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Why visit Japan?

Before addressing this question, I think it is useful to give some background information. I was raised and currently reside in the United States. Some of the reasons I offer for visiting Japan relate to similarities and differences between the two countries. Yet I also seek to hold a global perspective, and I believe many of the thoughts I share here may apply to persons from diverse cultural and national identities. Also, I feel it is important to state that our tours are open to participants from any part of the globe (with the understanding that our tours are conducted in English).

Touring preferences are highly subjective. The aspects of a culture that attract or fascinate one person may repel another. Since our tours are very intimate and personal, I will address the question from the perspective of what I find attractive in Japanese culture. Then, if you find my interests parallel your own, you may be a good candidate for one of our tours. And even if you do not resonate with any of my values regarding Japan, you may still have a great time traveling with us, because I seek to give our tour participants a thorough exposure to many aspects of Japanese culture, not just the parts I find most appealing or intriguing.

So what are the elements that attract me to Japan, her people, and culture?

There are striking similarities and contrasts between Japan and the US, which I find endlessly intriguing. I will start by describing some of them.

Japan's population is nearly 45% of the US population. Yet Japan's area is a small fraction of the US area, roughly equal in size to the state of Montana. 70% of that area is rugged and mountainous, due to Japan's volcanic origins, and thus uninhabitable. So imagine 45% of the US population living on a land area the size of Pennsylvania! And a significant portion of that population is compressed into a few major cities, Tokyo being the largest. Nevertheless, the Japanese have developed the ability to live in harmony and peace, and have attained one of the highest living standards on earth. They have nurtured traditions which serve to dissipate stress and enhance personal and social well being. This is reflected in the fact that the Japanese live longer than any other nationality (unfortunately, US life expectancy statistics place us below forty other nations).

Japan's history has been powerfully shaped by their isolated geography, accentuating their homogeneous sense of national unity, which stands in sharp contrast to the melting pot image often applied to the US. Throughout their long history, and significantly influenced by their mainland neighbors, the Chinese and Koreans, the Japanese have developed very unique customs and cultural trappings, many of which seem confusing at first to American eyes and tastes, yet stand on their own merits when examined more closely.

While Japan's cultural treasure is vital to the Japanese national identity, and therefore, in many instances, very carefully preserved, Japan often leads the world in the evolving process called progress, especially with regard to technology. Thus Tokyo, although viewed by some social architects as a nightmare, is an amazing, sometimes mesmerizing collage of the ancient and the modern.

Japan is extremely clean and safe, with one of the lowest crime rates in the world. It is blessed with natural beauty which varies by season. The food, while it may seem very different to an American palate, is nutritious, widely varied, and presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The public transit system is highly efficient, clean, and punctual. The people are courteous and helpful.

In summary, I know I am a more generous, open, and informed person because of the time I have spent interacting with Japanese people, their culture, and their beautiful island home. To my subjective senses, the air and light in Japan are different. There is an energy and rhythm unlike any I have experienced elsewhere, from the boisterous "irasshaimase" which greets patrons in most dining establishments, to the serene quiet of a secluded garden. By the end of each journey to Nippon (Japan), I find I have rediscovered the common threads which make us all human, yet my vision of what it means to be human has once again been enlarged, and I know I am a richer person for it.