The second half of the trip. Check out Part One – Hong Kong
First time in Japan.
Very unique cultural experience.
If I were to describe Japan based on my very first impression, it would be their politeness. I know airports and airlines should not be considered as they are in a profession that represents their country internationally, but from my experience most of everyone was generally very nice and polite.
There was only two outlying occasions where that would run contrary that I thought was a bit funny but also points to some realities also not so apparent at first. At immigration, there was an Indonesian family that was, short of interrogation, being yelled at in English condescendingly about how long they wanted to stay. There is nothing wrong with deciding how to control their country’s own sovereignty, but the feeling of superiority over any other people is flawed as we are all human first and foremost. The difference in people is simply the difference of societal and cultural plans on how to best promote the success of the respective civilization. Just because a country doesn’t speak English or is less developed, they shouldn’t be discriminated. I mean, you are using English in Japan to communicate.
Not to sour the point, Japanese people are in general one of the most polite people I’ve encountered. In my experience, they are very fair people who seem to put order before themselves, which leads to a very orderly society.
Prideful of work and country
As with many other East Asian countries, tipping is generally not a thing in East Asia because the concept doesn’t exist. The expected tip that we assume in United States is already built in to the menu price. I liked this a lot about East Asia, especially in Hong Kong where there is no hidden fees such as taxes. You can see upfront what you are paying for in total, without the pressure of the restaurant’s staff. The whole point of a tipping system is to incentivize good service, but that is a flawed system based on greed trying to moralize workers. The will is not genuine and cannot beat the someone who respects his trade.
In East Asia, the staff takes pride in their work whether hospitality or restaurant, they happily offer great service. We have all experienced or seen workers especially in retail who are saccharine in how they butter you up and then talk bad about their customers behind their back, sometimes even blatantly in front of them. Other times we’ve experienced workers who seem like it pains them just to do their job. I’ve had time where I just want to jump over the counter and do it myself if I could. If you don’t like what you’re doing why trade your finite time for it, your life. I’ve never felt an ounce of animosity for work expected in Japan. I’m not expecting to be pampered, just respect me as someone who wants to exchange value with your business. I obviously respect your service.
Not only do Japanese people value their work greatly, they also greatly take pride in their country. I cannot speak for any time other than my visit, but they have great respect for their society and people. They see themselves as cultured and civilized. This could possibly explain the pride and respect they have for order and their work.
On a side note about Japanese pride; we had coincidentally visited Japan during the beginning of the year where the Emperor of Japan opens up the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace to the public and gives them his New Year greetings. When their emperor addressed them there a large group of nationalist who were very fervently yelling “long live the emperor!” and kowtowing.
Pride in one’s people is a great thing as we see the good it has for their society with order and good work ethic. That same pride on a different edge has caused great atrocities and destruction of other people in the past. I’m happy for the modern Japanese harnessing their pride for progress and tranquility.
High food quality standards
The pride in their work thankfully has also translated to meaning great food. I’ve never been disappointed at any point of Japanese foods, from any price range. The standard for their food quality is very high.
As everyone knows sushi chefs actually takes years and decades to master the art. Apprenticeships and students from all over the world come to Japan to learn the craft. We were lucky to try some of the best food we’ve ever had, needless to say, especially the sushi. But be warned, once you’ve had sushi from Japan, you could never have any elsewhere ever again without feeling offended (exaggeration in only some situations) and ripped off.
It would be a disservice to just talk about sushi, traditional Japanese and even other cultures food is top notched here at all levels. When I say all levels I mean it! I can’t believe how many times we’ve sought out a 7-11 for its pastries! A convenience store had better pastries than most bakery in the United States.
You cannot go wrong eating any where in Japan, your palette will love you, your wallet will love you (for the value), and you won’t stop dreaming of coming back for the food.
There were a lot of physical things that are available to assist and make life easier. Though I would prefer to do certain things myself as it’s more natural to me, I have to appreciate how unique and how much thought goes into fine details. For example every toilet I’ve seen in Tokyo were electronic bidets. To put on my shoes without using my finger, they had shoe horns. Vending machines sold everything that a convenient store would. It was an unsettling feeling. Personally, I’d rather advanced high technology that would assist me in things that I cannot do for myself, thereby making my life better, than to have so many small things serve to make my life more convenient that I find too plentiful and flustering. I guess I’m just a minimalist kind of guy, and for so many things that I don’t need feels like gimmicky pre-installed bloatware. This was only my experience in Tokyo. I am not sure how the rest of the country is like.
Another thing that I want to come back to Japan for would be to explore more of the nature and countryside to learn more about the Japanese culture and immerse in the beautiful landscape. Despite Tokyo being a very big world city that means there are a lot of universal elements between other world city such as shopping, mass transit, and skyscrapers combined with a fast life of the city, there were still many traditions preserved and part of societal fabric. Beautiful, old temples are widespread throughout the city, the emperor is still revered, every aspect, tradition is still very noticeable. Unlike Hong Kong where there’s a distinct coexistence and hybrid between Eastern and Western culture, Japan it seems to preserve traditions to the core. This reinforces their pride of their people and country, and hopefully is what explains why they take great pride in their work, societal order, and culture.
Gender Role and Inequality
Perhaps tradition is also an explanation for the slightly noticeable difference in treatment between genders. It seems unfortunately, woman have the short end of the stick in Japan. Not too bad, but they are treated a bit different. For example whenever a payment transaction happen, the merchant would respectfully place a small tray out so that you may place whatever currency, coin, or cards onto it for payment. Any change or your card would be returned to you in the same manner as a sign of respect for your business. Christina had many, many times when I was with her have her change when she paid be handed to me on the tray or handed directly to her. For me I’ve always had my payment returned on the tray. Always.
In retail, the majority of the workers are girls. In Tokyo, there were many girls who would cheerfully shout for customers from the store front to come in. Restaurants, retail stores, groceries, most of the retail industry were staffed by females. As I have posted previously, retail generally provides jobs that offer low to no skills and stagnates there. If such a large portion retail are staffed by women, where are the men? Regardless of gender, both male and female work very hard in Japanese society. Naps on the job is regarded as a badge of such hard work that you’ve tired yourself to the point of exhaustion. Many stores stay open very late, but maybe that’s Tokyo.
Very orderly, collective oriented society
Whether man, woman, or child, one thing for certain is the orderliness in Japan. People queue up patiently and treat each other fairly. They give off the impression of putting their own pride above themselves, and that pride again is largely being proud of their culture and country, meaning many traditions will be preserved and quality work will ensue for benefiting their people as a whole.
Dense metropolises. Hardworking people. Preserved culture. These few things are humbling and leave me in awe when thinking about how far these societies from an ancient civilization have come and endured. These societies are the culminations of millennia of terrible strife and proud achievements, and still stand today. We may remark one thing is bad, but we cannot see the alternative. With large populations, limited land, and a history of thousands of years ago, a civilization’s stability is its number one priority. In the immediate eyes, a society’s strategy on growth and perseveration may seem to be irrational and unacceptable to our own ideology, but we must realize that not every strategy works for all.
It’s interesting that countries compete among each other, cultures compete among each other, and the one that appears to be most successful becomes leader of strategy and culture. In the end you come to realize everyone is human, our only difference is in our strategy all the same to survive and grow. That applies to everything in life, to the individual personal level. We should encourage each other’s differences, as everyone is designed to be a little different. We are all unique in both the biological sense and our purpose in life. Similar to the macro level where it allows for the selection and appreciation of the best strategy. This is evolution of our human race. We shouldn’t judge anyone for their differences in ideology, physical traits, or goals because then humanity will cease to progress.
East Asians bakeries do have the best strategy for pastries and baked goods though. 🙂 every single one has not disappointed and in my youtube videos of our adventure you can see Christina and I repeatedly search for even 7-11’s pastries. The pastries are well made and not overly sweet. Can’t wait to visit Asia again.