It has been a long 1 ½ years as you can tell from the lack of my writing here. I poured all my effort into some very exciting work at Expedia. I needed a break. So my wife and I took 3 weeks off to visit Japan for the first time. It turned out to be the greatest vacation I’ve ever done.
Here’s my take on Japan in this short time.
The sensory overload
Being the largest metropolitan city in the world, Tokyo is packed with people and businesses. It is easy to get lost in Shinjuku train station, where we stayed close to. It is the busiest railway station in the world with 1.26 billion commuters passing through it every year.
Having lived in Singapore, I have experienced a densely populated places and efficient rail systems. I understood how to get into a stream of people flowing from point A to B, and also how to cut across (yes, be rude). Although, seeing cyclist interweave through foot traffic was scary. It should be a sport of some sort because they are very good at it!
Stepping into Shinjuku felt a little like being in a set for Blade Runner. I imagine this was the inspiration. Bright signs going as far back as you can see. The density of information presented on signs can be really confusing. This is something westerners find tough in my view. There is a greater appreciation of white space and sparse, well grouped content. I believe a lot of it comes down to language differences. Complex character based languages must be developing the users’ brains to take in more. All this noise is usually eased by a beautifully drawn cartoon character doing something cute.
See, it is all better now.
Japan is technologically advanced where it counts
Japan has the reputation as one of the most technologically advanced places in the planet. This is evident when you look at things they built like the Shinkansen (bullet trains). Yet, to get on one of these Shinkansen, we had to stand in line to get a physical ticket. Physical money is still the dominant form of payment in Japan too.
I concluded that this conservativeness comes down to cultural restraint they naturally have. Japanese seems to build and adopt technology that supports their cultural values. When something doesn’t align, it is either changed or not adopted at all.
In western societies, we seem to just move forward without much regard for what we’re giving up in turn. I think this makes us a whole lot more money, even though it may not really improve our lives. This felt like an important lesson.
Original and genuine
There were several instance I witnessed Japanese culture having strong influence on how things were done.
People were extremely polite and had a strong aversion towards troubling others. Trains, restaurants and most public places were quiet and free from smoke. People didn’t talk on the mobile phone. Announcements will also remind people of such basic etiquette while you ride trains.
Secondly, the Japanese highly valued their wise elderly population. A lady seating people at the restaurant took a few minutes off to guide an elderly woman towards the washroom when asked for directions. Everyone waited patiently. These types of behaviour was observed very regularly.
There was also a rebellious side to them too. Akihabara and Kawaii (cuteness) culture are evidence of this. The authenticity is present even in the rebellion, choosing to be cute and childlike instead of sex, drugs and violence.
This made me feel like the Japanese were… better humans.
One thing I didn’t see much there was multiculturalism. There was such a strong identity in place that you organically adopt their way. I found myself bowing to every single person I talked to and being very polite. It was thoroughly disappointing to get back in the bus at rush hour when I got back to Brisbane.
This strong identity is what makes Japan so unique.
There is a dark side to all of this — Japan has a huge problem with overworking its employees, even leading to suicides. They have a falling birth rate as people find it increasingly difficult to find partners. There is also a backward culture in some industries when it comes to equality at workplace.
The obsessive focus on craft and the ever expanding belly of mine
Japanese cuisine is my number 1 type of food. The surprising thing is that you can walk into any restaurant and expect great food (I mean above average).
This comes down to 2 things:
Japanese are obsessive about perfecting their craft.
Large number of restaurants are super tiny and focus on 1-5 dishes max.
Most ramen places only do one broth and two to three varieties of ramen (Ramen bowls + Tsukemen ramen). This is the same if you try Okonomiyaki or Tonkatsu. Every store specialises on one thing. Of course, if the food is not tasty, they’d go out of business.
This is why I’d never go to a Coffee Club 😂.
In the 21 days there, I had about three average meals. The rest of the meals I dreamt about as I tried to fall asleep on their uncomfortably hard beds and pillows.
Japan is beautiful
Just see below 😍…
Hoping to go back some day.