Having watched the television reports from Japan after the recent earthquake and tsunami damage, I couldn’t help but think about my only visit to that faraway country. Even though my trip occurred in the spring of 1997, I somehow felt connected to this tragedy affecting a country known for its orderly and meticulous approach to everyday life.
I was traveling with a Cotton Council International group that included Executive Vice President Allen Terhaar, California producer Fred Starrh, who was CCI president, and several other CCI staffers. We were touring important customers for U.S. cotton and had made stops in Taiwan and Korea before heading to our final destinations in Osaka and Tokyo.
It was a 10-day whirlwind trip that was non-stop in every sense of the word. Morning receptions, luncheons, media events and evening dinners were what we dealt with every day. My job was to take photos of the entire trip and make sure I took the lens cap off the camera. We had to forget about jet lag because there was simply no time to worry about such things. Up to that point, every country was a fascinating cultural experience even if I had encountered problems adjusting to 10-course meals in Korea.
When our plane touched down in Osaka, my first impression of Japan was how efficiently the masses of people made their way from the airport to waiting trains and taxis. Everyone moved in unison and with a purpose. There was no frenzied chaos. Just a sense of many throngs of people surviving in a densely populated area.
After we completed our meetings and obligations in Osaka, the next task was traveling to Tokyo. Instead of flying by plane, we rode on the bullet train, which was like traveling on a ground-based rocket at more than 100 miles per hour. This is where it was easier to view the countryside outside the big cities. We floated along and saw a different Japan as our train cut a swath through hills, mountains and flatland.
Farmers and workers tended to their rice fields and barely even noticed as our train whizzed by. Occasionally, someone would stand to watch us. Others would wave. Some simply stared as if we were just another daily nuisance. Later on, after arriving in Tokyo, we walked on some of the city’s busiest downtown streets and learned that the Japanese are proud people who might speak a different language but actually are warm and friendly.
These are the memories I have of a country that I’ll probably never see again. My hope is that these people will find a way to survive and rebuild their lives after this recent tragedy.
Fourteen years later, their smiles and laughter are still hard to forget.
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