The post 10 Things I Love About India gave me the highest record of hits since I started this blog. I was surprised, at first, then I realized that if I stumble upon a post entitled 10 Things I Love About the Philippines, I will definitely click it to give me a nationalistic-ego boost. Or if I am a foreigner, a list would give me a bird’s-eye view of what awaits me at my destination. Besides, everyone loves lists. They are convenient, concise and direct to the point.
If I could write a list of things I love about India, considering that it is now my second home or, in the near future, a country of my second citizenship, why not about the once-secluded jewel of the far east which has become a subject of my fascination since I was 18 and cared for me for almost 2 years of my graduate studies?
Take a look at my personal reasons why I love Japan and who knows we might share the same appreciation. Let me know.
1. Postcard Views
Japan will definitely not fail you in giving postcard-worthy photos. It is the number one country that didn’t disappoint me when I actually set foot there. Usually, enhanced photographs are more beautiful than the actual views but in Japan, it’s the other way around. Natural phenomena, and usually dangerous ones such as earthquakes, ironically birthed its beautiful landscapes. Beautiful is, in fact, an understatement; it is beyond words.
2. Preserving Temples & Castles; Preserving History
I read about him, the era he lived in, the stories that immortalized him. But when I retraced the footsteps of Tokugawa in his centuries-old castle in Kyoto, I started believing in dreams. I didn’t expect that the imagination I formed when reading the words from the novel, Shogun, will be recreated at that moment. Japan has a lot of castles, and well-preserved ones. Zen gardens envelope the castles that change characters every turn of season. They are reminders of Japanese rich history and an epitome of how much they treasure their past. Click here for the 7 Most Beautiful Castles in Japan. I was able to visit 3, that of Osaka, Okayama and Himeji, which is the number 1 on the list.
3. Festivals for Everyone
There is no shortage of festivities in Japan. Japanese people love gatherings and celebrations. There’s always a festival for something. In our little town of Urasa, locals celebrate the Naked Man Festival annually. Lights, food, music, all the works. Rain or shine, or even snow, festivals go on year-round.
Every book I read about Japan mentions the sakura. Cherry blossoms can also be found in other countries but the Japanese people are specially very fond of it. Sakura blooms only for at most 2 weeks during spring until the strong winds of summer blow the gentle petals away. This is the reason why the season of sakura is very special for the Japanese. It is a beautiful reminder of how fleetingly beautiful life is. People gather under sakura trees for a tea, a chat or a picnic. The poetic beauty of sakura when you see it for yourself doesn’t fall short of the poetic narratives of writers who were equally inspired by them.
5. ようこそ Japan! (Welcome to Japan!): Hospitality & Friendship
You will always feel welcome when you are in the company of a Japanese–at their homes, in schools and offices, hotels and public spaces–they always try their best to accommodate you. Once we were lost at a train station and a station guard whom we asked for directions lead us all the way to the right platform. Once when I was in a hotel and encountered some problems with my internet connection, a technician worked non-stop, without complaints and with warmth of friendship, until he got my laptop reconnected. Once I went for a school visit, the children made welcome banners, embraced us and one 6-year old girl even gave me her home address and asked me to write to her. Once when I visited my tutor’s house, she prepared for us snacks and introduced us to her family. Too bad I was not able to experience a homestay. Some say that Japanese hospitality is merely a facade. If it is, then I wonder how much warmer the one behind the facade is.
Every now and then, I will receive a postcard, a greeting card or a letter from friends in Japan. Despite the fast pace and bustles of this country, people find time to communicate with each other and keep in touch. At first glance, you might take that previous statement a contradiction of what you will actually see in Japan, from the surface. People mind their own business, so it seems, especially when you are on a train and you see silent salarymen having a world of their own–tinkering their mobile phones, reading, listening to music. But the truth is, they do really care about the world other than theirs. You will notice a glance here and there but they are just too polite to stare (something I really like about Japan). And once they crash the barrier of strangeness, they will be friends for life.
6. Streets = Runways
One thing that I really like about living in Japan is that I can wear anything I want without being scrutinized. In the Philippines, you’ll get a woot here or a mocking face there if you wear something out of the ordinary in an ordinary place. But in Japan, people are not afraid to make a fashion statement and being different is not at all, well, different. Hence, the common conception that Japan is a homogenous society may not hold true for fashion and the identity people want to get from it. Cosplayers are everywhere in Tokyo, trends pass as quickly as the seasons, and the wardrobes are juxtapositions of the old and the new. Japan is also known as the land of “kawaii”, meaning cute or pretty, which is a popular fashion taste from clothing to behavior. But whatever style preference you have, you are free to strut your stuff along the
runways streets of Japan.
7. Technology and the Quest for Perfection
You enter and the cover goes up automatically. There’s a button for water temperature, deodorizer, sounds to relax you or drown the call of nature. An amazing array of buttons for the throne, i.e. the epic Japanese toilet. Technology is very much embedded into the Japanese lifestyle, even in the humblest and often ignored toilet seat. Japanese always aim for perfection; there should be no second best. As Pico Iyer implied, they want to be the best in everything, from sumo to baseball, to their gardens and their technology. However, he also added that the Japanese motivation is to outdo the West especially after their defeat during the war. I beg to disagree. The Japanese has a long history of culture and tradition. The finest gestures of geishas, the arts of flower arrangements, kabuki and noh dramas, tea ceremonies and calligraphy, the Japanese obsession with perfection dates back even before the war, a kind that reflects in modern Japan and their quest for excellence. Technology aids the country in achieving such pursuit and in creating a high-tech society of convenience perfected up to the last bolt, petal, stroke… And they did it and keep on doing it not to obtain a bragging trophy but because that’s simply the way they do it–that’s the way they had been and will always be.
8. Always on Time
I never fail to get amazed whenever a train arrives on the dot, no more and no less than a minute from the schedule. Clocks are everywhere in Japan and they are all synchronized and always working. In the Philippines, it is common to adjust clocks ahead of time so that they will not get late of appointments, which, I observe, never really serve the purpose. When I was in my university, everything starts and ends on time-public transportation schedules, classes, meetings, lunch breaks. So if you have a problem with punctuality, you will surely run out of excuses in Japan.
9. Homogeneity or Discipline?
Related to their discipline in observing time, I admire the Japanese discipline in many aspects of their public life. From traffic regulations to recycling and waste disposal, it is a country where outliers from the norms do not fit in. Again, I remember Iyer’s opinion that Japan is too homogenous because their lives, even their preferences, are highly regulated, and sadly, dictated. He wrote in one of his books that in Japan:
“…everything–including the future–could be programmed;
everything–including humanity—could be perfected.”
He further opined:
“For in Japan…the probable and the desirable, were one and the same.
Everything was the way it was supposed to be.”
Though I am becoming a fan of Iyer, thanks to a good friend’s recommendation, I am saddened by his observation. True that perfectionism is a double-edged sword and oftentimes results to a boring, recluse and suppressed society of homogeneity, without room for change or growth; but Japan is nothing close based on what I experienced there (experiences are relative). The other edge of the sword may reveal a society of disciplined individuals who opted for a more organized society for they chose to live in convenience than chaos. And even if chaos comes uninvited, the Japanese discipline and resilience prevail no matter what. These were tested during the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster when the Japanese people remained observant of the rules and regulations instilled in them since they were children. There was no rampant looting, they lined up for their share of limited food and supplies and they resumed their jobs and responsibilities as quickly as they can. In those times, Japan ignited more admiration than pity.
10. The Japanese Spirit
I remember a story my professor told us about a Japanese soldier whose duty was to keep watch of incoming enemies’ fighter planes in order to give an early warning to his camp. One day, a surprise attack was launched by the enemies and this soldier came running to his camp commander to report that planes were on their way. As soon as his finished his last word, he fell dead! He was actually shot earlier while patrolling his area but he had the spirit to run back to his camp, warn his comrades and fulfill his duty before taking his last breath. That is the Japanese spirit. Perhaps, the natural disasters and wars this country went through made such spirit stronger over time. When the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, when the Great Hanshin earthquake struck Kobe and when the 2011 earthquake devastated most of the northeast part of the country including Tokyo, the Japanese people started rebuilding the next day, with unwavering spirit.
The list could go on. But for now, let me say heartfelt gratitude to the country that reminded me that dreams could be real.
Have you been to Japan? What do you like/love most about it?
- 10 of the Most Daring Beauty Looks From Japan Fashion Week so Far (bellasugar.com)
- My favourite things about Japan (julianxbishop.wordpress.com)
- Japan, what I like about the place (lefteris.realintelligence.net)
- Japan: The overpowering desire to take photos of Sakura (chrystal-clear.com)