railway system and (2) the extreme cleanliness everywhere. This second report shall be written along these two aspects.
Japan – the country of absolute punctuality. This was one of the stereotypes I already learned back home in Europe, and indeed I was not disappointed. Quite contrary, the train journeys across the country were more punctual, smooth and trouble-free than I could even imagine. I could almost not believe my eyes when trains approached the stations to the minute, when it stopped right at the designated entrance spots, when staff politely assisted the passengers (wearing white gloves), and when it eventually silently left the station again perfectly on time.
What are the reasons for this? After a bit of research, I came up with two assumptions: (1) Japanese employees show a much higher level of loyalty and sense of duty, which motivates them to do the very best job possible. (2) Moreover, there simply may be an increased sensitivity of punctuality in Japan, that does not tolerate for the German “akademische viertel Stunde” (indicating that it is accepted to be 15 minute late). For completeness and honesty reasons however, one needs to defend the “Deutsche Bahn” (German railway company) that the Japanese infrastructure differs significantly from the German system. Opposed to German high-speed trains (ICE), the Japanese Shinkanzen trains have their own railway network, often built on viaducts that are less often subject to disturbances. Besides the impressive Shinkanzen trains, the Japanese local-bound public transport system appeared to be equally impressive too. To manage the huge crowds of people during rush hours, some stations have employees that press passenges inside the trains, a truly pragmatic Japanese way to solve it. Another difference to Germany are the “women only”-carriages, that protect women in packed trains from awkward contact to strangers.
After flying for more than 12 hours, our plane finally approached Osaka Kansai airport, which is build on a remarkable artificial island in the bay of Osaka and 5 kilometers away from the coast. The airport impressed me right away not only through its extraordinary undulating design (by Renzo Piano) but also through its efficient operations management. A sophisticated automated immigration and border control system allows for shorter throughput times – very much to the delight of the passengers, as I was soon welcomed and greeted by Mr. Okamoto. Since then, I have had the great pleasure of being part of a unique Japanese-German culture exchange program as Grünwald foundation’s 15th scholarship fellow and of having the chance to get to know the Japanese culture, language and history from 1 April to 28 June 2018.
Throughout the first weeks, Mr. Okamoto has not only helped me to develop a basic understanding of Japanese habits and customs, but also introduced me to a number of Japanese associations and societies. Furthermore, I started to explore Osaka and Kyoto, was lucky enough to enjoy the annual cherry blossom season, started Japanese classes and regularly give English language classes to Japanese middle school students. Last but not least, I was given the honor to meet several inspiring Japanese and German personalities, such as the Mayor of Osaka, Mr. Keiji Goto, and the German Consul General Dr. Köhler.
Participating in discussions and events like these allowed me to acquire insights in various Japanese-German similarities, such as the demographic change. As Germany, Japan is currently facing a firm trend towards an aging population through decreasing birth rates (recently 1.3 children per family). It is unclear yet which political responses could be most effective in tackling this issue, examples include encouraging women to work and replacing vacant jobs through robots. Besides the aging population, there are other issues that are discussed in a similar manner in both Japan and Germany. Among these topics, I engaged in insightful debates about Japan’s high national deficit (with a deficit-GDP ratio of more than 100%), emerging alternative engine technologies within the automotive industry (conventional vs. electric vs. hydrogen), the increasing trend of urbanization, nuclear energy, or the role of women in society and the business world. It took me by surprise to learn that the Japanese law system has adapted the German law system, which has led to many similarities until today.
Despite these similarities, I also encountered a number of differences and even curiosities. One of my personal highlights is certainly the amazing Japanese cuisine, which is characterized by very fresh, low-fat and very tasteful ingredients. Sushi, Sashimi, Okonomiyaki, hot Ramen-soups and the superb 12-course menu during my welcome dinner have made my heart beat faster and encouraged me to turn the grocery shopping routine into an adventurous experiment. What I found quite curious is Japan’s high-end, carefully-cultivated fruit available in the supermarkets. Even a single strawberry can be wrapped independently and a perfectly shaped watermelon can easily cost a fortune of more than €100. Apart from these culinary differences, I also identified variances in people’s mentality, as I experienced Japanese people to have a very high level of hospitality, courtesy and openness. At this point, I would like to express my gratefulness to Mr. Okamoto for his outstanding hospitality, his time and strong commitment, which allowed me to easily settle in Osaka and which provided me with so many opportunities to understand Japan better. I would also like to thank Ms. Moriyama for her time and very friendly help in my everyday life.
I very much look forward to the upcoming months in Japan and aspire to further advance my understanding of this country while gaining many more inspiring experiences.
It is hard to believe but my time in Japan is actually coming to an end after nearly three months. So this will be my last report about my experiences.
A few weeks ago my girlfriend came here for a 10 days‘ tour through the country. One sunny day we went on a trip to Himeji castle. The white roofs and walls out of which the castle is built, make the castle a really nice place to visit, in my opinion one of Japan’s most beautiful castles. It was also setting for many Japanese movies in the past decades. Everyone who is interested in visiting Himeji and the castle I can recommend to also make a side trip to the neighboured Koko-En. This garden is layed out typically for Japanese parks and gardens and split up in differently themed areas. It is located just next to the moat and not to dismiss.
Our tour then led us to Hiroshima. The city is famous in the whole world after August 6th 1945, the first militant use of an atomic bomb. Now it especially impressed me by its big Peace Park, that can be found just a few hundred metres of the epicentre of the explosion and which is supposed to remind people of the thousands of victims the bombing counted by the park’s monuments and its museum. It also symbolizes a memorial place against another atomic bombing on a city. One of the most popular victims back then was 12-year old pupil Sasaki who contracted leukemia as a result of the radiation set free. In Japan there is a legend that tells the Gods would make a dream come true for you if you fold 1000 paper cranes. So the girl put all her energy in folding more than 600 cranes before she died of the consequences of her disease, sadly she could not make her wish of living-on become true. Still nowadays many children and visitors of the Peace Park fold paper cranes in memory of Sasaki. Not far away there is Miyajima island located in the bay of Hiroshima. It is famous for its red Torii standing in the sea in front of the Itsukushima shrine. The island offers cute old fisher’s houses and wild deers walking around at the beach like at Nara, in the heartland you can find contetious monkeys. A must-do at Miyajima is a railway trip up on Mount Misen and then walking about 45 minutes to the mountain peek, where you can enjoy a one of a kind view on the bay of Hiroshima and the surrounding islands.
A few days later we headed for Tokyo. The Tokyo Skytree, 634 metres high, offers a breathtaking view over the megacity and when the weather is good you can even see Mount Fujisan on the horizon. Looking at all of the houses beneath you it is hard to believe that the prefecture of Tokyo leaves space for 35-40 million residents! The eastern parts of the garden around the imperial palace is a precious, quiet place in the middle of this busy city. They are just a stone’s throw away from the Tokyo main station, which is basically built in european style. Besides the other highlights Tokyo provides, like Shibuya cross-way or the Tsukiji fish market, I especially liked Odaiba island. It is deposited in the bay of Tokyo and standing there you have a stunning view on the city’s skyline, the Minato district and the Rainbow Bridge.
On my next-to-last weekend here I got invited on a two-day trip to Biwa lake by the Rotact Club.This lake is located in the North of Kyoto and is Japan’s biggest lake. At first we went on Mount Uchimi by railroad, finding many attractions on the top of the mountain. In the summer there is a high rope’s course and a swinging slide, next to numerous sportive activities such as baseball, basketball, soccer, frisbee, skipping or throwing a lasso. Everybody, young or old, finds there something to do! In the winter you can even go skiing or sledding. After that in the evening we cooked and played japanese parlour games together.The next day we drove to a farm that actually appeared to be an amusement park. To my surprise it was a german farm called „Blumen Hügel“ („flower hill“). In the restaurant there we had wurstel, potatoes and other german food, you coud also order real German beer. The farm was really nice with flowers and roses and farm-typical animals to pet and to feed. You also had the possibility of participating several workshops. All in all a very felicitious weekend-trip!
At this point it is important for me to thank again Mrs. and Mr. Okamoto, the management board of the Grünwaldstiftung, the Rotary Club Grünwald and all of my new Japanese friends, they all made it possible for me to spend this unforgettable and wonderful time here! In the past three months I had the opportunity to talk to the locals and also, different to just going on a short vacation, really live like a Japanese. In my time here I got many new opinions and countless impressions and experiences.
During the past two weeks, I went on a hiking trip to Mount Rokko with Sakura, Mrs. Ikawa’s daughter and a friend of hers. While the sun was shining bright and temperature had reached pleasant 25°C, we finally got to the top of the mountain after a 2,5h hike. There we had a wonderful view on the Osaka bay in the South-East and the wooded mountains in the North. After a short break, we went downwards again, heading for Arima Onsen, which is one of the oldest Onsen in Japan and a hotspot for many (also Japanese) tourists. The hot thermal springs are said to have a healing and vitalizing effect on the body. At this place, we rested in the hot water for about an hour, besides men and women have to use separate bathing facilities. After that we returned to Kobe by bus.
Arrived at Kobe again, Mrs. Ikawa and her husband invited us to dinner at their house and we got the opportunity to have an interesting conversation. By chance there was a parade held at Kobe that day, on which many young people attended. They push a chariot all in all four times through town, starting early in the morning until the end late at night. This is all accompanied by loud music and traditional dances.
Because of the hot temperature we have at this time of the year, I decided to visit Kobe Beach for one day. After arriving at JR Station “Suma Beach” there appeared a long, sandy beach in front of me. In the summer the beach is crowded by sunbathers, but in this season the beach was nearly empty. I arrived there at approximately 11 o´clock and I could count the visitors with two hands. After two hours sunbathing I went to the Suma Aqualife Park. This Aquarium exists for more than 60 years and houses hundreds of different sea dwellers. The Aquarium’s highlight is (besides the Dolphin Show) surely the underwater tunnel made of glass. You can go through a tank with Amazon fish and get a special view on the underwater world. Later I decided to see more of the beautiful Kobe Harbor for the rest of the day.
15th of May, I was lucky to participate at “Aoi Matsuri”., which is the oldest festival at Kyoto and has it origins in the 6th century A.D. Back then, many natural catastrophes shattered the region and destroyed the harvest. To comfort the Gods, the Emperor launched ceremonies and rites at several shrines of Kyoto. These ceremonies became “Aoi Matsuri” in the course of time. The festival is visited by many hundreds of people every year. It all starts at the Emperor`s palace, passing the Shimogamo Shrine, finding its way until the Kamigamo Shrine, where a ceremony is held. During the festive day, the streets of Kobe are crowded with people, so many Japanese watch the TV broadcast of the event.
Another day I visited the golden temple „Kinkaku-ji“, one of Kyoto’s top sightseeing hotspots. Pushed tightly on one another, the people try to take photographs of the golden, four-panelled pavillon on the temple ground. Originally only the highest level of the pavillon was shining in golden colour, but after the temple burned down in 1950, it was reconstructed five years later and the other floors were painted in gold as well. Walking up the hill on the temple area, you get by a small house, a place where you can attend a traditional tea ceremony. Even though there are many visitors in the temple area, the garden surrounding the small house is very quiet and offers a pleasant atmosphere. After my visit of Kinkaku-ji I walked approximately 15 minutes to Ryoan-ji. The Zen-temple is famous for its rockery. There lay 15 rock blocks in a bed of small pebbles. It doesn’t depend on the angle of your view on the rockery, you can never see more than 15 of them. There is also a restaurant at the temple area, where you can eat the special Kyoto dish “Yudofu” with a beautiful view on a typical Japanese garden.
Time has gone so fast, and after two more weeks I have made many new experiences. I am really excited about all of the new impressions I will get to see in the upcoming time!
My stay in Japan has been a both wonderful and very instructive time. Japanese culture, developped over thousands of years with only little influence from abroad, offers fascinating insight into its history and traditions. One thing impressed me in particular: The way Japanese people treat each other and foreigners in daily life is always utterly polite and respectful. This contributed a lot to my well-being during my stay. Even if the kindness, that I could experience in every single social interaction, is not always sincere but acquired by education, it allows a very stress-free social intercourse. Concerning this matter, Germans could learn a thing or two from the Japanese.
I very much wanted to further explore this fascinating country. Mr Okamoto was very generous in offering me to stay two more weeks in his guest room, which allowed me to travel to three more very interesting destinations in different corners of Japan.
Being a huge fan of forests and nature, Yakushima island was my place to go. Together with my Chinese friend, I visited the oldest Japanese cedar tree, explored deep forests by foot and by kayak and relaxed in a splendid natural onsen right next to the ocean. Hayao Miyazaki, a famous Japanese anime director, is said to have used Yakushima’s wild nature as inspiration for his film “Princess Mononoke”.
In Kumamoto, I was again very lucky and could spend one night at my friend’s parents’ house. Thus, I could experience a day in the countryside. It is still very exciting for me to see a Japanese home from the inside, especially if it is equipped with traditional tatami mats and shoji doors. During my travels, I also got used to sleeping on a thin futon instead of a bed.
In Hokkaido, the northern island, I got to know a very different side of Japan. It offers vast landscapes, and people are (as in the north of Germany), more calm and reserved. I still didn’t get used to traditional Japanese breakfast yet…
In Sapporo, I spent two nights with my friend’s home stay family. We enjoyed Hokkaido’s fresh fish and sea food. Most of the friends I made during my stay where either Japanese or from other Asian countries. It was very interesting for me to learn about the differences between Asian cultures and their relation to each other.
At this very moment, I am spending my last days in Japan at the Yaeyama islands, located near Taiwan. I especially like Iriomote, offering jungle, mangroves and a great underwater world. During all of my trips, both the owners of my accomodations and other travellers always showed big interest in my culture. It sometimes was hard to have these conversations in mostly Japanese, but every single time it added to my understanding of the Japanese way of life. I am very grateful for all the experiences that I had during the last 3.5 months. I still remember exactly how happy I felt when I was accepted as a scholarship holder by Grünwald Rotary club. My expectations have been exceeded by far.
I would like to sincerely thank Mr and Mrs Okamoto. Mr Okamoto invests a lot of energy and time in his scholarship students and has been very helpful in any situation. Only with his commitment, it is possible to experience Japan from head to toe in such an intensive and carefree way. These last months have been a wonderful time for me, and I’m going home with many new impressions and opinions.