Opinion: The Japan I know

Disclaimer: Japan does annoy me at times (like so many other countries I have visited) but it is the richness of language and of culture that I adore- anime and manga not so much.

Whenever you speak to someone who has visited Japan, they will always speak about the mass of people, the numerous shops and the hive of activity that is ever present, but this is a stark contract to the Japan I know and love.

While most major cities are congested and claustrophobic- with buildings, business, people and marketing everywhere (just think downtown Akihabara, Shubuya, Nagoya, Osaka etc), true Japan is off the beaten track and away from tourists.

Iga is a perfect example, ignoring 2 weeks a year. There are many cultural and historical sites in this small city, a strong historical tradition (of Ninjas) and a distinct identity. Nabari is similar in feeling being so close to Iga- there is the same ethos, same identity.

While there are these aspects in the major cities, they’re harder to find. In Tokyo, Asakusa feels more distinct than Shibuya and in Nagoya, Osu feels like a completely different world to downtown Nagoya. That is what a lot of major cities are missing: an identity.

When looking at Nabari, most (even myself at times) see it as a commuter town- one where people love to work in other places but even that statement is overly harsh. Nabari has thriving industries- agriculture and manufacturing- schools, hospitals, business centres; while it may feel like there is nothing there at times- it’s the countryside. What is there is needed and nothing more.

One statement I have heard many Japanese people say is “if you dropped me in a random city, without my phone, I would not know where I am”. For some cities this is harsh. Sapporo, for example, has been based upon an American grid layout- you could be at 北8東8and due to the city design it feels distinct. But if you were dropped in a housing estate in 日進市- Nisshin City (outside Nagoya), you could not tell me what part of Aichi (never mind Japan) you were in.

While identity is important for so many cities around the world, for Japan (at times) this seems overlooked and possible an afterthought. Some cities have areas that are special, but they have much larger areas that are forgettable. I hope by reading my journeys around Japan, I can combat this, even if just a bit.

What are your views on this post? Agree or disagree?

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

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