I am repeatedly reminded that one of the best benefits to being in the intercultural field is that I am literally connected to people all over the world. This is especially handy when I prepare to travel to new destinations, as it creates the possibility of not just seeing typical tourist sites, but actually connecting with locals and discovering places that I might have otherwise overlooked.
This has been the case with our preparations for Japan, as I have had several conversations with colleagues and friends regarding what to see in Tokyo and what cultural patterns I should expect.
First, I reached out to my graduate school professor, an American woman who married a Japanese man and has spent much of her career and personal life bridging both cultures. She was unable to be in Tokyo during my trip, so she connected me with one of her colleagues, a diversity and cultural trainer who is also a leader in SIETAR Japan. Along with confirming that some of the sites we had in mind to visit were indeed memorable and worthwhile, she suggested two possible day trips out of Tokyo, one to an area filled with mountains and shrines, and another with lakes, traditional baths, and views of Mt. Fuji.
Her ideas caught my attention because they were similar to those shared by a third colleague, an Irishman living in Japan, who I was already connected with on LinkedIn. He had remarked that while Tokyo presents the side of Japanese life that is modern, frenetic, and commercial, just an hour or two outside the city was an entirely different side, one that is serene, spiritual, and natural.
With two insiders suggesting that we make time for the countryside, we’re tempted to follow their lead, even though it will mean sacrificing one of our two full days in Tokyo. (We have an evening on our arrival day and a morning on our departure day as bookends). Our minds are like Rubik’s cubes, rearranging the details to see if it could still work.
I think it can. Thus, just over a week before we depart, we are now contemplating adding either Kamakura or Hakone. Do I want to visit the place described as the capital of the Shogunate and see many Buddhist statues and shrines, or do I want to relax in an osen hot spring and gaze across the lake at a Shinto shrine against the mountain? Decisions! I am already wishing that we had more time, but then I doubt I’d be able to make better decisions, as I would just want to see even more things.
It’s a bit last minute for my liking – those who know me well will laugh at my desire for details being hammered out in advance – but that is part of the purpose of the trip, to go with the flow, Eastern-style. So, with open minds and eager hearts, we are expanding our itinerary, and are making room for even more possibilities. We can’t wait to see Tokyo with the insights of a local guide and explore the countryside at the peak of fall. It’s almost time.