Sometime last year, I learned that I was one of the four recipients of a scholarship by the Japanese government, to go to Japan and study whatever I wanted, in whichever institution I preferred. I have always wanted to travel and this was one chance I couldn’t let go, so here we are now. My travel date is 30th September (see countdown on top right).
After getting the scholarship, and of course during the interview process, I tried to familiarize myself with Japan, gathering as much information as I could over the internet. My geography lessons from high school were a bit hazy, only thing I could remember (like most of you) is that Japan is made up of a series of islands. Fact: Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago of 6,852 islands.
Here is a few facts:
- Japan is the third richest country by GDP (nominal – don’t ask me what this means). The USA has the largest GDP, by far (it’s really a sub-continent), followed by China, then Japan.
- Even if both countries, China and Japan, are rich by GDP, there is a fundamental difference between China and Japan. China is a third world (or second world if you look at its industralization) country; there are people living in extremely poor conditions in that country. Japan on the other hand, has very high standards of living for all her citizens, which makes her a first world country. I hear Japanese citizens who go to work in the USA demand a hardship allowance. They don’t have automated toilets in the US of A like in Japan.
- Japan is also known as the land of the rising sun. That’s what the red dot on the white flag means.
- Japanese is the main language used in Japan (obviously). Speaking it should be easy for a Kiswahili speaker like me. However, writing is another matter. The language uses 3 sets of characters, Kanji being one of them, as well as 2 sets of kana (hiragana & katakana). Kanji (Chinese characters) is mostly used for nouns (places & names). It is quite complex as a Kanji character could mean a whole concept. Hiragana is simpler as there are symbols to represent basic sounds, so you just combine these to make up the word, just like you do in Katakana. However, Katakana is mostly used to translate words from other languages. If I had to write my name, Savvy Kenya, I would write it in Katakana as なケニア or something close to that. (Confession: I used Google translate!)
- The Japanese prime minister is Shinzō Abe. He is 59, tough and conservative. Read more about him in this guardian article
- Japan’s population is decreasing. There is an increase in older people and a decrease in the younger people. The country is purported to have the highest proportion of elderly citizens; more than 24% are aged 65 or above, as of 2012. Japan has the lowest birth rate. The Economist set to find out why the Japanese are having so few babies.
- Japan is still a conservative nation. For example, to quote the Economist: Only around 2% of babies are born outside marriage (compared with 30-50% in most of the rich world). On a related note, they have a strict sense of timing, I hear. I definitely need to up my game, when it comes to keeping time. However, they are very friendly and hardworking people, and I look forward to enjoying the hospitality
- Japan experiences the four seasons: Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. The country is beautiful, stunningly so, in all the seasons.
- The car in front is always a Toyota, and it’s made in Japan. Okay, its owned by Japanese but manufacturing has probably been outsourced to China. You probably know this already.
- Tokyo is the capital city - this you already know. To be honest I ran out of facts you didn’t know and got tired of googling hehe.. so bear with me, I will write more about the country while I am there. I will probably change the title of this blog to “Adventures From the East” or “Tales From the Land of the Rising Sun”. Which do you like better?