Cassandra Lund has traveled on more than 15 EF tours and has tours planned through 2013. Lund is a magazine journalism major at Temple University in Philadelphia, and she hopes to write for a travel magazine after her graduation in 2012. Here, she writes about her experiences on her recent EF tour to Japan.
By Cassandra Lund | EF student traveler
My EF brochure reads “Japan: Land of the Rising Sun.” I did not realize how this would become the theme of my trip until I woke up to my alarm clock at 1:30 a.m. in order to make it to the airport in the States. Osaka, Japan, was my destination.
Japan is a destination considered exotic compared to the more popular destinations of Europe and North America. When travelers go to Japan, it is important for them to read up on the customs and plan ahead for their time spent there.
Customs such as chopstick etiquette, how to visit a temple or shrine and bowing to say hello and thank you are important for travelers to know. Some websites our group used to read up on the culture were gojapan.about.com and fodors.com/world/asia/japan. These websites are both easy to navigate and offer many great tips.
The long flight to Japan from the United States is another questionable factor travelers have in the back on their mind.
Looking back on my trip, I find it unfortunate that Americans are quite comfortable going to Europe but worry when Japan is mentioned as a destination. For example, my mother, who is an EF Group Leader, can easily fill a Europe trip, but many of her repeat travelers were hesitant to go to Japan.
My travel experience is primarily in Europe, and going to Japan had always seemed out of reach, like a fantasy. My mother took some convincing to substitute a trip to Europe for Asia.
From the moment we landed in Osaka, Japan, we were nothing but impressed. The people there were courteous and friendly, the food was not only edible but delicious, and there were many beautiful attractions. The cities we visited—Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Hakone and Tokyo—were much cleaner than any European or even United States cities that I have visited. The attractions we visited, including shrines, temples and statues, were unique architecturally compared to anything I have seen. The pagodas we visited were intricate with decorations of symbols, dragons, fish and lined with gold.
By the end of our tour, we were already discussing ways we could come back and begging to stay.
Our EF Tour Director, Emi Kimura, was also one of the best I have encountered. She contributed so much enthusiasm and comfort to our group of travelers. Kimura always had a smile and exceeded our expectations as a tour guide. We missed her before even leaving her at the airport.
Our tour group had started out with 17 travelers, all recruited by my mother. When we arrived in Japan, EF Tours had set us up with three other groups. While at first this seemed it might cause problems, by the end of the trip we saw ourselves as one group. We even enjoyed our free time together. Group members from Pennsylvania, California, Michigan and New Mexico were mixed together going shopping and going out together at night.
Making friends and spending time with new people enhanced our group’s travel experience and made it easy to learn from each other—an important benefit of travel.
Visiting Japan reminded me how exciting travel can be. I loved being exposed to a new culture that was based on mutual respect and politeness and had incredible monuments dedicated to the beauty of religion, nature and mankind. It also reminded me of what travel was all about—immersing yourself in a new culture and learning from it and becoming a more well-rounded person. Japan was different enough from the United States and Europe that I continually learned new things, but similar enough that I was not afraid to experience these new things and to venture out on my own.
I knew I would enjoy Japanese culture, but I did not realize how it would change my outlook on travel and life. It raised my expectations for other heretofore unknown travel locations. Now when my mom asks for my opinion on where to travel next, “Japan” will likely be my answer.