#Japan from my eyes

In 2003/04, I was an exchange student at Kansai Gaidai in Osaka. It was a life changing experience for me. A program. I made friends from all over the world who were also exchange students. It was an invaluable international experience with students from the Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Holland, Kenya, Luthiania, Morroco, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Tanzania (Me), Thailand, Turkey, USA, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia. Thanks to my parents for giving such opportunity. I know how much they sacrificed for me to go.

All exchange students stayed in seminar houses that had proper Japanese styled rooms, dining, and kitchen. We slept in futon. We were sharing rooms (two students per a room). In the first semester I had a roommate from Vietnam and in the second semester I had one from Turkey- Ozge. Ozge changed my life completely. She was the brightest person I think I’ve ever met and known. She fluently spoke and wrote so many languages, she had the most innovative ideas that I used to think were crazy dreams. Ozge was completely in another time that I think even with the emerging technological advances we have seen so far from the Silicon valley we have not yet reached to what she was thinking back in 2003. She, for example, told me of her idea of having a scanner device that is placed on the eyes and it can scan books into the brain through which you could be pulling a book from somewhere in the brain store and read/process it whenever you have time. This is still crazy for me…but who knows our future!!!

Anyways, with Ozge as a leader, we decided to make our room a “library” Toshokan in Japanese – a unique one- a library where friends (who were from different countries) would meet and discuss about interesting things or issues in their countries. It was such a great fun learning environment. We at times shared meals of our own cultures and also we visited many places in Japan together. We did pirikura, sakura (spring flowers), clubs, shrines, visited different towns in Japan, and we also went to Beijing and visited all touristic places including climbing the Beijing Wall. So Toshokan was a really an international group. We cried a lot when we departed at the end of the program but we decided to form a Toshokan yahoo groups. We kept in touch for a very long time after until we all got into Facebook business and focused our attention there. It became a bit disconnected.

At individual level, I decided to start writing about a book “Why Japan and Not Tanzania”. I got so addicted to it became a nerd about it to the point that I managed to write 80 pages by the time I finished the program. It was still raw and unfinished. But then I went back to USIU in May 2004. The mistake I made was to change focus in trying to do summer courses and excess courses in order to clear University in December 2004. I was to graduate in year 2005 (and with now the one year off to Japan it was probably going to take me even more years) but I was determined to finish in 2004. It was a no reason rush really (coming to think of it) but I felt like I needed to finish my undergraduate as fast as possible (luckily the USA system can allow that flexibility). I just wanted to relieve my parents of higher university fees and costs so thought the faster I finish the better. I got so busy with extra modules even evening courses and Friday courses. I also did an internship (at World Vision Africa office in Nairobi). In that busy mess, I somehow lost my unfinished manuscript. My sis, Alilya and my mom tried so much to help me look for it with no success. I had put a copy in a diskette that was mistakenly formatted and all the work got lost. I was not aware of back up those days (I still need to work on backing-up discipline).

Well, I still remember some of the main points of which I thought contributed to Japan’s economic growth and left Tanzania hundreds years behind despite lots of potential that my country has. Here were the points:

  • History – the impact of Meiji restoration
  • Economic nationalism
  • High work ethics and loyalty
  • The controversial role of women in development
  • Culture (complex mix of tradition and modernity) – indeed it’s a classic description of the “olive tree and the lexus”

I will try and expound on these somewhere else of on another blog entry.

But important here, is what really moved me to start writing the book was my admiration and awe of Japan. From the moment I boarded in Japanese Airline from London to the time I landed in Kansai Airport, I could not stop admiring the unique Japan till when I left in 2004 after one academic year. It was a new world for me. I experienced a fast but gentle lifestyle, extremely modern and automated but full of tradition, clean, rich but modest, and so so on…one “negative aspect”- it was very expensive.

So I return to Japan after twelve years. Very curious as if I was going to a pilgrimage. A feeling of returning to my first lover. Excited I was. Anxious. I had missed Japan so much. But not only that, I was anxious to see what has changed following economic issues, disasters (tsunami and also nuclear issues), the intensive competition with China etc.

I must admit, I started feeling the difference from the moment I walked into Japanese Embassy in Dar-es-Salaam. The modestly and politeness was there. They are very understanding as they exceptionally processed my visa for one day as it was urgent. The fastness was still their priority. But something had slowed. I console myself saying let me reach Japan first before making any judgment.

When I arrived in Tokyo, I felt and saw lots of changes. I am yet to know if it is because I was a student in 2003 and now I come as a grown up with more income and more exposure. I felt the country is not as expensive as it was. But I also felt it has diluted a bit. It is not as stiff and fast as it was. It was not the “Japan that simply says No”. It looks more open but a little bit slowed. There are also more foreign faces (although I think they need to open up more to immigrants).

One thing, Japanese are still very patriotic and the economic nationalism is still at its highest point. I went to Yodobashi (the very big electronic shop that I admired so much in 2003) but I found some of the very things I saw in 2003. Old electronic stuff and it looks like there are still market for them in Japan. I wondered with even the use of robots employees in banks and automated money exchange booths etc, why do they still have very old radios, Walkman, battries, etc etc in Yodobash? I was really shocked. Noteworthy, most of them products are Japanese. Economic nationalism and patriotism is still very high.

This is getting very long so I will finish…All in all, Tokyo is still extremely lively despite the changes observed and the conservatism that is vivid. It is a city where you see richness combined with modesty. It is very lively at night and day all week round. It does not sleep.

So, two special highlights to my trip:

  1. I met Kendall Krebs and his wife Laura. We were with Kendall in Kansai as exchange students. Kendall was also a member of Toshokan. Like me, it was his first time to visit Japan after we left Kansai. We both find out we are in Japan at the same time through Facebook. It was lovely and we spoke about what we think has changed and we shared the same views.
  2. I have developed a new sense and urge to revolutionalise our #TOURISM. This is a disturbing urge for me. I think, in #Tanzania, we need to revisit our Tourism concept. Widen it. I will further work on this and get more serious stuff….this is on a very serious note

Thanks…and cheers to Japan!! Arigato Gozaimasu tomodachi!!!

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