Deaf Travel13th October 2013

Travel with Heather Thomas - Japan

Deaf travellers Heather and Tammy visited Tokyo. This is what they made of it

by Heather Thomas

Japan imageWe flew into Tokyo and caught the sight of Mt. Fuji floating over the skyscrapers as we descended. It seemed as though we were entering into a fantasy world. That is exactly what it went on to feel like.

We were there for five days, and for Heather, who had not been to Japan before, it was a cultural shock. Tammy had been to Japan ten years previously on a youth exchange programme.

Heather’s highlights

For the first two days I was in Japan, Tammy told me that she saw my jaw drop many times in awe at my surroundings. She was right, Japan was different to anything I had seen or experienced in my lifetime. Its culture was unique and quite different to the western countries I had visited. When we arrived to meet our hosts at the airport, they took us back to their home via the metro system. We queued on the JR Line, and I expected to be packed in like sardines as we entered the carriage, seeing as Tokyo was one of the world’s busiest cities. This wasn’t the case. Our hosts Chi and Toshi (1) pulled us back and told us to queue at the sides as the people came out of the carriage in the middle. I remember telling Tammy that this was nothing like London’s Underground system where everyone just rushes into the carriage without consideration of the people who want to come out first. London needs to take a leaf out of their book for sure!

Heather Thomas

We arrived in Kawasaki, where our hosts invited us into their own home. It was nothing like ours. It was very Japanese, and very clean. We were not allowed to wear our shoes inside the home, and had to wear slippers except when we were in bedrooms and the living room. Both Tammy and I had problems remembering to take them off in the bedroom, so we had to keep reminding each other! Also, the bathroom had its own slippers. Every toilet I sat down on in Tokyo had buttons on them with features of buttock wash, buttock air dryer, and a button where you can play music to overlap the sound of urine and faeces passing! I think that was the first time I laughed out loud in the toilet! (2)

On the 25th of February, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.7 hit Tokyo. Tammy and I were in our bedrooms texting, then suddenly I noticed that my chest was shaking for about ten seconds. We both looked at each other really confused, and then we laughed, going what the hell was that?! We asked Chi and Toshi about this, but they did not even feel it. We concluded that they and many Japanese are so used to earthquakes that they don’t feel anything except for the severe ones.

I had one of the best days of my life in Tokyo, and that was going to a deaf school called the Mensei Gakuen for the Deaf, located on the outskirts of the city. All the learning there is done via Japanese sign language (JSL). (3) What we witnessed in the classrooms, were students fully understanding what was explained to them, and having absolute confidence that their teachers understand them, which is sadly not the case for most deaf students in the UK.

Heather teaching BSLOnce you enter Meisei Gakuen, you enter the world of sign language which we found overwhelming. We were invited to give a little talk to a group of students aged 4 to 6, explaining where we were from in Japanese Sign Language. I have never felt so proud of myself in doing something so rewarding on the other side of the world. We were bombarded with questions from the students about our backgrounds which I found very cute. (4) I remember one question from a student asking how many hours flying it was from Tokyo to London. Another student explained where she was from. Her mother was from Thailand and her father Japan, and they moved to Japan for her education. Tammy and I were astounded by the level of her intelligence, to be able to explain in depth, in rich sign language, at the age of 6.

Heather with a group of MaikusOne of my favourite things in Japan was the Shinkansen (5) which is the Japanese bullet train, reaching speeds of 200mph. The trains would put the UK’s railway system to shame. We went to Kyoto from Tokyo on the Shinkansen in two hours when it would have taken us around 8 to 10 hours by car. The staff on the train were dressed like the air crew you would expect on an airplane. I saw a lady staff member bless the room we were in by bowing down before she left the carriage (6); this was customary in Japan. It made me think, where are our customs, in this country? I believe that travelling is an education itself.

I found Japan a very clean and respectful country and I am already itching to go back again, but for longer this time, to explore around the country. Japan is somewhere that tends to get missed off most people’s travel lists and they don’t know what they are missing. So, if you want a unique experience that you won’t forget in a long time, Japan is the place to go.

Tammy’s highlights

When I knew that I was going back to Japan after 10 years, I was really excited. When I stayed in Japan 10 years ago for one month – I enjoyed the culture & experience. I knew Heather would have the same experience I had 10 years ago. I can relate to her feelings.

My highlight of the trip were the fish market, Tsukiji in Tokyo (7). We had to get up early in the morning and got there for 7.30am and queued to get in a sushi restaurant. It was freezing waiting because the restaurant only had about 8 seats. It was worth the wait because the sushi was so fresh. (7b) Heather was not keen on sushi, but I managed to persuade her to try them. We had different sushi laid out by sushi chefs which they made in front of us. It was the best fresh sushi I ever had in my life! Then we walked around the fish market watching them cutting up frozen tuna (8). They were selling different fresh fish, squids, etc. all kinds of fish you can think of were there.

Fact about Tsukiji – is best known as one of world’s largest fish markets, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products every day!

Heather with chefWe visited a Deaf restaurant in Shinju-Ku. The restaurant, called Fusao was owned by a Deaf chef with his hearing wife. They showed us how they cooked food in the kitchen, which was nice of them, as many restaurants wouldn’t do that. (9) That night, a deaf group were keen to learn BSL, so we shared BSL and learned JSL at the same time. It was fun. Then a deaf Japanese man wanted to arm wrestle with me, but I lost and suggested Heather have a go with him. His face dropped when Heather beat him! (10) But it was so funny. They were all so friendly. If you want to see what deaf culture is like in Tokyo I recommend that you visit the restaurant, they will approach you and will take an interest in you. (11)

The bullet train to Kyoto was a fabulous experience. The train was so fast and smooth. Inside the train, the legs space was so spacious, much better than British trains! When we arrived in Kyoto, we stayed in a capsule hotel. Amazing experience – (12) we were so hungry we went out in the pouring rain and found a lovely small restaurant that served Kyoto foods. We were in heaven. We sat in front of a kitchen with a chef cooking food in front of us. (13) We had Okonomiyaki – a Japanese savoury pancake, Yaki soba noodles (14), Tonpeiyaki (15) (similar to Okonomiyaki but made of sliced pork and eggs) it was to die for! I was surprised that it was cheap! Next day we went on a tour of Kyoto which is known as the ancient capital. If you want to see the real Japan, this is the place to go. The tour took us across Kyoto to world-renowned temples, shrines, and palaces like Nijo Castle, Sanjusangendo, Kiyomizu Temple. To finish off a fantastic day we had a group photo with a couple of maikus!  (16,17,18,19,20)

I was so pleased to be back in Japan after 10 years. I recommend everyone to visit for a holiday!

Tammy Broskom is a deaf comedian, presenter and MC, she co-created deaf spoof comedy show - BB Deaf news with her sidekick Micole. You can follow them on facebook – BB Deaf news and Tammy has her own fan page, which is Tammy Grace Broskom Fan Page. Catch her in action on See hear in October. Requests are welcome.

Article by Heather Thomas

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Deaf Travel

13th October 2013