And finally, the interview done last week... the blogger who asked me questions, this time, is Francesca of Viaggiare da Soli (Traveling Alone). So it's not difficult to guess the topic – my life in Tanzania, of course, but main focus on my trip to Japan of last November. Enjoy!
Why did you decide to go and live in Tanzania?
I left Italy about 2 years and a half ago, because... since some times I was a bit demotivated - same everyday life and a kind of boredom were pulling my enthusiasm down, especially on work. Also the general mood around me was more and more “seated”, not proactive in trying something new and taking risks... I was becoming sad. I already traveled to Tanzania several times as volunteer, and I was positively impressed by the city of Dar Es Salaam, the largest metropolis of the Country - strong colors, a visible effort towards social and economic development... My sister was there since several months for research reasons. So I left my job, I picked up my luggages and I left, with the aim of taking some sabbatic months. Then, unexpectedly, I started to do the work I studied for (web designer): the challenge was amazing, because the IT sector is one of the most promising nowadays in East Africa! So I stopped here.
What is the most important lesson that you learnt living in Africa for 2 years?
I learnt to be independent, most of all psychologically. I challenged my ability in actualizing my plans and projects even when other people don't take me seriously. I became open to deal with everybody's opinions, and being coherent with my point of view and my cultural roots at the same time. At least, I learnt to deal with loneliness: playing the role of “outsider” expat, arriving in Africa without an excellent job contract in an international organization, means... time when you're very alone, mostly at the beginning. I had to deal with the people's curiosity (and a bit of skepticism), so for a period my social life has been a bit complicated. What to say... I took a big breath, and I went on. Of course, the fact of living with my sister has been a great support, for both of us. If I haven't come to challenge my destiny in Tanzania, probably I'd have never decided to travel alone to Japan.
Why did you decide to travel to Japan?
Japan has been the big journey of my dreams since I was a kid, but I never had the chance to leave till now. The idea of Japan as a very expensive place, out of my range, where the only suitable option would have been to book a touristic package and keeping my expectations under a standard itinerary... well, this always stopped me from leaving. But one day I had the chance to take a longer leave from work. I should have stayed in Dar Es Salaam, or traveling alone. So I went out and I bought a flight to Narita! (The family? I gave them note after some days...)
How long have you traveled around Japan, and where have you been?
I've been in Japan for 2 weeks. I was interested mostly in Tokyo, so I spent most of the time there. I also visited Kyoto and the Mount Koya, where I spent a night in a buddhist temple. To move from a place to another, I chose local trains and highway buses instead of the shinkansen – less comfy maybe, but much more interesting.
What is, in your opinion, the biggest difficulty that a person can find traveling alone to Japan?
Personally, I didn't have any difficulty. Japan seems to be “taylor-made” also for lonely travelers! I discovered that lot of Japanese people travel alone, and that Japan in general is crowdy of people from all over the World traveling alone – not so many girls, to be honest... at hostels and guest houses I was always the only one! And many times I asked myself where the hell is the emancipation that we, western women, state to be proud of. Anyway, I think that the most risky barrier when traveling to Japan, alone or with a group, is to let that stereotypes and myths about the Raising Sun, so frequently spread by the media, influence a traveler too much. Japan is extraordinary, Japanese are welcoming, nice and with a great sense of humor. This is, at least, what I saw there.
How's been your interaction with the local people?
Because I was changing place and accommodation almost every day (even in Tokyo, I used to move from an area to another and to spend the overnight every time in a different place), I didn't have the chance to go beyond greetings and information sharing. Plus, most of the Japanese don't speak English. Before leaving, I got in touch with a Japanese girl enthusiastic about Italy. We met several times, for a dinner out or to visit some venues: we spent endless (ehm) gossip sessions! We're still in touch, she's a very kind person. A curious detail? At the beginning, when talking to anybody, I omitted the fact that I live in Africa. Later, I started to include this info in my chats with the locals... surprise! Japanese, in general, don't know much about Africa, but many of them have been literally enchanted by stories about Tanzania and looking at the pictures shot in the Maasai villages and in Zanzibar. Here you are. I didn't expect it at all.
What is the thing that impressed you more, about Japan?
The order, the public safety, the politeness of people. Although many people think that this kind of super-organization is a nightmare, I believe that from a certain point of view it is a way to facilitate cohabitation and space sharing in over-populated cities and in a geographic context where space is a limited resource, often hit by earthquakes and other catastrophes. When I got back to Dar Es Salaam, which is quite the opposite situation, lot of friends told me that I was looking quiet and relaxed like never before – I know, it sounds absurd... Africa is considered a place “out from the stress of the cities” much more than Japan, but instead... curious, ain't?
In your opinion, what is the right mindset to travel alone to Japan?
To be curious about a rich history and a very different culture. To be resourceful, to dare and go on exploration everywhere, without fear. A minimum self-control is needed to follow the schedule and during transfers from a place to another, otherwise it's not possible to visit everything. Anyway, much depends on the ability to forget all the stereotypes about Japan and Japanese people... it's much better to go there with open mind, and to catch all the best all around.
What do you need to put in your luggage as first?
Camera, iPad connected to Internet (Google Maps is great for orientation, especially in Tokyo), just one change of clothes, considering that the weather is quite variable. Better to keep the luggage as small as possbile, because coin lockers in the stations and venues are very small. Better to bring some extra budget and do some shopping over there, eventually - it's not as expensive as they say, and you can find very creative and good quality stuff.
The unforgettable one you came across...
Not a particular person, to be honest. But I will never forget the positive impression about Japanese people, their way of introducing themselves so polite but welcoming at the same time. I never considered the chance of having Japanese friends, before this journey. Now I'm appreciating more people from Asia, in general. About Japanese, no doubt - they're definetly nice to me! And they're honest people, which is not so obvious nowadays...