Miscellaneous, Travel

Baliktanaw: Japan 2019

Going to Japan was a life changing experience. Coming from a sinking, third world country like the Philippines, it was a feast for my eyes to see how efficient everything could be. And although I know that it’s not all butterflies and rainbows over there, it’s now one of my favorite places to visit. In my post-Japan daily life, I often find myself remembering all the things I experienced and that gives me that extra push to work a little bit harder so I can save up for another visit.

In the meantime, I might as well write a blog about my first visit to the Land of the Rising Sun. Here are some ramblings about Japan and the memorable things I liked and observed.

Rules

Japan has a lot of rules, both spoken and unspoken. As a foreigner, it can be a bit hard to adjust, but thankfully, the Japanese are quite lenient when it comes to outsiders. This isn’t a free pass though, and the penalty for a misdemeanor is given through cold, silent stares from the locals. But the overarching goal of these rules is to respect the presence of others. That is, to not do anything that would inconvenience other people.

Japan blends the modern and the traditional seamlessly

 

This is a stark contrast to the situation in Manila where everyone is fending for themselves every day. It was quite jarring to see, but the law-abiding capacity of the Japanese are really inspiring. Sidewalk crossings are being followed to the dot, even if there are no cars in sight. The streets are very clean even without public sweepers because they take their trash home with them. Just these two rules already make the city a more vibrant and livable setting.

Ultimately, the Japanese way of life isn’t necessarily to look out for the other person; but to not be a burden to others. This is a society of discipline built not out of compassion, but of respect. And it is effectively implemented.

Everything is easily understood (if you are fluent in Japanese)

 

Hospitality

It’s amazing how accommodating the Japanese are to foreigners. One day, we were looking for the Yoshinoya stall and when we asked a group of schoolgirls, they left their bags to bring us towards the right direction! It wa surprising as no one in their right mind in Manila would leave their belongings to help a stranger.

They would also be very patient when we fumbled around with their money. The coins are easy to learn, but sometimes we need a lot just to pay the bill. The cashiers are usually cute old ladies and they would politely smile and wait while I counted my change. Another contrast to the irritated cashiers in Manila who just want you to finish the transaction as fast as possible.

However, my favorite instance of hospitality was when the ticket cashier at the Teradomari Aquarium chased us down just to tell us that we had the wrong time for the bus station. We were already a long way from the ticket booth but we saw her bound down the stairs just to chase us. She told us the correct information and went back to her station. This was heartwarming and really made me love Japan more. The locals really made us feel safe and accounted for without it being their responsibility.

Another amazing example of hospitality was the blind-friendly sidewalks and stations. There were special tiles used on the public spaces for the differently-abled. I didn’t see any blind person in my stay, but it’s good to see that they thought about them in creating their urban spaces.

Accessibility is integrated to urban planning

Respect

Japan is famous for being big on respect. They’re probably the country best known for it; and it was amazing to witness and experience it first-hand. This value truly permeates through to the everyday lives of the locals.

Respect for others is the norm. My favorite habit I picked up in Japan is bowing. Bowing 30 degrees is the safest bet for foreigners, but there are more rules that the Japanese learn and practice. It’s definitely fun to see the locals bowing to each other over and over again. This automatic show of respect is something I admire and I actually miss doing this.

There is beauty in even the most mundane things

The more admirable form of respect that the Japanese have is the respect for their work. No matter what their jobs are, the Japanese do it with excellence. Maintenance staff and construction workers put respect into themselves and their positions enough to do it with pride and dignity. This is why Japan is so efficient. Everyone knows that all their positions, no matter how small, are vital in making society move as a whole. Simply put, they know that they are all cogs that make up the well-oiled machine, and they take pride in this.

It’s amazing to see locals look so happy in doing their jobs. They know that they are important and that other people rely on them. Even the most basic processes are ingrained to their daily routine and it might make it seem mechanical, but their kind smiles when serving you will always remind you that they are human beings doing their job.

I know Japan has a problem with their work ethics as it can be abused and skew over to the wrong side, but in terms of what we witnessed, the respect for their work is admirable and should be emulated by most. I’m quite guilty because of my daily complaining with my job, but after visiting Japan, my complaints have been noticeably less frequent.

The belief in the supernatural is also very visible

Cleanliness

Japan is clean. Very very clean. We only found two pieces of trash in the days we were there. Again, this stems from the respect for others and the awareness of being in a society. Japanese people are taught from a young age to look after themselves and this really shows. There are hardly any public trash cans as everyone is encouraged to take their trash home. Trash segregation is strict and despite the disturbing amount of plastic use, they are capable of recycling a majority of it. Again, simply efficient and worth emulating.

Rice in PET bottles are an available souvenir

I’ve never seen rivers so clean and clear. These are rivers that flow through the urban neighborhood and yet the waters are clear as day. I was expecting Koi fish to jump out of them. It was really a sight to behold and to think that this was just normal for the Japanese. Clean rivers? Nani?! Not in the Philippines!

When it rains, drainage is fast as there is virtually no garbage in the gutters. Even the rainwater looks safe. Very unlike the rainwater in Manila where it looks like stepping on a puddle would lead to Leptospirosis. I’m sorry if this is turning into a Manila roast, but it’s the only comparison I can make.

De-stressing with a night out in Akihabara is a must

 

Fun

Last but definitely not the least, Japan is just fun. It’s weird and out of this world. It’s hard for a fan like me to stop grinning the whole time I was there. They have all the culture of respect, but they don’t forget to have fun and their cities show it: Maid cafes beside office buildings with the police station nearby. There’s no end to the sights one can see in Japan.

The famous Shibuya crossing is entertaining to watch. In that short green light, foreigners do all their antics and the locals rush off to their daily chores. I can watch the crosswalk all day. Walking the streets of Shibuya and seeing all the interesting people was enjoyable on its own. Seeing the people in anime come to life is one of the highlights of my visit.

The Shibuya Crossing experience every tourist must go through just for the hell of it

As an otaku, Akihabara is the place to be. At night, the billboards, posters, and signages are a feast for the eyes. The maids come out to entice customers and the streets are bustling with both foreigners and locals looking for a good time. And what a good time we had. Eating from a lot of restaurants, pushing buttons on their ordering machines. Japan is the best place to enjoy while feeling safe. There wasn’t a time where I felt unease during my stay. I know it’s not a good thing to be so careless, but in Japan it just seemed so easy to be.

I want to buy everything in this shop, tbh

Expensive

On the flip side, there is a cost to Japan’s efficiency. And boy, is it costly. The standards of living are way higher than in Manila. It’s easy to convert the prices from Yen to Peso because you can get away with the rate of ¥2 = ₱1. And from that, you can immediately see how expensive things are. A bottle of water is ¥100. A bowl of ramen is around ¥800 to ¥1,000. A bento meal at a konbini (Japanese convenience store) can be anywhere from ¥400 to ¥600. And don’t even get me started on the transportation. A train ride to the next station is already more than ¥100! The good thing is that most of their prices are tax-free for foreigners and it’s all mostly in rounded off increments. Locals get an 8% tax added to their bill, which is equivalent to the 12% VAT in the Philippines.

It’s possible to minimize costs, but for a tourist, it wouldn’t be a good idea. You’re there for a short time, so experience as much as you can! For those looking for cheap places, there are ¥100 Stores like Daiso where one could get some essentials, but in terms of food, don’t be stingy. Japanese food is delicious and well worth the price. Most establishments cook the food in front of you so you get a different experience every time. Just don’t be dazzled by all the offerings at the konbini.

Tsukemen is a different experience from the regular ramen

Accommodations and transportation will eat up the bulk of your budget so prepare accordingly. But even then, the comfort and speed of the transportation is worth the price. Buses and trains leave on the minute that is written, so be prepared accordingly. The promptness of the transportation is also something admirable and Filipino time will not work in Japan. Always prepare as early as possible because Japan is rarely late.

Cost is always the limiting factor, but saving up for Japan is worth the experience a hundred times over. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can fund a vacation to Japan which is the same thing.

Arguable the most famous ramen meal in Japan: Ichiran

There are so many things to see in Japan. If you’ve read up to this point, you can see how much I’ve fallen in love with the country. And that’s just in the span of 4 days.

I am thankful to have had the chance to visit this place and I can’t wait to be back. I can’t wait to explore more of this amazing country. There is so much more to see and more values to discover, but I am pleased with what I’ve experienced so far.

An adorable penguin at Teradomari Aquarium

Japan, thank you for the taste. See you again soon?

-jgzn

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