I love that whenever we visit Japan for the first time, we’re instantly connected with everyone else who ever made the same journey, whether they’re just normal people like you or me or super famous, like the Dalai Lama or Albert Einstein. Tomorrow, October 8th, marks the 100th anniversary of his celebrated visit to Japan, and I thought it’d be fun to write about how when we visit Japan, we’re all walking in the shoes of Albert Einstein.
That Time Albert Einstein Came to Japan
The two most famous universities in Japan are Keio and Waseda. Keio is the more prestigious of the two because it was founded by the great Yukichi Fukuzawa, the man on the 10,000 yen note, and author of a famous book called Gakumon no Susume or Encouragement of Learning. (The Yama no Susume anime title references this book.) There’s another reason Keio trounces Waseda, to the chagrin of my son, who graduated from the latter school: when Albert Einstein visited Japan to give a lecture on Special Relativity, he spoke at Keio University.
Einstein first encountered the Japanese when a young man named Shinichi Suzuki, who was studying music in Berlin, was placed in his care by a friend. Einstein was greatly impressed with the modesty of the man, and began reading about Japan through the writings of Lafcadio Hearn, who I consider to be the Father of Japan Bloggers.
When Einstein received an invitation to visit from a Japanese friend in the publishing industry to visit, he decided to take him up on the offer, writing, “If I let the chance of seeing Japan with my own eyes pass by, I would live to regret it.”
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We are All Albert Einstein
During the six weeks, he was in Japan, he toured the cities of Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya, and Sendai, giving lectures along the way. He visited Nara, Japan’s ancient capital, staying at the famous Nara Hotel, where he played piano for the other patrons. The piano is still there, and I just had to make a pilgrimage to see and touch the piano. I love the image of Einstein going out into the park and feeding the famous deer there, then going back to the hotel and wondering how to put on his yukata properly.
Einstein walked among the beautiful floating shores of Miyajima, Japan’s famous floating torii arch. Someone more ominously, he then visited nearby Hiroshima, a city that would be destroyed by the first atomic bomb, which would be created in part through his work.
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He Worshipped Japan, Just Like Many of Us
Albert Einstein was a man of his time, and was fascinated by the mysterious land which had only opened up to the West 70 years before. He gushed about Japan like any of us would, saying, “I have always thought that somewhere in this wide world, there must be at least one country as precious as Japan.” That sums up how I feel about Japan perfectly.
But he had difficulties here, too, just like any of us might have at first. Sitting on the floor made his legs fall asleep, and he struggled to eat with “little sticks” that would ha been frustrating for anyone. I wonder how he managed with the Japanese squatting toilets, too. He had difficulties with the exotic Japanese food he was served here, but found a favorite shop in Shinbashi selling tempura bento.
Thanks for reading this blog post about Albert Einstein’s trip to Japan, and how when we visit Japan for the first time, we’re walking in Einstein’s shoes! Got any topics you’d like to see me write about here? Post them below, or hit us up on Twitter!
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