日本印象 – Impressions of Japan – English

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Only when I prepared to go to Japan did I realize that my understanding of the place was quite limited. I rushed online to do my homework, but I felt that a trip to Japan was much easier than a trip to Europe: at least the load of cultural homework would be much lighter.

Although I had often heard about how clean Japan was, when I actually got there, it still came a shock. It is a deeply, deeply clean country. I toured around several cities on Honshu, and they were all clean without exception, the roofs and the pavement sparkling, and I could hardly see any dust. And because not a drop of rain fell during my trip, and the sky was very blue, I was on a constant high.

In tourist areas, apart from the main road, most of the sidewalk is made of gravel. Our tour guide joked that the rustle of the gravel as you walk will expose a murderer approaching, and so a member of the group told me, maybe the Japanese have done too many things that gave them a bad conscience. In fact, security is good in Japan: in the crowded Osaka district of Shinsaibashi, I saw several Japanese girls laughing and joking with their bags wide open, and the wallet half hanging out. A couple of times, we left the tourist bus to have some food or sight-seeing, and found that the driver was’t around, but the bus door was wide open, and our stuff was on the seats as freely as when we left. I felt that gravel paths are not only simple, they also let the rain get into the ground quickly. Some friends in the group had come before, and said they were outside during a storm, but none of them had even a black spot on their trousers.

My feeling about Japan was that, apart from its simplicity, it is a country with a strong aesthetic sense. The billboards on commercial streets did not feel glaring or chaotic, the mix of colour was obviously carefully considered, it was very beautiful; I saw a few tall modern buildings next to ancient architecture, but obviously, they’d been laid out after careful consideration, and were not obtrusive 不会显得突兀; and it’s worth mentioning that when Japanese shopkeepers wrap goods, they aim not only for simplicity, but also proportion (the wrapping matches the goods wrapped), and the colours of the wrapping paper or bag are particularly beautiful, they make you feel like playing with them, and unwilling to thow them away.

Visiting Japan gave me a strong sense of history, and I often thought of the Chinese Song and Tang dynasties. The city of Kyoto that we visited is an imitation of Luoyang in the Sui and Tang dynasties. I’ve never been to Luoyang, but I don’t know if it would give me such a strong sense of history. Actually, even more than Kyoto, I had this feeling around the hotels we stayed at in downtown Osaka and downtown Tokyo: because the sun rose early, I also woke up early, and so I was able to walk around the nearby residential areas before breakfast, and in the middle of the modern buildings, I could see traditional one-family houses, narrow alleys and traditional restaurants everywhere; these have almost all disappeared in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, etc. after China’s urban transformation. I humbly believe that, apart from other factors, this has much to do with the land rights of Japanese residents.

The tour guide mentioned that Japan has a tradition of men and women bathing together (limited to family and close friends). I haven’t read the memoirs of MacArthur, but the tour guid said, he mentions in his memoirs that he’d been invited by Japanese friends to join in the family bath, and found himself alone at the end with their daughter, so to alleviate the awkwardness of the situation, he asked the girl to pick a good day for them to go to the cinema together. But the girl replied gravely: “This is the first time we’ve met, and you’re inviting me to the cinema, isn’t that too casual?” People said that MacArthur tried to change the tradition of men and women bathing together by decree. The first time he went for inspection, he found that men and women were still in the same room, the only change being that each were on one side of the room. He said it didn’t work, they should be separated, and the result was that the next time, he found them separated by a rope… It sounds like a joke, but I think it’s in line with Japanese customs. This made me thing of the Chinese Tang dynasty, which was also an era of open-mindedness, and maybe at that time, nudity was not shameful.

Apart from contemporary architecture which is the same as everywhere else in the world, there doesn’t seem to be much Western style architecture in Japan (of course, you can see that Japanese residential architecture has absorbed elements of Western style), 除了在大阪后来复建的天守阁边上看到一栋和大连中山广场工行所在地几乎一模一样的一栋西式建筑(注:再看过中山广场那栋楼,其实不像,想不起在哪儿见过很相似的楼),据说也是日本军国时代的司令部,还有富士山五合目类似荷兰建筑的客栈。 In Japan, you can find Chinese characters (Kanji) everywhere, which is very convenient for Chinese tourists who do not understand Japanese. The tour-guide said that MacArthur tried to make Japan give up Kanji, but the Japanese resisted: they considered that if they gave up the Kanji, Japan would no longer be Japan. The tour guide said, shortly after he arrived in Japan, he wrote two characters on the coffee table, so that his Japanese friends would see them when they visited. They were amazed, and said: “Hello smart one! We find it hard to read the Kanji, but you’ve just arrived, and you can already write them!” “That’s our writing system, actually.” And only then did they realize: “That’s right, that’s also your writing.” Obviously, the Japanese have very high self-confidence culturally, and it’s hard to think that they could rename Tokyo “Tou-Kou” NDT: pun on the name between 东京, the Eastern capital, and 头寇 head bandit –

Contemporary Japan is famous for its services, technology, and electronic equipment. The rumours are true, and I saw it with my own eyes. The service provided in Japan is indeed very considerate and gentle, I noticed there was a table that that can be easily pulled out outside the public restrooms where parents can change the diapers for their babies, and facilities for pets showering outside the mall. Not only all the restrooms are free of charge, but also the toilets are smart. In China, people have the bad habit of standing on the toilet to use it, which I did not see happening in Japan, probably because everything is too clean, which make people who were originally not very neat but very picky on their compatriots less “brave” to step on. Toilet paper in Japan is made to dissolve, environmentally designed, the garbage incinerator stands right in the middle of the busy center of Tokyo, yet no smoke can be seen. It is said that Japan only exports the technologies developed more than 7 years ago, and leaves the most advanced for their domestic market, which seemingly blends well with the idea of “small communism” from the Confucians.

The Japanese are famous for respecting rules and keeping order. As the tour guide showed us, we realised that Japanese streets are very narrow, and you can’t have three cars on a two-lane street, and this is clearly one of the reasons why cars stay in their lane in Japan. According to the guide, in the early days of the car boom in Japan, it became mandatory to install a speed-limiting device, so that when the car exceeded 100 miles per hour, it would start having an annoying movement, which would only stop when people went down to a speed of 80 miles per hour. I have long believe that the reason for chaotic traffic in China is not just the bad quality of the drivers, but more importantly, that the road design is irrational. This just proves that a well-designed system will bring forward the good in humanity, and curb the evil, but a badly designed system will bring forward evil, and suppress the good.

The Japanese are a very serious nation. The so-called “Europe in Asia”, in my view, corresponds to Japan seriously learning and adopting everything they importing during their modernisation process, even as they almost stubbornly preserved their tradition.

In Japan, I experienced an aging society. Whether in the country or cities, many older people are still working, especially in the service industry, and our bus driver might be the youngest Japanese person I’ve seen working in a service role; it’s rare to see concessions for elderly people in Japan, whether in transport or entry tickets, as people say that one Japanese person in four is elderly.

Japanese politeness, in my view, if extremely professional. I had read reports of how first class passengers had been extremely well treated by the flight attendants on the plane, then in the airport, saw the same flight attendant who were off from work, and warmly greeted them, but the flight attendant ignored them. In fact, during our trip, we very rarely encountered Japanese people who took the initiative to say hello to us; when taking a walk with my parents as we stayed at the Mount Fuji Lake hotel, only three elderly people who seemed to be the same age as my parents took the initiative to say hello. The Japanese drive on the left-hand, and as I was walking around the lake, from behind, I saw my mother – who was walking on the right – almost colliding with a middle-aged man: that man probably thought that he was walking on the proper side, and would not give way. We travelled from Osaka to Kyoto on the Shinkansen, and because it was a ‘free’ compartment, there were no allocated seats. Japanese people were sitting two people on a three-person seat,and I saw elderly people standing, undisturbed: respect for the elderly does not seem to be a custom here.

From a superficial view, it seems that Japanese people’s faces don’t show great happiness, and their stiff back contrast with Chinese people, but I haven’t seen anyone display open wretchedness. Our bus driver rarely looked up at people, but I feel that, rather than him being rude, it’s more that he doesn’t know how to communicate with people; yet his clothes were always crisp and clean.

Source: 1510, 3 September 2012

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About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact [email protected]