Impressions of Japan

For the first time this year, today Bangkok citizens felt the first cool breeze of the upcoming winter season. Last year we barely had a day of cool weather, this year seems promising. Since early morning, the sun was out but instead of being hot and humid, it was wonderfully cool averaging around 25 degrees celsius. Oh how I love this weather. The entire city feels like it is airconditioned. This cool air of autumn is one of my favorite times during the years and always makes me happy. It reminds me of the beautiful autumn colours, hiking in the Shenandoah Mountains last year, or in the Austrian countryside. It’s always so relaxing and pleasurable after the summer rush and energy. Then Thanksgiving arrives and the festivities begin. Of course it also reminds me of my recent trip to Japan when all the shops started putting everything up for Autumn and it made me think about what were my impressions of Japan?

I’ve been back for almost a week now and yet I experienced so much during those nine days in Japan that I feel like a part of myself has evolved. When I look back on my life I realize that its the “events” or “experiences” we often have during “vacations” or “holidays” that we remember. (And amazingly, those are roughly only two weeks out of the entire year.) They touch us more than the other 350 or so days of the year when we live our daily lives.

So what impressions did I get from my trip to Japan? Many things. I’ve mentioned about the beauty of the shrines, the peacefulness of the zen gardens and how wonderful the foods are, so today its about the people and the culture.

My first impression of Japan upon arrival was that Japan was similar to Germany. If you are like most other people I’ve said that to, your reaction would probably go like this: “What? How can they be similar?” What struck me first was the orderliness of everything and yes, the Germans are known for being very orderly. Even if you are standing on a deserted road waiting to cross the road, and the light flashes red, you would not cross. You would wait until the you get the “green” light to go. I remember that during my trip to Germany last spring. It was funny, but its good. It’s great to be in order and follow the rules. In Thailand, people would have crossed long ago. The Japanese are equally orderly, but somehow I feel that it is more intense than Germany. It could be that because there is less land, less space, there is more of a need to be orderly. Also, the announcements on the JR trains and subways kept reminding us to turn off our cellphones. I’ve never heard that on any other metro system.

Not only is the “orderliness” of Japan similar to Germany, but also the architecture of their houses. I’m not talking about the shogun palaces or the shrines, but the normal everyday homes people live in. Mostly rebuilt after the second world war, they are all very “practical” and “efficient.” No nonsense kind of houses where simplicity is key. Due to lack of space in the cities, the houses would all be square boxes, with square windows, and equally square cars. The cars sold in japan are tailored to fit into the tiniest alleys and houses. It’s amazing. Cars have square noses and square trunks. I even spotted a tiny machine fixing the road in an alley.

My second impression was that the people in Japan are always so considerate of everyone else. I love it. If you are taking a photo, the Japanese would not walk right into your picture frame, but instead wait for you to finish taking the picture or walk around you. When taking the escalator, everyone would stand to the left in Tokyo and let others in a rush walk pass you on the right. In trains and public areas, no loud voices, shouting or excessive talking on mobile phones is spotted. Sounds turned off, everyone is just looking quietly at their mobile screens clicking away. I wonder what it is everyone is doing with their mobile phones.

Other than people’s behavior, you can also see how all the buildings under construction are completely wrapped up so that dust would not escape out to disturb those around them. Noise pollution is so low, my ears grinned with happiness from the silence. No construction was heard, cars were all silent, and there weren’t people blowing their whistle non-stop. This is something I think we should ban in Thailand. Really, do guards blowing whistles make me park any faster or help move anyone around faster? No. In fact, it makes me slower as I have to concentrate and block out the whistle sound from my ears.

Another impression I had of Japan was how high quality everything was. You can tell by just observing the clothes everyone wears. They exude style, fashion and quality. Everyone looked elegant and their clothes were all crisp and clean. Ladies were elegant, youngsters fashionable and men serious. I was told that they have fashion magazines for every age group: 20-30years, 30-40 years, etc… and you dressed according to your age. You wouldn’t see people going around with an oily face and worn out clothes. Although elegant and beautiful, they were also somewhat conservative. I suppose this reflects the culture where once married, females are expected to remain at home to look after the house and children. It reminds me of Imperial Austria. Viennese people are also very elegant with their gloves and hats.

Lastly, (before this gets too long and makes you too sleepy) I have to say that my ending impression of Japan is that it is truly the land of the samurais and shoguns. Although they no longer exist, the sense of orderliness and respect remains very high. There are many forms of “politeness” in the Japanese language, similar to the the Thai language which sets your place in the world. Depending on whom you talk to, you are to adapt your language. It makes life easier knowing where you are.

The culture is fascinating. Japan is fascinating. I love it and truly enjoyed my time there and hope to one day be able to go back to learn more about this wonderful land of the samurais, if not just to eat their delicious food and refill my lungs with fresh air. Like all trips and vacations, this one will forever be embedded in my mind for years to come and one day decades from now, I’ll tell my grandchildren (if I have any) that I went to Japan the land of the Shogun, saw the beauty of the place and met their people. Sayonara.

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