"Arigato gozaimasu" ("thank you very much"). This was probably the most-used phrase during the entirety of our Japan trip, and also happens to be the phrase that embodies the idea to which I believe any great personality and mindset would be centered around -- the showing of thanks and appreciation towards others. This Japan trip not only allowed me to realize just how big our world is (and how little of it I have seen), but also that the universal language, comprised of kindness and thankfulness, was enough to break the imminent language barrier that we faced during our whole trip, for none of us knew how to speak Japanese. Yes, maybe the fact that I had been reading "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho during the downtime moments (plane, metro, and bullet train "shinkansen" rides, etc.) of our trip played a role in me being more open to discovering this supposed universal language, but I firmly believe that smiles and positive interactions from anyone and everyone can go a longer way than we'd normally expect.
Simply put, Japan was an absolute culture shock. Being from the United States, we had to rely on wits, instinct, and the godsend "tourist" and "english-speaking" booths that were fortunately present in most of the spots we set foot upon. Did I mention that none of us could speak Japanese? One thing I was able to take from Japan was how clean the country was. Tokyo, for starters, was ridiculous. It's no joke when people say that it's the cleanest city, among major cities, in the world. When you take pollution and size ratios into consideration with all of the world's major cities, it's no surprise that Tokyo takes the cake. I honestly don't know what they do, or how they do it, to keep the city so clean... But whatever it is, it's definitely working! The people were also extremely friendly, as well. Everyone there was courteous and respectful, despite us not really being able to respectively understand each others' words.
Another thing that I also realized was that in the midst of one's travels, it's not always about the breathtaking places you get to see, the delicious food you get to eat, or interesting encounters you make with the locals there.. But rather, it's also about the people you're with that allow the ends to justify the means. I'd like to give a very special thanks to my friends Rolo, Mindy, Carl, and Altoni, for the countless laughs and great conversations that we shared during the entirety of this Japan trip. I agree, we were probably foolish to have planned this trip to be only a week long. From a general standpoint, however, I'm so unbelievably grateful to have had this opportunity to make this foolish mistake in the first place, considering that many people in this world don't even have the opportunity to take a simple road trip out of the town they grew up in for a couple of days. I will say, though, that in our short amount of time, we covered a lot of ground! We definitely took advantage of our week-long JR (Japan Railway) Passes, being able to cover a good majority of Tokyo (although one could easily spend months upon months exploring that city) and take day-long trips out to Osaka, Kyoto, Nagano, and Hakone.
Japan undeniably humbled me in many ways, but the most prime way that I feel it humbled me was reminding me about how it's okay to make mistakes. Being the person I am, I'm not the biggest fan of making mistakes, but after taking all of those incorrect turns during navigation, getting off at the wrong train stops, and making inaccurate time calculations that would cause us to stray away from our planned itinerary, it was apparent that Japan was trying to teach me something. Mistakes are a part of who we are, as people, and are definitely a big part of vacations or any normal outing in general. They're what remind us that we are human, and they're the kind of things make us feel alive -- and I'm a big fan of anyone or anything that makes me feel alive.
While it's safe to say that I'm already looking forward to the next time I get to visit this beautiful country and further immerse in the culture, at this point in time I'm looking forward to what blessings await me in my home country... The Philippines -- be sure to stay tuned!