It has been 20 years since I was living in a semi-rural area of Japan, just outside Tokyo, learning to speak fluent Japanese and enjoying every aspect of Japanese culture. Having planned to live there and teach English as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme for a year, my trip was extended to three as my passion for the Japanese people and culture grew.
My interest started as a teenager, as I practised karate, and developed through my university years studying management science, which included the study of Japanese business and the ethos of Japanese companies.
I arrived in Japan with just three phrases under my belt: “Hello”, “Goodbye” and “It’s hot”, so had to get well and truly stuck in to learning the language. Living in rural Japan, with very few Westerners, the hospitality and warmth of the Japanese people was overwhelming, and it was fantastic to feel so welcome whilst so far away from home.
I was fortunate enough to travel extensively across the country, and adored the juxtaposition of Japan’s cultural heritage, where a 300-year-old wooden shrine would be stood next a 30-storey modern high rise.
The Japanese way of life is influenced by a sense of obligation, known as ‘giri’ – a feeling amongst the people of Japan of obligation towards others, a sense of belonging and being part of something bigger. This may not sound like much, but it helps to keep crime rates low, and everyone really cares and is respectful of their family, workplace and their wider community.
I feel that there are so many myths around Japan – whether it’s Japanese business practices or stories about astronomically expensive food, and I feel obligated to share my personal experiences and really promote Japanese culture to people in the UK.
Having been back in Yorkshire for 12 years, I try to stay connected to the Japanese culture through karate and eating Japanese food. I also practice the language whenever I can, although there hasn’t been much opportunity so far in West Yorkshire, so I’m looking forward to my next holiday in the Far East.