Sometimes it’s a sound, on other occasions it is a smell or something seemingly insignificant that catches my eye. But every day – without exception – Japan surprises, amazes or dumbfounds me. It’s what makes living and working in this country such a constantly rewarding experience.
Back in 1992, when I first arrived in Tokyo hardly knowing sushi from a Shinkansen, Japan was a long, long way from home. I dutifully wrote aerogrammes to my parents every week trying to convey my utter astonishment at every turn.
Bear in mind that despite being born in London I actually grew up in a tranquil Devon village; little could have been more jarringly different than the assault on the senses that is Shinjuku Station, where I first alighted all those years ago.
My communication with my parents 23 years later is by email and Skype – thank the stars – but I’m pretty certain there is still a sense of disbelief over my latest experience every time we speak.
Tokyo is every inch the bustling, futuristic, neon-lit megalopolis of modern legend. The youngsters in Harajuku really do dress in the most outrageous costumes; Akihabara really does have electronic gadgets to solve every personal need; Shibuya really does provide an insight into the lives of young Japanese; Shinjuku, Ebisu, Ueno and countless other urban hubs within the massive conglomeration of Tokyo truly have a million ways of entertaining and separating cash from wallets.
Go a couple of hundred metres in any direction from these focal points, however, and the visitor will invariably discover a small shrine framed behind a crimson torii gateway and houses made of wood. Smoke will rise from the chimney of the local sento public bath and a grizzled street trader will be selling baked sweet potatoes fresh from a wood-fired stove on the back of his truck.
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Beyond Tokyo, I’ve been fortunate enough to stand on the top of Mount Fuji to see the sun rise and I’ve seen it go down from a deserted beach in Okinawa. I’ve been awed by the old imperial capital of Kyoto, been welcomed into homes in the aftermath of the earthquake tragedy in Tohoku and managed not to cause offence by turning down an expensive dish of 'uni' or sea urchin.
I’ve hiked a stretch of the ancient Nakasendo Way through the mountains to the north of Nagoya, dived in the frozen Sea of Okhotsk and am always moved by Hiroshima.
But more than the places, it is the people of Japan – polite, hospitable, always eager to help – that have made my stay so magical. The Japanese call it 'omotenashi', which means 'to entertain guests wholeheartedly', and few other nations come close to the warmth of a Japanese welcome. I can’t imagine living or working anywhere else.
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This article was written by Julian Ryall from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.