Taipei & Japan in March

• Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Four Four South Village near the 101 building.
As a perk to assisting in my parent's business, I get to travel with them to job locations all over the world. The job brought us to Taiwan last month and, as always, we added one more place on the itinerary to tour afterwards—Japan.

View of the Tokyo Sky Tree from Sensō-ji Tempe (Asakusa).

My last visit to Japan was when I was 4 years old. I remember nothing from that trip except the memories created by seeing old vacation photos. My mom told me all she remembers herself was taking two toddlers (my sister and me) to the restroom every time the tourbus stopped. 

I had my reservations about going to Japan; Being Asian with any nationalism meant knowing Japan as our historic aggressor and unapologetically so. I had wondered why a Jewish friend shuddered at the thought of going to Germany but I was then faced with curiously similar feelings. Ultimately, the desire to travel wherever a trip was offered me and the Japanese friends I made last year convinced me that whatever offense I thought I felt should not be taken.

In our 8 days in Japan, we visited Takayama (飛彈高三), Kyoto (京都), Tokyo (東京) and Nikko (日光). I know my insights on Japan are only as one passing by, but the Japan I saw had a pre-enlightenment rootedness and foundation for values with post-enlightenment mentality for modernity and change. The Japanese people live with a strong sense of their place in their environment, their history, and their community. No season or month is without distinct floral or festive reminders that people are part of a cycle that was in place long before they were and will be in place after. Each city has a distinct character, beautifully designed manholes, and souvenirs that showcase local artisans. I trusted souvenirs were made locally (not in China), could not be bought elsewhere, not marked cheaper in the next store, and came with its own packaging however insignificant. I never worried about finding a public toilet, much less one that was clean, warmed, and with a washlet. 

What made the strongest impression on me however is the dignity that was imbued to people by their attitude towards work. There was no work that was trivial or menial. The taxi drivers wore suits, white gloves, and sat up tall. The elderly women kneeling, setting up our dinner at the ryokan lined every little plate and platter up precisely. The bus driver sincerely 'arrigato'-ed every person that entered and left the bus. The young women selling desserts in the department store wrapped each little cake up as if they were special. And you know what? They became special.

With the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII around the corner, Japanese administrative denial of aggression and atrocities resurfaces. I still get fired up hearing the news in recent days but I no longer see Japan only as the faces on television. Instead I see the energetic hostess at the fast food joint, the stereotypical drunkard asleep in puke on the subway, and the happy young women in hakamas on their graduation day. As our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weakness, Japan is blessed and cursed by its unique history and geography, but perhaps most of all—will.

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