I was lucky enough to travel to Japan this past winter to spend a week skiing and photographing on the northern island of Hokkaido. The natural beauty of the landscape was otherworldly, the snow plentiful, and the skiing was as good as it gets.
But what really struck me — and stayed with me — about Japan, was the feeling of being there, and how different it is from home. There is a sense of courtesy and respect that finds its way into just about everything, and everyone — whether you’re ordering a bowl of ramen or filling your car with gas. People are unfailingly polite and happy. They return your credit card with two hands. They drive their reasonable sized cars like reasonable people. They value healthy, delicious food, and eat it in the company of others. There is a reverence for the environment that is apparent in their art, their design, their homes, their cities, and in their general way of life.
Everything about Japan resonated deeply with me. So I found myself constantly comparing it to home — which is an increasingly difficult task given the current direction of our government and our new “America First” foreign policy. Japan places an importance on “us”, while the U.S. seems to be more concerned with “ME.” They are a team, and we are out for ourselves. As individuals, and as a country in the global community. I have never been so embarrassed to be an American abroad.
Needless to say, coming back to the incessant flow of depressing news headlines was a bummer: Trump’s vow to scrap the Paris Climate Agreement, his inane immigration policy, and his unbelievable proposal to completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.
It feels wrong. And self-destructive. I’m confident that whatever financial or political gain this me-first approach produces will be more than offset by an eventual loss of our sense of community, followed by an America devoid of pride, respect, and happiness.