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  • Writer's pictureJackie Almeida

Tokyo The Alpha City

Another country on my list. Japan! A place so distant and different, with wonderful and extremely interesting culture,  I fell in love with even before I got there.

If you are Brazilian you know we need visa for almost all world countries. I advise you before buying a ticket  to check if you need a visa, because I didn't do so. I was about  to go to Japan and only three days before my trip I came to knowledge that I need visa. I ran to the embassy in Barcelona on Thursday, and I needed  a visa to travel on Sunday. A lady in very bad mood  told  me that making a visa is requiring  10 days, minimum. With purchased ticket I tried to talk to her and see if there was any way to make it possible, but she sent me home and made it clear that it would not be possible. I understand people who work in this kind of places, it behooves us to try to send  positive energy so that they can relax, but anyway, even now that I am not sure if it works always, but  I like to think and care about other persons. After all, we are only helping ourselves. Everything that happens to us depends only on the energy we put in it. I left the embassy and went to take a juice and I’ve decided to go back to the embassy. Nothing is impossible until we can prove otherwise. She came to see me and literally shout on me in front of everyone, saying that there would be no exception. I felt like laughing, because whenever I get nervous I laugh to ease the tensions lol. If you have been in the Japanese embassy in Barcelona you know who I'm talking about. I kindly went to her and said how important it was for me to make this trip and looking into her eyes I smiled :) even with the bad mood she smiled back. I kept insisting and she told me I needed various documents and certificates that I had not at that time. It was already 12 am and embassy is closing at 1 pm and everything was becoming complicated. I literally had no time and she was about to cancel my solicitude. Smiling again I asked if I could send everything by email. With a smile on her face she said yes, but asked me to leave my passport there and pick  it up the next day personally. I remembered that I would be working very early on Friday and outside of  the city, and would not have time to do it. She got back to the bad mood and started to complain. I suggest leaving a signed letter authorizing a friend to take my passport. She again insisted that she could not guarantee me a visa but looking in her eyes I asked her to try. I left  the embassy and while waiting for my taxi she was going out for  lunch and saw me waiting and came to speak with me (as a mother) saying I should be at home sending the documents she needed. I turned to her, and  asked if I could hug her. Smiling she said yes and I squeezed her completely, as she is a very short lady :). I believe that sometimes with a hug you can express what you can’t say with words. Good COMMUNICATION, eye contact, smile, hug, listen, breath while talking, be direct and secure, it all makes the difference. The next morning she called me and being very friendly told me that they gave me the visa and warmly wished me a good trip. I have visited Tokyo and Kyoto. This trip was so amazing that I have to make two publications. So in this one, it's all about Tokyo. With over 37 million inhabitants, the future is definitely over there. The largest financial center in the world. Of all the places I have visited I have never seen something like Tokyo. Alpha city, where everything happens very fast, skyscrapers with a very futuristic architecture that transport you to another level of experience. Trains with a speed of 300km per hour, advanced technology that goest all to the little things that you would not expect, like a simple toilet, has technology lol. I walked through the city and was amazed with the ability of human beings been able to create things so incredible. There are many countries that I want to visit but so far I haven’t see anything like Japan. First world country for me is definitely like this, but not just because of the technology. You'll know why. SAFETY. Imagine seeing children walking alone on the street, that's right! On the subway inclusive. For you who live in South America or even in some European countries, this may seem impossible, right? In Japan it is not. Freedom. That's what I felt there. Even in Australia, where is also quite safe, I did not see many children alone in the streets when I spent a season there. I think in the world we live in today and for those who have children, to live in a big city and be able to leave their kids to have the freedom to roam alone developing confidence in themselves from very early age is priceless. Being a metropolis with millions of vehicles circling day and night I thought it could get to be a little dirty, like other cities in Asia. But not. In Tokyo you will not find garbage in the streets, public transport, or wherever  you go. It's all so clean that gives the feeling that you are in a scenario. The public toilets in a train station are cleaner than the bathrooms of restaurants of many countries I have visited in Europe. I consider this respect of the population for our planet. Also because littering only harms us. So my dear occidentals ones let's  take care of our cities. Even though a huge city with many buildings you can be in a central area of ​​Tokyo and find gardens and temples surrounded by greenery that allow you to disconnect from the city when you want. As they are very organized traffic jam is not so bad for the amount of cars that move around. In the traffic you will not hear many intermittent horns or abuse among drivers. It's all very civilized. How wonderful! Not everyone speaks English in Japan but a good amount of them try to communicate and do it very well. And even those who do not speak English at all will somehow always find a way to. Tokyo is an expensive city compared to New York for example. Studies have shown it is the fifth most expensive city in the world. Despite it you can always find a way to do more economical things even if you are on vacation, but I am  just saying that, it has nothing to do with Thailand, Indonesia or other Asian countries that I have visited that are well priced. If you ever go to Japan take it into account. The city is huge even and you'll need taxi to go to several places, subway is available but there are so many stations that you will lose a lot of time, uber is available but no price difference, sometimes comes out even more expensive than the taxi. But it works so well that you will accept and understand that some things are so expensive.  In Japan there are no classic taxi drivers, but tour guides. Well dressed in their uniforms and their white  gloves, elegant gentlemen guide you through the city in their Toyota Comfort extremely clean. The situation regarding the rights of women in the country are  still developing but I was happy to find  women taxi drivers . I felt that they are happy to serve you, friendly from the moment you enter the car to the moment you leave it. While not speaking English they ask where you are from and try to speak a word or two in a foreign language. As in Brazil we have a large Japanese community in São Paulo I met some taxi drivers who had Japanese friends or relatives living in Brazil. And even they could speak a few words in Portuguese. Look how cute! A very interesting thing is that no taxi driver is listening to the radio or music while they are working. Silence is a key  in Japan. When someone does something wrong, pedestrian for an example, in the traffic (pedestrian was me) they are not able to insult or to try to correct you. They work in a so peaceful way that when I get into the taxi I used to fall asleep.  They are very disciplined, since childhood. In the offices employees must wear a uniform, black pants and white shirt, you will see many groups of men around the city dressed like this. In schools is obviously also required uniform, and children study up on weekends. When I asked they told me that is not a school but interactive day, but they must put uniform and the assistance to the classes are mandatory. Too much? For some people it may seem exaggerated but speaking about discipline is interesting, I enjoyed the time I was there. Seeing all of this things was like a lesson. You will see many queues, to get on public transports, restaurant etc. It's even cute. It would be like a re-education for many Westerns, here in Europe people are not respecting each other and just think of themselves. So if you go to Japan you will have a intensive course in how to behave in society. Imagine a place where people feel happy to work, whatever the profession was. Regardless of the service you need in Japan you will always find happy and well prepared people to attend you. I am not that happy with the service in Spain (the country where I live) in general, practically you have to beg people to attend you  or look on your face. The taxi drivers? I'd rather not comment. There is quite the opposite. Even people who work in public services…You enter the subway security look on your face and greets you, "Konnichiwa" (hello in Japanese). The waiters always with open smiles aware to people arriving and leaving. Always celebrate when you get in and when you leave. When you're in a store and pick something to buy they thank you very happy, but very happy. Some restaurants they follow you to the door and wait until you get in the taxi and do not return to the restaurant until the taxi leaves and you can no longer see them. Obviously not all restaurants but the most traditional and renowned make it with absolute certainty.

 A 90 years old man as host of a restaurant, how cool! There they respect elder people and believe they are a source of wisdom and give job opportunities even at this age. That same gentleman wanted to show me the way to the train station personally, as a sign of hospitality. After walking a few blocks he felt tired and stopped. We couldn't communicate  verbally  but I tried to convince him through signals  to go back to the restaurant because he was exhausted but he didn't want to give up, so he approached a random stranger on the street and asked him to show me the direction. The guy as a sign of respect to the old man, with no second thoughts did what he was asked for. Tell me, where in the world, in a such big city, can you find something like this, people so sensitive, kind and respectful? 11 years traveling around the world, over 30 countries and I only saw this in Tokyo.

People are very polite, disciplined, friendly, clean, honest among other adjectives. In Tokyo you do not leave tip, if you insist they can get offended. Taxi drivers are not driving around with you to travel out more expensive. They charge  exactly what is the worth and not any extra penny. I remember I was buying a few things and the total was 3,900 ¥ (Yen is local currency) and wanted to pay with credit  card  but  the minimum was  4,000 ¥. And I said to charge  4,000¥ it would be okay, the seller did not accept and  said he could not do it. And it was in a tourist area. It seems kind of absurd but I find it interesting that across the city people have this discipline, thats why everything works well there.  Speaking about shopping, Tokyo is the place to be. You find very  different things  there, I got few looks for burning man lol. In Takeshita street located  in the Harajuku neighborhood,  which is very popular to the Japanese people and you definitely have to visit it. There you will find the most extravagant things in Japanese style, modern kimonos and vintage handmade ones too. In Shimokitazawa street, known as "Shimikita" located in Segagaya neighborhood , you will find the best vintage shops that exist, as well as alternative designers, cafes and bars. Variable prices. If you like different things it’s very worth visiting. Before going to Japan I heard many good things and being there I saw that everything were even better. Also I heard a lot of bad things, referring to people as solitary working a lot and etc. They really work hard. Some companies only let employees leave the office after the boss, independent of the working time they have done. There I learned a expression, "Otsukaresama desu" or "Otsukare" which means "thank you for making  me tired" but it is used as a good thing. Gratitude, after all we should be grateful for the people who hire us to work and also make those who hire us thank for having us there working for them. More gratitude and less complains. This turns any environment in better place. As I’ve mentioned it before, they are happy to work. They work hard and sleep little, and it's very usual to find people sleeping sitting in the marketplaces, restaurants, metro and also sleep standing. Even though I was there I was sleeping like them haha. I just could see good things, I think they outweigh  anything that might be negative. People are extremely polite. I think when you live there it may be different. Not that they change. I observed that the same treatment they have for the Japanese people they have for foreigners. But they are well sealed in relation to their culture. It has no flexibility if something has to be one way that they will do only in that way. But it does not bother me. I like to respect each country I visit and its culture. One of my favorite things in this world is to eat! Anyone who knows me knows that I love to eat and I like to eat a lot. I delight the food I eat. Before becoming vegan my favorite cuisine was the Japanese and I always said that the day I would go  to Japan I would eat lots of fish. But life is a wonderful thing and allows us to change. Being vegan obviously didn’t allow me to eat  fish or any other animal derivatives, and you know that fish is one of the main dishes of Japanese cuisine. I don't eat fish and I do not miss it at all. I am completely faithful to my principles and becoming a vegan was one of the best things that have ever happened to me. I didn't have any sake ( tradicional Japanese drink, made with rice) because I decided to quit drinking alcohol two years ago. Japanese cuisine is very healthy and has a huge variety of dishes for vegans. And they were extremely careful with me changing some dishes which were not vegan and even doing things that aren't on the menu. I learned two Japanese expressions that are part of gastronomic. You will do very well if you can pronounce these words and will demonstrate respect for the culture. "Itadakimasu" which is usually used before eating. To show gratitude. Literally means "to receive." Itadakimasu is said as a thank you for the plants and animals that gave their lives for the meal you are about to consume. To God who made it possible for them to exist and to the farmers who have allowed you to get this food on your table. It is also considered as a translation "I humbly receive". The expression is usually said individually with the low voice, accompanied with the gesture of joined hands that comes from Buddhist culture. And "Gochisosama desu" is used after meals to the person who servered you. The translation can be "thank you for this meal" and you should also put hands together in token of appreciation, others say it means "thank you, you treated me like a god," or "it was a feast." And it was like this. Everything was very tasty and healthy. My favorite restaurant in Tokyo was Daigo. The service as I  told you is the best, there is no place like in Japan. Be served by waitresses dressed in traditional clothes with dishes designed by Japan's top chefs was an experience that I am very grateful for, to be able to enjoy the best restaurants in Tokyo. Ah! The restaurants also have no music, and usually you have one room for you. Obviously I am referring to the high end restaurants. Without music, wifi, and people around, just you and your company. It's all about celebrating the meal it takes about 2 hours. I know many people who despaired because there would not be a subject to talk about all that time lol. I did ;)  I've been in Japan for 10 days and did not have time to do even half of the things I wanted. Plenty of culture and interesting things to do. Like at the  Burning Man I did not want to sleep so I could be able to do everything, but this time the jet lag was stronger. And I'm pretty sure I'll be back there someday. I did not have much luck with the weather, it was always cloudy and very warm. Gray days that made me want to sleep all the time. Have you heard of the tea ceremony? "Chanoyou" in Japanese, that means Way to tea. It is a  tradition that is characterized by serving and drinking matcha, a tea of ​​Chinese origin but introduced to Japan in the eighth century, which by the way is my favorite tea. I take every morning to replace coffee. The matcha was only introduced as a ceremony in the twelfth century by the monk Eisai. The ceremony takes place in a simple environment spread primarily by priests in Buddhist temples and the upper classes. They were defined as 4 basic principles harmony (Wa), respect (Kei), purity (Sei) and quiet (Jaku) and considered that each ceremony was unique and could not be reproduced. Usually the ceremony takes place with only 5 people, in mine there was a group of 6 friends, from all over the world, co-workers, Japanese and international chefs. It was made by a monk. The ceremony includes typical sweets, appetizer, sake, also includes a traditional meal and a strong tea (Koicha). It can last up to 4 hours. The monk was extremely lovely changing the traditional menu that included fish for vegan options. Itadakimasu. Nowdays they continue performing, in the ceremony you should traditionally wear the traditional clothing of discrete tones in a small room without electricity, just candles, no music and quite. It was very interesting to participate in this cultural ceremony and being in the country of the future that still remains rooted in their culture. The monk has been telling us all the details about this tradition, we talked about religion, about the present world situation, we laughed, and he always had a huge smile on his face. He taught me that from the  influence of Buddhism in Japan is a lack of respect to leave food on the plate, from the food that they prepare to serve us in the ceremony all the food left turn up into a soup to do not have any waste. Different cultures learning and celebrating Japanese culture, being able to see the monk preparing the ceremony was like a choreography done by his  hands, even without music I felt like he was moving his hands by the sound of the silence. Japanese people do everything in a different and quiet way, expressed by their gestures. I think that's why everything  they do it so beautiful and perfect.  Now I'm here in Moscow, doing a flight connection and taking the opportunity to write this publication while waiting for my flight to Barcelona. I have in front of me a flight attendant  screaming hysterically for the people to do the queue to get on the plane, and I see an old couple going to the first class queue and on her language  she sent them to another queue because they were not in first class. I looked around and saw a Japanese man with face frightened by that what woman screaming next to me and it gave me willingness to apologize for it. Maybe I'm too sensitive but it make me so sad. On the morning of the same day when I left Japan I saw a scene where a woman who worked at the Tokyo airport approached the elderly to sit them in a cart so she could take them to the boarding gate. They didn’t even have to ask. Also reminded that before getting in the plane nobody shouted to the passengers to make the queue. Many cultural difference! I do not think we should be all the same culturally, but I think the culture of "human being" should be practiced in all the countries. Kindness generates kindness. As always I have been talking about it here. If you went to burning man you would have that feeling when you leave there, you notice the difference and need  few days to adapt. I thought this would not be possible to say ever but I'm having the same feeling right now after I left  Japan. If I had to summarize what I have learned through my experience in Tokyo in words I would say: wisdom, kindness, honesty, simplicity, service, unity, respect and humanity. In the world we live seeing that all people can follow and keep their culture and pass it on to the next generation, and also onto the people who visit the country  is a blessing. May the universe keep  blessing this country with the most beautiful people I've ever seen.

Arigato gozaimasu Tokyo!🙏🏾 🇯🇵❤️

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