I have spent the last few days reminiscing about travels I took in my pre-children years.
Inspired by the twitter #culturetrav chat about travel memories, I rummaged through my mental and digital photos and found great pleasure in re-living some of those destinations and experiences. I love to think back of old trips: as I mentioned during the very same chat, travel memories feel to me like a strange mix of daydreaming and mindfulness and work also as an extra incentive (as if I needed any!) to travel more.
Probably because of the travel book I am reading right now (For Fukui’s Sake: Two years in rural Japan), the trip that I’ve been thinking about the most is the one to Japan and Korea, incidentally the furthest places from home I have ever visited.
I had the chance to get on this amazing trip through work. At the time, I was working in a school of English and part of my job, that year, included going to Japan and Korea to meet some local agencies. The trip had a total length of 2 weeks, in November.
One week is definitely not the amount of time I had hoped to spend in Japan, but it was definitely better than nothing and despite the worst jet-let I ever experienced and the occasional bout of tiredness-induced home sickness, I loved my time there.
Here is what I loved about being in Japan for work.
1. That morning feeling that makes you feel like a local
Every time I get ready to go to work in a foreign city, I find myself thinking of all the other people, local people, who are doing the same.
I don’t know them, I will never know pretty much the totality of them, I might even discover I have very little in common with them, if we were ever to meet. But that moment, when we are putting on our office attire, we probably all have that weekday morning feeling: the nagging desire to go back to bed, a slight awareness of the numbers of days still left to the next holiday, the sense of purpose of having somewhere to go, maybe even some joy or pride about our job.
In that moment, I felt that I and the 8+ millions of Tokyoites about to make their commute to work had something in common and this is a feeling I would have never experienced had I been there on holiday.
2. Your walk to work can still be a way to see the city
In Tokyo, I got around mostly by metro and JR (train), but my super friendly guide and interpreter made sure to make me walk whenever possible, so I could see the city. The morsels of wonders make you want to see more and better, but if you focus on how lucky you are to see some, instead of how frustrated for wanting to see more, your day can be pretty good.
Here are some of the sights I passed, even more precious to me as they felt like reclaimed from my busy day. Somewhere quiet and peaceful:
Some a little less so!
3. You get to see parts of town you might otherwise have missed
One of the main characteristics of my work trips was the amount of cross-city travelling they involved. The offices were usually spread all over town and this meant that I tended to cover, for work, more distance that if I was on holidays.
This is Kogan-Ji temple, in Sugano. Sugano is a very interesting part of Tokyo, but it was quite far from where I was staying and I believe that, had I not had a meeting to attend there, I might have missed it. I am delighted that I didn’t, because the Kogan-ji temple is amazing and left a lasting impression on me.
The temple is famous for being a healing place and people come here to pray for a cure or for longer life. This is how its story goes:
A long time ago, a housemaid from the Mori family mistakenly swallowed a needle. To get rid of it, she ate a piece of paper with the image of the deity Jizo on it and, sure enough, she was successfully able to spit the needle out.
Now, people still come to visit the temple for such a piece paper: sometimes they the eat it, but more often they put it on any painful part of their body, as a cure.
4. You get some cultural insight from the locals
I didn’t get to learn too much about Japanese rituals and religion, unfortunately, but the company of a local colleague helped me to understand at least one of the many expressions of belief and faith of the country: the use of red bibs on statues.
In Japan, red is the color associated with ‘expelling demons and illness’ and is therefore the colour used to worship deities protecting the weak. In the photo, the worship is specifically for children, as Jizo is protector of the unborn and of those who die at a young age (incidentally, he is also the protector of those who travel!)
5. And amazing local recommendations about where to eat
Food is always a huge part of my way to get to know a country and meeting locals is the best way to get recommendations on where to go. I think we finished every single meeting with the question: is there anywhere you can suggest for food?
The answer was always a resounding yes. Tokyo is where my addiction to sushi began.
6. And the Japanese cure for details, even in food, left me in awe
If you feel like giving a shot at making Japanese food yourself, you can always go to the grocer:
7. Last but not least, let’s not forget: a business trip is still an excuse to send your friends the compulsory shot of the high-tech Japanese toilets!
For me, all trips are worth it, whether they are for business or leisure. Do you travel for work? Which was the most interesting country you visited for business?