Our Friendship Force Exchange in the land of the Rising Sun!

 

It always is good meeting friends again who have been in our house already. So it was a great and explosive re-meeting of the Shizuoka-club of Japan and its wonderful polite, friendly and bowing members. Especially for us because we have had two individuals from Japan visiting us a few years ago: a man and a woman. The highpoint of this Shizuoka visit may well be the meeting with the recently elected mayor who so well knew the city of Antwerp but for us resembled more an Indian chief.

As I believe there are more then one article giving you a day-to-day history of our trip. I would like to bring about some other aspects of this journey. A journey that has been a live-time experience and a journey that we will never forget, it may even has changed us a bit. Not only have we brought slippers in the house, chop-sticks and a computerized toilet but the especially friendly approach of all Japanese has left a lasting mark. But also Japan is not that advanced anymore as we tight think: no money out if  ATMs, no GSM. More than 3times the number of employees in a local postoffice or bank.

I want however to emphasize: it is always an intrusion into the house and world of strangers when we are hosted in a strange country! In the hope I can bring you another aspect of an outgoing exchange. I hope this is being accepted as a contribution to the yearbook. It is in English since I take it everybody who needs to know these aspects should also understand them in a English. Let me tell you our history.

We were, when we approached our hosts’ house rather controversially welcomed there. The man had been staying in our house and we were only welcomed by him, but his wife was not present. After a walk to meet the neighbors and a stroll alongside the seaside we were anxious to meet his wife. We were already explained he lived in the garage and she in one of the many rooms of the first floor. Something was not right here.

We had however a lovely meal with Japanese and European influences and discovered that the woman spoke better English and even French than her husband, who seemed to be a conservative and rich land-owner. She was so relieved that she could speak French with, especially my wife ! Now she could tell us something her husband needn’t hear.

The woman was not at all informed that her husband would stay with a divorced women in one house (ours!) on his outbound exchange. We learned that this women was not willing to accept any longer the leadership of a few ladies in the Shizuoka club.

We became in this way the unwillingly go-between in this club. Every time we had a meeting with the other members of the club: she wanted to be excused. A friendly way to say what she thought. Never say no and never reject anything but subtlety let others know what you think about them! A wise lesson from this wise lady.

The social structure of a club is a thing that cannot be avoided when hosted and especially in Japan. As others of our Belgian ambassadors also discovered: maybe it is a pre-required item to ask for religion or other fundamental or extreme thoughts before hosting? It surely is not done to put a man and a woman in the same house when they are not married! When we received the Singaporeans all had well indicated their religion and it clearly is a habit to mention this. Even Americans often mention their religious background.

Eating on our knees on the floor with chop-sticks on a low table and using a fully computerized toilet after changing slippers every time were minor encounters of a totally strange culture for us. But on top of this we were confronted with an offended woman. It took us a few days to calm her down and convince her of our innocence in this. We later became very well befriended with this lady but couldn’t convince her t come to the farewell party. She was very happy though that her husband had, for the first time in his life, made some tea foe us! Can you imagine what a long way to go?

The difference between Shrines and Temples became clear to us and also the Japanese tolerance to their two biggest religions: Shinto and Buddhism; more tolerance then ever existed between Christians and Muslims in the west !

They even marry in a Christian church just for the fun and look of it.

As a second high point we can mention our visit to Fuji-Jama or Fuji-San, as Japanese know their special wonder and world heritage. Visiting the snow- and tree-border that is as a pilgrimage place to them is also a great experience.

Because we had a second host who lived in a Buddhist Temple we had inside information of the religion at first hand and met the Buddhist priest. The father of our host made a living as a priest. So we could ask all our questions about this religion.

We had a full schedule and by meeting all these wonderful people and their enthusiasm to meet us and talk English with us the program was as full as possible.

The first week past before we knew it. This new world of faces did us recognize again that everybody all over the world is the same and especially the FF-Friends. All very open-minded and eager to meet others and discuss their ideas and opinions in the most friendly way.

As all of us were invited to give our opinion at the end of the visit already in public we could hear (or not) the reaction of our colleges to this wonderful exchange, It truly was a lifetime experience and rememberance.

 

In NARA, we were welcomed at Kyoto station, we received a fully prepared schedule and hardly had time to indulge in own adventures. Here we only met the woman. The man was up ands gone every morning around 5am to walk with his friends, we hardly saw him. She took us to different day- and evening-hosts, to exciting new areas to explore and also in  the evening to saké pubs where we met some of her English professors and co-students. A great way to get to know one another! She let us feel at home and introduced us to her Japanese life.

Kimiko was new to the club and relied mostly on her friends to keep us busy, but as she had lived more than 6 years in the United States, a more knowledgeable host was not thinkable. But here again we encountered a strange relation between the couple. Perhaps a Japanese custom? After some days we also met her husband and found out that his biggest hobby was walking and he indulged in it since his retirement for most of his time.

Even sleeping in different rooms seems to be a habit for elderly couples in
Japan. We realized again that every older couple has developed an certain way of live and after, mostly a lifetime together they did have an arrangement that suited them well. Even the visit of some strange Belgians did not influence their living pattern. We had to go along with is!

As the highlight to Nara she introduced us to a guide-professor with her students to discover the great Buddha, another world heritage miracle of Japan. We had the best guide of the whole of Japan and better than most visitors can ever dream of. We really got introduced again into Japanese history and culture, never heard of in our schools. She was teaching her students the art of guiding foreigners around Nara Park. This town is really the greatest heritage of the historical Japan: every school of Japan had this town on their school trip, we met hundreds of them. A special school assignment seemed to speak to strangers for a few moment and have their pictures taken. We made a lot of Japanese kids happy!

 

As for Kyoto and Tokyo: it was really a great merit of our exchange-director to let us discover Kyoto on our own. We could already use our newly learned facts and basic words of the home stay-weeks and get to know the great and exuberant facts of this marvelous city. Great bus-rides and subway encounters learned us that a week is too short to see all the ˛temples and shrines of a world town like Kyoto and in contrast a fixed tour was planned in Tokyo and really did make a good choice in this.

We could well compare and feel the difference between a tourist week and a FF-week.

 

Conclusion.

 

A livelong lesson was learned here in Japan. Tolerance to other religions: they are all the same. Zealots from all over the world are doing the same thing. Praying and spending other man’s money for an better after life. Practically all rituals of Buddhism and Christianity are the same, as if copied. It really only becomes the people who live on these gifts. We were often purified but never felt any different.

‘All creatures are equal but some are more equal then others’ - a George Orwell saying that is applicable all over the world.

We are grateful to have had such a great experience in Japan.