I can admit, now, that I didn’t love you at first sight.
I would visit you in Tokyo, once or twice a year for work. Not knowing your language was an obvious barrier between us, but it was more than that. Everything about you was so…foreign. Simply greeting someone or ordering food proved a source of frustration. I couldn’t make my way around by myself. You were inscrutable, and I longed for the familiar back home.
Over time, though, things changed. I grew to appreciate your differences, and discover your many finer points.
My feelings for you started changing as I began traveling outside of the city. I was struck by your natural beauty. On the train, I was like a schoolboy, my nose pressed up against the window. “Look at the mountains! The rivers! The pine and bamboo! The roofs on the houses! The green rice paddies everywhere!”
I was smitten, and eager to get to know you better. Just naming the places I’ve explored – from small villages to magnificent cities – gives me a thrill: Awaji, Gokayama, Hakone. Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Kobe, Kumamoto, Kyoto, Matsuyama, Miyajima, Nagasaki, the Seto Islands, Shiretoko, Takayama, Tateyama, Yakushima, Yokohama. Touring whole prefectures of Hokkaido, Kochi, and Okinawa.
I’ve grown to love your cuisine, how it’s presented and how it respects the seasons. Your fruits and vegetables, even those I’m accustomed to, taste like something else entirely. And good food is everywhere. At a rest area on the highway, I found hearty home-cooked meals. At a small gift shop in the mountains, the soup was a beautiful and delicious gift from the earth, replete with fiddleheads and mushrooms picked right there.
You’re easy to love. Everywhere I go, things are clean and work as they should. There’s a system and a process for everything, from small conveniences to things of more pressing importance.
And your people! Men and women of all ages and stations are helpful to the extreme. Refreshingly, it’s not for money. It’s because there’s a sense of respect that pervades your culture, respect that leads people to treat others well, to take good care of things, to avoid waste, and to take pride in their craft, whatever it is. I see it when the taxi driver knows where to go and greets me with white gloves and a bow as he takes my baggage. I see it as I travel, and the whole of the country’s transit system is akin to the world’s most finely-crafted precision watch.
I could go on…
I know you have your flaws. But in my eyes, they’re the imperfections expected in any precious gem. Others may not love you as I do, but love is not a contest. For the others, I hope they find feelings for a place, for her culture and her people, like the feelings I have for you.
Oh, Japan! There are at least 1,000 reasons to love you. I look forward to getting to know them all, and to discovering 1,000 more.