How travelling can open up your world

Plans for up coming summer vacation

The summer vacation is approaching and many Waseda students are probably making travel plans. On the other hand, it has been reported that less and less young people are travelling overseas. In fact, accordingly to the Japan Association of Travel Agents (JATA), the number of young adults in their 20s travelling overseas has been experiencing a decreasing trend year after year.

Take a few seconds to think about this question: “What can you gain from travelling abroad?”

With regards to the question, Waseda University staff Naoto Okazaki has got many to share. He has travelled to almost 60 countries across the globe with his beloved camera since he was a graduate student. In the following interview article with Okazaki, he provides tips and advice for travel preparations, as well as the fascinations of travelling overseas.

Naoto Okazaki. Born in Tokyo in 1981 and started working as a permanent full-time staff of Waseda University since 2006, Okazaki currently works as a Overseas Studies Program coordinator at the Center for International Education. He exhibited his photos at the photo exhibition Meet the Smiles 3 last year. Some of his selected photos are currently on displayed at Waseda Global Gate (Waseda Campus, Building 22, 1F).

Fascinations of travelling abroad

Q: Why did you start travelling overseas and how do you choose your travel destinations?

The first time I travelled abroad was in 2006. At that time, I was a graduate student in my second year of studies. The country I went to was Cambodia. When I first travelled to Cambodia, I was really anxious because I could not speak almost a word of English. However, during my trip, I made many local friends and wonderful memories there and that changed me and my way of thinking. I began to hope for similar experiences and encounters in other countries, which I believe was how everything started. By the time I knew, I have already been to so many countries.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

As to how I choose my travel destinations, I think it is mainly based on inspiration. For example, when I was still a student, I once watched a Japanese movie directed by Sho Igarashi called Jirai wo Fundara Sayonara (literally means “One Step on the Mine, It’s All Over”). The movie is about a freelance cameraman Taizo Ichinose who, despite the dangers he might face, went to take pictures at Angkor Wat in Cambodia during the 1970s when an internal war broke out. After watching the movie, I began to wonder the kind of places I would risk my life going to, which made me want to go to Cambodia. Aside from inspiration, I also give priorities to places which I know I have to go now or I probably would not have a chance to in future – for instance, places we should go when we are still young and physically fit. In addition, I also tend to choose travel destinations that are culturally distant from Japan, as well as those whose people lead simple yet happy lives.

Q: How do you go about making travel arrangements?

It depends on my travel destinations, but I usually make arrangements for air tickets, places of stay and travel itineraries all by myself. In the past, for destinations that have poor internet access, I used to make arrangements only after arriving there. Recently, however, I seldom have to do so as things have become much more convenient that I can almost always make arrangements online beforehand. As for how I do research on places I plan to go to, I like to buy the standard popular travel guidebooks in Japan such as Chikyu no Arukikata (“Globe-Trotter Travel Guidebook”) by DIAMOND, Inc. and Loney Planet. I often collect information on recommended travel routes and itineraries provided by these guidebooks, and then do further in-depth research either online or by asking friends. Depending on my country of destination, sometime I only start planning after arriving at the country.

Q: Do you take any precaution in terms of safety and hygiene?

As I have travelled to so many countries, people often assume that I bound to have put myself in peril in one way or another during my overseas trips. In actual fact, I have not. The reason is probably because I seldom go out at night when I travel. As I like to take pictures during the day, I will wake up early and sleep early. Additionally, I also try to be careful, and not to easily believe people who seem too friendly and are actively trying to talk to me. Not to forget, I will also check the Overseas Safety HP (i.e. homepage) managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Moreover, although it might sound absurd, I think it is generally safer to travel alone. When you are travelling in pair or group, you tend to make decisions by consulting one another. This slows down and wavers decision making, and creates opportunities for others to take advantage of you. But if you are alone, you can decline and say no without hesitation.

As for hygiene, it might be common sense but one should never drink un-boiled water. While there are times when I will buy food from food stalls on the streets, I will make an effort to have my meals in stores or restaurants where many people visit. These restaurants tend to serve food that is fresher and utensils that are cleaner as customers come and go quickly. In addition, you should try to slow down your pace when you feel are feeling tired as it is easier to fall sick when you are tired. Depending on where I travel to, I will sometimes get prescription (eg. malaria prescription) from doctor in Japan before travelling.

Q: Among the countries you have been to, which left the deepest impression on you?

I would say Cambodia, which was my first overseas trip, and Syria, which I went two times between 2009 and 2010 before the Syrian Civil War broke out. Before I went to Syria, I was worried if the people there are acceptive of people from overseas. But after going there, I felt that it was a great country and the people there were very friendly. I once met a Syrian man standing next to me at a bus stop. He initiated small talks with me while we were waiting for the bus and even offered to pay my bus fares when he alighted before me. There was also a time when I was invited by a family to join them for picnic at the courtyard of a mosque. Throughout my trips in Syria, there were many instances when I received snacks and food from the local people. As I have such memorable experiences at Syria, it breaks my heart each time I watch the news about the conflicts happening in Syria.


Young lads Okazaki met in Syria

My trip to Tibet was also an unforgettable one. When I was there I went to the Everest Base Camp. As I proceeded further into the inland, I stopped seeing people but I was greeted with Mother Earth’s creations so beautiful and overwhelming. The whole experience was so different from my everyday life in Tokyo and I began to appreciate the importance and beauty of coexisting with nature after that trip.

Q: Do you feel that you have grown as a person after travelling to so many countries?

Of course. Firstly, I feel that my English has improved a lot. I have to communicate in English all by myself because no one else would understand Japanese. I also feel that I have cultivated sharp decision making and good judgement skills. Consider a case where my flight was cancelled. Well, although there would be nothing I could do about flight cancellation itself, I would have to make an immediate decision to either wait for the next available flight or choose other means of travelling. I believe these skills I have acquired through travelling are transferable to my current job.

After travelling to so many countries, I stopped judging people based on their appearance. I also stopped judging and denying people’s ideas and thinking based on my set of values. I feel that I have become more accepting of differences and grown as a person. In fact, I feel that it would be unfortunate and a waste to judge other people’s way of living and cultures based on my experience in my own culture – you will never learn to appreciate and embrace dissimilarities and diversity.


Wedding dinner of Okazaki’s Cambodian friend who he met 10 years ago. (from left, Okazaki, Okazaki’s friend)

Q: What do you think are the appeals about travelling?

Children who Okazaki met when he was in Cambodia

I think travelling is a switch that turns off my everyday life and gives me time and space in which I can purify my heart and soul. When I am travelling alone, I do not have to put up a non-genuine self that is expected of me by the society. I am free from these expectations and can just be myself. Additionally, it gives me an opportunity to learn about the world and revisit my own values and cultures.

Q: Do you have any advice for students who are thinking of travelling overseas?

I hope Japanese students would go to places that would defy the conventional. I will strongly recommend them to go to culturally distant countries or places in the Middle East and South America.

Dusk at Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

Students should also not be afraid of failures because being able to fail is the privilege of students. I really hope they will take a step out of their comfort zone and learn. They should learn to look at things beyond surface value and be curious and ask intriguing questions. The more you travel, the more you will learn how vast the world is and how little you actually know about it.

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