My Summer in the Land of Smiles

Lara reports on her trip abroad to Schmalz Japan

“In the summer of 2016, I had the opportunity to spend three months in our subsidiary in Japan as part of my cooperative education program.

When I arrived, I was given a little apartment measuring approximately 20 m² that I would call my home for the next few months. Although the apartment was small, it had everything I needed. At first, I found it difficult to use some of the devices and Japanese writing is still a complete mystery to me. Even the weekly Japanese lessons provided by two of my colleagues could only help to a certain extent.

Of course, I wasn’t sent to Japan to master the language. My main role was to work with complaints management, to assist with assembly and shipping, and to process different data. There were always other small tasks I could do, for example designing and implementing a board for the trade fair.

From the moment I arrived, I was fascinated and inspired by the culture and the landscape. I quickly realized I would miss the Japanese food. As well as the miso soup, various tofu dishes, soup with soba noodles or udon noodles, and plenty of fresh vegetables, I also adored the taste of the sweet mochi made from sticky rice.

I was so delighted that my colleagues spent their weekends taking me to places that an average tourist would never get to see. Not only did I visit the famous Mount Fuji, I saw many other breathtaking sights. These sights included the beautiful bamboo temple in Kamakura, an open-air noodle restaurant on a river in Saitama, where you can fish for your floating noodles using a bamboo cane, and the Hakone Shrine on Lake Ashi.

Toward the end of my stay, I had the chance to spend a week traveling through Japan. Of course, this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. Before I even left for Japan, I bought the Japan Rail Pass. The pass can be used on the Shinkansen high-speed rail network. The Shinkansen is similar to the German ICE system. However, the similarity with Germany’s rail network ends there. Japan is some way ahead of Germany in this respect. For example, during the three months I spent in Japan not a single train was a minute late! From Yokohama, I traveled to Kyoto, Nara, Miyajiama, Hiroshima, and the Temples of Nikko, among others. A colleague even recommended that I visit the estate of his friends, a family near Hiroshima. As well as enjoying their Japanese garden, teahouse, and onsen hot spring, I also spent the evening with them.

It was moments like this that made my time in Japan so precious. By deliberately taking detours through small side streets unspoilt by tourism, I met lots of people who told me stories about Japan and about their lives. Because of these experiences and the fact that my colleagues went to such great lengths to make my summer unforgettable, every day Japan felt less like a foreign country and more like home.

I still feel overwhelmed by the sheer helpfulness and friendliness of everyone I met during my time in Japan. The name “Land of Smiles” couldn’t be more perfect!

I was always so sure that Japan would not be one of the countries I would visit in my lifetime. Now, I am certain that this is not the last I have seen of this fascinating country!”