A month ago, I was still in Japan. It all seems like a dream. Not sure if the namesake was intended, but the Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS) program really felt like a sort of genesis, a beginning of many things. I’m personally glad I was able to bring my camera and capture these commencements.
The beginning of an adventure
Our day-to-day activities satisfied our curiosity of Japan. We had two orientations – a pre-departure briefing at the National Youth Commission office in the Philippines and an actual orientation proper right after arriving in Tokyo. Both were informative and of course, exciting. Not a day was wasted during our program, from having educational lectures at the Foreign Press Center of Japan to just enjoyable (yet still informative!) activities like exploring Nagoya Castle.
We also experienced a different kind of adventure–a gastronomic one. Aside from the delicious daily breakfast our hotels provided, the organizers made sure that we experienced all the Japanese food we could along with the occasional Indian cuisine and international buffet.
Our adventure continued even on the bus. Aside from the casual sightseeing we get to enjoy during the bus ride from one location to another, our guide and translator Hiromi-san would fill us in on random Japanese information. She taught us how to count in Japanese (using English words for better memory work) and filled us in on Japanese imports and exports. From time to time, she would also share some stories about her personal life and her husband, which made Japan even more familiar to us.
The beginning of many discoveries
There was definitely more than what meets the eye. What were notable to me was Japan’s technology, culture preservation, and beliefs, among many other things.
Japan easily wowed us with their tech. From the moment you have to go to the restroom, you are greeted with a Washlet equipped with buttons for a built-in bidet and seat temperature. Even in the comfort of our solo hotel rooms, I appreciated the bathroom mirror’s anti-fog mechanism as I remembered all the previous times I had to wipe a hotel mirror after a shower.
Five of our itinerary stops easily flaunted Japan tech: the Traffic Control Center, Tokyo Metro Museum, the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park, and Asahi Shimbun. Traffic Control Center showed us how they used beacons to communicate with cars during traffic to warn drivers about upcoming accidents or emergencies. Tokyo Metro Museum and SCMAGLEV & Railway Park provided us with simulations to show how effective Japan’s transportation was. (We witnessed this firsthand as we rode the shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya and vice versa.) Finally, Asahi Shimbun shared with us how they used digital spaces to reach more readers in the younger generation.
The most interesting thing I’ve witnessed: Japan, alongside technological progress, continues to preserve its culture. Mizkan Museum pulls this combination off flawlessly. A storytelling app accompanies visitors as they take a trip through a historical exhibit filled with physical, interactive props. A life-size replica of the first boat that exported sake doubled as a backdrop and stage for the museum’s animated graphics. We even had a quick film showing about the beauty and value of nature. And if you thought they were done awing you, our last stop had a motion control game on sushi and a booth that printed our faces on our very own vinegar bottles.
We also managed to visit notable historical sites like the Nagoya Castle, the Imperial Castle, and the Zojoji Temple.
They have a deeper meaning behind saying “I don’t believe in a god”. I still remember Mr. Kiyotaka Akasaka telling us that when Japanese people say this, they actually mean it’s because they don’t believe in one god but in over eight million gods. This is accredited to Shintoism, a belief that “a god resides in everything”. That includes every item we see and even every person’s death. When the Japanese work, they believe that the items hold a certain spirit, and so they treat them with respect. I would like to think that it is this belief system, and not entirely discipline, that brings about the good-naturedness and efficiency of the Japanese.
The beginning of friendships
Amidst the well-planned itinerary were the unexpected memories we made along the way. My co-delegates and I bonded over trying our luck with gachapon (capsule toys) to finally trying out Ichiran Ramen to playing with claw cranes in Akihabara. On a personal note, these exciting moments wouldn’t be the same without them.
It was also my pleasure to take their portraits whenever the time allowed. Each of us brought our own stories and experiences to share during the travel. Our own stories mingled with laughter made the trip even richer. As much as I enjoyed capturing scenes, it was just as important to take photos of these moments with the people I spent them with.
The beginning of more
Aside from our discoveries about Japan, we also had introspective moments, not only about ourselves and our co-delegates, but also our own country. Agreeing to be part of the JENESYS Youth Exchange in Media Industry (YEMI) program meant agreeing to apply our learnings upon getting home.
During our last day in Japan, we had a successful reporting session with JTB Corporation. Ate Mela presented a rundown video of our entire trip and then Ate Amele and Nadyne proceeded to share with JTB the action plans we were going to do upon going back to the Philippines. We then proceeded to dance to the ever-famous theme song of Pinoy Big Brother “Pinoy Ako”, our celebration of Filipino pride.
Ten days seems like a short amount of time, but with the experiences we had, it felt like a pseudo-lifetime. As we parted ways at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) last December 4, we were despondent, but at the same time inspired because we were going home with our hearts full of memories and lessons. The photos I’ve taken, the stories I’ve learned, and the friends I’ve met are proof that this was all somehow part of reality.
Thank you to National Youth Commission and JTB Corporation.
To my Youth Voices Count team, I learned a bit more, not only about journalism and comms, but also about people and culture.
Here’s to new beginnings, and more.