Experiencing Land of the Rising Sun

Back in September 2012, I was lucky enough to visit Japan to participate in a training program for local staff working at the Japan’s overseas mission organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

The training program included various lectures by the relevant bureaus and divisions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and visits to the surrounding areas of Tokyo. I seized the opportunity to reflect on my personal impression about Japan-culture and technology among others.

Two days after leaving Addis Ababa, I landed in Tokyo and immediately realized I had traveled from a no-tech culture to a high-tech culture which boasts one of the biggest electronics market in the world- the Akihabara. Everything was automated and digitalized, including the bathroom of room 646 of Tokyo Prince Hotel- an experience etched in my mind.

The Tokyo sub-way is a mega-city under the earth, and another vantage point from which to experience Japanese high-tech culture. Above ground, Tokyo’s skyscrapers look almost nature-planted in their beauty and diversity, the Tokyo Sky Tree seeming almost to touch the sky. Yet, among all this high-tech are elegant and beautiful spiritual centers and gardens where one can really track internal peace, and among the people a level of politeness that is indeed an embodiment of discipline of the highest order. “Things fall apart”? The flight to Japan was my first international experience. From Addis Ababa Bole International Airport to Tokyo Narita Airport takes a total of 13 hours.

We are living in a world where technology defines our destiny. My notion of sovereignty and national boundaries evaporated after the first 40 minutes of takeoff. I had a window seat and could look down on Mother Earth. On the screen in front of my seat, I adjusted the TV to channel 21 which updated me on where the airplane was, second by second. In 40 minutes, the map on the TV showed that we were about to cross Djibouti, heading through the Gulf countries to Dubai.

However, the reality on the ground was different when I looked out of the window. Those national boundaries displayed on the screen actually do not exist. They are imaginary. Mother Earth is undivided. Which one of my two experiences was real? For me, I feel like things had fallen apart.

The Japanese way of politeness In just two days, I encountered a unique culture on the other side of the Indian Ocean. A travel from a no-tech culture to a high-tech culture, if you like. After arrival at Narita Airport, I met with my African compatriots from Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda, Tunisia, Sudan and Kenya.

I was amazed by the level of politeness of the limousine bus workers. Phrases like ‘ARIGATO OGAYZEMAS’-meaning is THANK YOU VERY MUCH and a heartfelt bowing were pouring here and there. That is indeed an embodiment of discipline of the highest order. It is highly imperative to capitalize on such an ethical value even for private life. The approach of the hotel people was not less either. My first high-tech experience Room 646 of the Tokyo Prince Hotel will occupy a special place in my heart throughout my life. Would you mind reading my first encounter with the ‘digital toilet’ of room 646 that performs most important tasks? I hope you don’t.

Here is the story. I sat on the ‘digital toilet’ without turning on the light in the bathroom. To the right side are small dots of red and yellow lights. I may have pressed some button. A g splash of water struck me. I jumped. The splash showered me. What could I do? The splash continues for over a minute. I managed to turn on the light and touched every button before I found the stop button. Then it was my turn to experiment. The ‘digital toilet’ is really the most darling thing I ever seen in any toilet in my life.

This was one of my first high-tech experiences!

Prophet unarmed

I made a trip by myself to visit some of the most important areas of Tokyo. I tried to visit three places- the National Museum, the Tokyo University and the Akihabara Market.

National Museums are mirror images of a nation. I was eager to see those artificial intelligences (Robots) and many other things unique to Japan.

Professor Tomonubu Imamichi is one of my favorite life time authors after Immanuel Kant. Philosophy rarely alters its direction with radical suddenness. There are times when its new concerns and emphasis clearly separate it from its immediate past. Such was the case with Professor Imamichi whose Eco-Ethica (ethics for the scope of human activities) brought forth a new light. That was the drive behind my schedule to visit Tokyo University that produces great personalities like Professor Imamichi.

Sadly, I failed to find either the National Museum or Tokyo University. A prophet is unarmed in his own country. Neither did I find a single person who knew about Professor Imamichi.

Akihabara A day before I checked out of my hotel, I had a chance to visit Akihabara, the biggest electronics market where I purchased a beautiful gift for my wife (Olympus Camera). Two days later, I came back to my God-given space, Ethiopia.

A study tour for feeling Japanese culture and history One of the most unforgettable parts of my stay in Japan was that we were accompanied by Masaru Watanabe, a comedian tour guide who entertained us throughout the study tour, of course, with comic flavor. I was sitting next to him throughout the travels enjoying his comprehensive knowledge of Tokyo and its vicinity, sometimes getting concrete explanations to several of the questions I posed to him. Owing to his comic approach, a local staff from Belgium named him the joyful Watanabe after his company bus – Joyful Travel. The following highlights are based on his explanations and my memos.

The National Diet building

The impressive National Diet of Japan stands on a hill in the Chiyoda District of Tokyo. The entire Diet complex is the political center of the Nation. Construction was started in January 1920 and completed in November 1936. The north wing is the House of Councilors and the south wing is the House of Representatives. We were taken to the second floor of the Public Gallery from where we clearly saw the Chamber of the House of Councilor. According to our guide, visitors and members of the press may watch the proceedings from this floor. Although it was under maintenance, we were able to see the 460 Members’ seats which fan out in a semicircle around the podium. High up, behind the podium is the president’s seat. Behind the president’s seat is the throne of His Majesty the Emperor. From there, His Imperial Highness attends the Opening Ceremony. Yes, what is good in history is good for the nation! I have seen how the Japanese have harmonized their age-old aristocracy with the modern system. Aristocracy is a unique culture signifying organized societies for ages.

We also passed by the Tokyo Fountain built in 1991 in commemoration of the marriage of the Crown Prince. When we passed by the Tokyo Station, our guide told us that a novelist who won the Noble Prize used to spend his time in Tokyo station writing his memos. The Imperial Palace and the Nijubashi (Double Bridge)

We drove through the Kasumigaseki (administrative district) where many of the government ministries are located. Right outside Tokyo’s Imperial Palace is a statue of Kusunoki Masashige, a knight seated on a horseback in his armor.

We visited the Double Bridge and took some pictures. The Imperial Palace is known as Edo castle. It has a handsome gate. Its fence, built of brown-colored stones, surrounds the palace. The main entrance is through the Double Bridge. Senso-ji Temple, Asakusa Shrine and the Tokyo sky tree

From the heart of Tokyo, we left for the North West, to the Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa Shrine, where I witnessed the deep spirituality of the Japanese people. According to our guide, 130 years ago, three fishermen found a statue Buddha which they believed to be given from heaven. The chief of the village recognized the sanctity of the statue and built a temple-Senso-ji. In honor of the three people, the Asakusa shrine was also built right adjacent to Senso-ji. “Every thirty years, the small statues are shown to the public and if you are lucky you can visit Japan three times in your life time”, the Joyful Watanabe said. We went through the red-colored gate, the Asakusa Kaminarimon Gate, to the north side of the temple. Here numerous people from around the world were visiting, taking pictures and offering prayers. I was looking at my Ugandan friend who came from Entebbe representing the Senior Staff whose eyes were getting dilated with amusement. The huge number of prayers makes me feel as if I was attending special church services for Epiphany in Ethiopia.

The golden Senso-ji Temples, how graceful you are! An inside gate found to the left of the main gate will take you to the Asakusa shrine which is guarded by statues of lion-like animals on both sides. I fetched holy water at the side, purified my hands and offered a prayer by throwing 100 yen to the big box clapping my hands twice, a sign that differentiates a Shinto believer from that of Buddha- who claps their hand only once.

We also visited the Nakamise shopping street where a lot of shops sell fresh food, utensils and many more materials. It reminded me of the ‘Arkebe Suqs’ (Arkebe shops) of Addis Ababa. We then transferred to Tokyo Sky Tree, which almost touches the sky. It is a miracle to view Tokyo from the Sky Tree. I have seen numerous buildings which have attractive aesthetic value. I suggest any visitor to Tokyo should climb-up the Sky Tree to grasp the diversities of Tokyo sky-scrapers. The Great Buddha of Kamakura

The next day, we traveled across the g suspension bridge of Yokohama City which is located on the sea shore. We passed through the industrial complexes of Yokohama overlooking the Nissan plant where Nissan cars are assembled ready for export. From Yokohama and the outskirts of rural of Japan to Kamakura takes about 80 minutes to travel by bus. I observed that the Japanese have built on every inch of their land except spaces for plants and animals.

According to the Joyful Watanabe, Yokohama, with its splendid social and physical infrastructure, remains a first class residential area where executives and directors of companies live.

Kamakura city is a cradle home of Samurai culture. The Great Buddha of Kamakura is world-famous as a symbol of the ancient capital Kamakura when the Shogun (government of Samurai) was first established. The Kamakura shogunates seized power from the central government and established a feudal system based in Kamakura in which the samurai gained some political power while the Emperor of Japan was reduced to a de jure ruler. Historically, it reminded me of the Ethiopian ‘Zemene Mesafint’ (Era of Princes 1769-1855) when Ethiopia was ruled by warlords , and the Emperor was reduced to little more than a figurehead at the Fasilides Castle. Buddhism was practiced among the aristocratic society form the 8th to 12th centuries and was disseminated among the common people later in the 13th century. The Kamakura shogunates preferred austerity, and therefore picked Zen Buddhism to be adopted as the state religion. Ever since, Kamakura remained home to Zen sect of Buddhism. The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a bronze statue. The statue is approximately 13.35 meters tall including the base and weighs approximately 93 tones. It is shock sensitive. I went into the inside of this statue and took pictures. I was motivated to learn about this Great Buddha and bought a book called The Teachings of Buddha from one of the surrounding shops and enjoyed reading it throughout my spare time. Hence I was amazed by the ethical similarities of Buddha and Jesus when it comes to the concept of ‘The Self’ as the all pervading concept. The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Temples and the Yuigahama Beach Kamakura is also home to a beautiful Shinto shrine called the Tsurugao Hachimangu Shrine. I find it worth mentioning the secret tree here. To the left of the great stone of the Tsurugao Hachimangu Shrine is a 1000-year old ginkgo tree. In the Shinto religion, this tree has a special place. It is an object of worship. Here, I also encountered a cultural similarity in which both the Japanese and Ethiopians practice a cosmological understanding of being (contemplating the ultimate being through the eldest green tree-Ginkgo in Kamakura and Oda in Debrezeit). The secret is this. On 10 March 2010 at about 4:40, for unknown reasons, the gingko tree was uprooted. One year later, the Great East Japan Earthquake happened. A year after the disaster, a young shooting started to come out comfortably, meters away to the right of the uprooted gingko tree.

I said to myself: the doomsday for Japan has gone away with the fall of the old ginkgo tree and with the subsequent incident of 311. The young shoot that comes out represents the future of Japan.

The final destination of our study tour took us to Yuigahama Beach. For the first time in my life, I saw the western side of the Pacific Ocean. People like me and the Ugandan who are from landlocked countries were very much delighted by the beach. This was the conclusion of the study tour.

I feel it is unfair if I don’t say anything about the Japanese Gardens I visited- the temple gardens of Kamakura and others, magnificent achievement that harmonizes nature in a specific place.

Ed.’s Note: Dejene Sakoume is Coordinator of Press and Culture at the Embassy of Japan. The views expressed in this articles are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Embassy of Japan andor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Source : The Reporter

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