Located on an area of land half the size of Turkey, Japan's population is twice that of Turkey. It is the second-biggest nation in the world in economic terms; this country, whose people are known for their diligence and eagerness to work, consists of an archipelago of more than 6,800 islands. It achieved striking development in late 19th and early 20th centuries and has become a world leader in technology.
Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world. It is also a crowded one; this country is most probably uses its land more efficiently than most countries in the world. It has a high population density: 337 people per square kilometer.
Before visiting Japan, one expects to see the traditional Japanese houses, streets and temples which we are familiar with from the movies. However, in reality there are few traces of this history in the daily life of the Japanese because Japan is now a technology giant, but there are places where you can experience something of this history and tradition; special attractions have been created for tourists and locals curious about the historical Japanese lifestyle.
One of these is the Edo Wonderland Nikkon Edomura theme park which recreates the Japan of the Edo dynasty. In this recreation of a traditional village you may find what you are looking for: Japan, the country of ninjas and samurais.
A really enjoyable tour including various attractions -- such as seeing traditional hairstyles, traditional places for making wishes, tarot reading and classical Japanese theater -- awaits you at this place. I watched curiously when my friends had their palms read. Thank God, the fortune tellers said only good things about my friends' futures so they kept their happiness alive. With their covered heads, the fortune tellers may seem similar to Muslim women at first sight; however, they are actually Buddhists. These women cover their heads because of their faith.
We kept walking around Edomura and, like everybody else, we wanted to see the ninjas and eventually we got the chance to watch their live shows. The shows were very interesting. We left the warriors after their demonstrations. It is possible to witness such exciting shows in Edomura. This is a great place for those who want to see what old Japan looked like and how life was during the Edo dynasty.
Kyoto became the capital of Japan after Nara; it is a historical city full of temples and palaces. In May, festivals are held almost daily in Japan. Our visit to Kyoto coincided with the Aoi festival. You feel like you are living in ancient Japan during this event. You take a journey into ancient Japan, leaving modern Japan behind. The Aoi festival starts at the Kyoto Imperial Palace and ends at the most famous shrine in the city. This is a tradition that has been kept alive for 1,000 years. This festival is not only for adults, children also participate in the festivities; this festival is fun for them as well.
We then left the old capital to visit the new one: Tokyo. The Shinto faith is dominant in Japan, so we visited a Shinto shrine in Tokyo. Unlike the Buddhist temples, there are no gods represented by sculpture in these shrines. These are simpler buildings where you can give offerings of food and drink to the gods.
Shinto is the major religion of the Japanese people, combined with Buddhism. “Shin” means gods whereas “To” refers to path; combined, “Shinto” means “the path to the gods.” There are thousands of Shinto shrines in Japan.
We wear white garments around our necks to symbolize our cleanliness before the gods when we visit the shrine. Shinto shrines are fairly simple; a mirror placed at the heart of the shrine is seen as a tool to reach the gods. Priest Okano Kamisama, who served as a guide during our visit, says the gods have no form or shape. They call the forefront of the shrine the “Honden” and the rear the “Haiden.” There is a 15-centimeter long mirror inside the shrine. The priest cleanses himself before starting a prayer. He then commences with the prayer, a ritual that we have never seen before in our lives.
This ritual requires an offering of salt, water and rice to the gods at 7 a.m. every morning. The same ritual is repeated on important days, but the amount offered to the gods is larger on these days. There is no sacred book in this religion. The major teaching of Shintoism is to lead pure and clean life. Conscience also has a special place; this is represented by the mirror analogy. The mirror is supposed to reflect whether you have done the right thing whenever you take a look at it. Respect is also a core value in Japanese society. Respect is essential and a must. Everything is considered for the benefit and the good of the people; in their prayers, they ask the gods not to let them go astray. The total number of Shinto temples in Japan is nearly 90,000. After the ritual, Priest Okano invites us to his home; he offers us a traditional meal and dessert. Tea is served with dessert.
We later visit the Shinjuku Turkish Cultural Center founded by Turkish entrepreneurs in Shinjuku, an important area of Tokyo. The Japanese people here have great interest in learning how to speak Turkish. We are pleased to discover that they are interested in playing our traditional instruments and speaking our language.
It becomes evident how active this cultural center is once you set foot in it as Japanese people are able to sing classical Turkish folk songs, play classical Turkish instruments and the people taking the Turkish courses are able to speak the Turkish language quite fluently. It is obvious that this cultural center is performing well. Students are very pleased with their studies and training. They registered with this center to learn Turkish and they are eager to learn.
Turkey is promoted well by the Shinjuku Turkish Cultural Center, therefore, the Japanese people who visit once often bring their friends on their second visit. Turkish tea is popular at the center. We wonder about the secret of the center's success. I was really surprised to see the eagerness of the Japanese people to learn Turkish. How was this done? Most probably, sincerity and faith were the keys to such a great achievement.