My experiences in Japan
Paul gave us a fascinating insight into Japan and the Japanese people, based on his numerous visits to the country.
He told us that the country comprises an archipelago of 6,852 islands located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the four main islands being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Most of Japans industry is concentrated in the east of the country, while the west tends to be much more rural.
Its population is currently 127 million, but this is actually declining because of the low birth rate. All but 1.5% are ethnically Japanese.
Japan has the worlds 3rd largest economy, having recently been ousted from 2nd place by its traditional rival China. Its biggest city is Tokyo, with a population of well over 30 million - an exciting metropolis with a superb metro system, wonderful restaurants and a great many establishments offering immense luxury for the wealthy.
Finding ones way around, however, is not easy. With no numbers on buildings to help visitors know where they are, a tourist map is essential.
The Japanese language is made up of three alphabets. Kanji has thousands of characters representing whole words or ideas in everyday use, Hiragana is is largely phonetic, and Katakana is based on Chinese characters.
Education in Japan tends to consist of cramming, and learning by rote. The pressure on students is severe and there are many suicides. One absolutely has to get into university in order to be able to gain a place in what Paul called the permanent economy. The alternative is to spend ones life in the temporary economy.
The Japanese people, Paul felt, were almost all friendly, cheerful and helpful. But ladies, he said, dont exist in Japanese businesses. The few who manage to enter top management have to be made honorary men!
Paul explained how the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 not only killed 16,000 people, but also knocked the self-confidence of the whole nation. And because the value of the Yen has fallen, the tourist sites are now being invaded by hundreds of thousands of Chinese! Nevertheless, the Japanese still enjoy the highest per capita income of any major nation.
Rail travel in Japan is fast and reliable, with the Shinkansen Bullet trains offering speeds of up to 320 km per hour and extraordinary punctuality.
Paul went on to extol the wonders of Japanese Inns; also the historic temples and shrines of Kyoto, although he felt that the nearby city of Nara was more interesting.
In answer to a question, Paul said the best time to visit the country was April and May.
Report by David Bull.
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