Before arriving, I had heard an intimidating range of words used to describe the land of the rising sun. Having never even visited I was sure of at least a few surprises. As human beings it is easy to shy away from the boundaries of our comfort zones and imagine that change will only entail stress, frustration and even unhappiness. Moving to a different continent can never be free of troubles, but an adventure without obstacles is not an adventure. And life should be an adventure.
It takes 11 hours to fly from London to Tokyo. This short period of time is very misleading. It betrays not only the reality of the geographical distance, but also the myriad other contrasts that you continuously discover, the longer you spend here. Of course the language is very different from ours (three non roman alphabets for a start). As we all know, the cuisine is very special with many unique aspects.
Japan also looks very different. The contrasts between the incredible urban density of Tokyo and the wild forests of the mountainous interior could not be more stark. You could have breakfast next to the busiest and most famous zebra crossing in the world, and see monkeys and bears on top of a mountain before dinner the same day.
Tokyo is also the cleanest city I've ever experienced. You might expect that to have immaculate urban spaces would require strict legislation and enforcement of hefty fines for littering. As with so many things here, convention does not apply. People care about public spaces. There are no signs warning you of dire consequences for littering. People simply know that such a practise is detrimental to all. After just a few days it was clear to me that mutual respect is a fundamental cornerstone of Japanese culture. Even if someone has never met you before, they will start from an assumption that you are kind, friendly and well meaning. When everyone adopts this attitude, it makes for a very positive and welcoming society indeed. Small wonder that there is such a low crime rate here despite the high population density.
Of course, none of the words that had been offered to me as descriptions of Japan were sufficient nor entirely accurate in any complete sense. After a few months, I am still presented with a range of visual, acoustic and culinary surprises every time I leave the house. It has been very much an adventure from the beginning, and there is no sign that this will change any time soon.