The last days before my departure to Japan (Jap. "Nippon" for the beginning of the sun, i.e. the land of the rising sun) were filled with great excitement. I have never been to a country where I neither understand the language nor know the culture and especially not for such a long time. What will it be like?
After a 17-hour journey, which, due to the war in Ukraine, took me across the Black Sea, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, South China and South Korea, I arrived in Osaka. I was picked up by Toshi Sumiya and we had my first Japanese meal (ramen) together. In a very friendly exchange about Japan and Germany we also talked about our adventures from travelling the world. I have the feeling that the hospitality and openness of the Japanese will make this stay a once in a lifetime experience.
I was invited to enjoy the first evening in the company of Mr. Okamoto and Mrs. Okamoto and tried many Japanese delicacies, including okonomiyaki, a speciality of the Kansai region, which resembles an egg cake with vegetables. The okonomiyaki sauce and the katsuobushi (dried and crushed tuna) on top were extremely delicious.
In the following days, I was introduced to more Japanese specialities (udon, gyoza, yuzu, chankonabe (sumo stew), hiroshimayaki,…). I also got to know very open and curious people and learned my first, but important, Japanese: これ [ひとつ] (おねがいします) (Nama [hitotsu] (onegaishimasu)). That will take me quite far for now…
Although I do not yet know the language – except for the upper sentence – I feel very welcomed and accommodated. Apart from Mr. Okamoto, the Japanese people support me in all matters of everyday life and most of all with their attentiveness and friendliness. Recently, I couldn't find the platform for my transfer and seemed very lost. Immediately, some people rushed to help and we were able to solve the problem with any means, such as Google Translate (my daily companion), so
that I arrived back at the Grünwald Foundation house in perfect condition and – most importantly – on time.
I generally feel very welcome: While the mayor of Suita took considerably more time than the scheduled 30 minutes to get to know me, Mr and Mrs Okamoto organised a remarkable welcome dinner. Over 13 courses, I was able to experience the supreme culinary art of Japanese cuisine and at the same time had a pleasant conversation with the former Japanese ambassador to Germany, who had little anecdotes to share (among other things, he told me about Phillip Franz von Siebold, a German physician and natural scientist who is still very famous throughout Japan today because he brought Western medicine to the country).
One highlight succeeds the other in the course of the first two weeks. I was often invited to accompany Mr Okamoto, for example to play golf or attend classical concerts by young artists. I also very much enjoyed the 2-day excursion to Kyoto together with Mr Fukuda. Kyoto is probably one of the most important cities – historically and economically. I learned a lot about Japanese Buddhism and the different schools, also in the context of history. For me, this city is also an example of both tradition and modernity and how it is lived in Japan. Whether it's the view from the Higashi Hongan-ji temple to the colorfully lit Kyoto Tower or the monk driving up to a ceremony in a modern electric car. The country thrives on a sense of tradition combined with enthusiasm for the modern.
I am very thankful that Mr. Okamoto's Grünwald Foundation provides young people with the opportunity to go on an intercultural exchange to Japan. This experience expands one's own horizons and gives one the necessary vision beyond the borders of the own country. In this way, we can constantly expand the relationship between Japan and Germany and tackle global challenges together.