Japan in a Hush: A wealthy nation where the modest lives

3:00 AM


You might have browsed over my blog and found six entries about my recent trip to Japan. Of course I was so excited to share about the Harry Potter Park in Universal Studios and I also wrote an informative piece about my bullet train experience. There is one thing from that trip, however, that I'd really want to share to the world. It's how the Japanese live quiet and unassuming lives despite being in the middle of the world's biggest and most-advanced cities. 

I've heard stories from friends about how friendly the Japanese are, always trying to help lost tourists even if there is a huge language barrier. With all the histories of military conflicts in the past, including what the Filipinos in the 1940's experienced during the Japanese occupation, I find their statement not easy to believe. Not until I experienced the genuine Japanese hospitality myself.  

We arrived in Tokyo's busy Shinjuku Station at around 7 o'clock on a rainy morning. It was a Sunday so we were expecting a friendlier crowd. Shinjuku is one of the biggest train stations in downtown Tokyo which is being serviced by 13 train lines. We know that learning the train ticketing system and finding out which platform to go and which train to ride would be a huge challenge. But it became a breeze. 

I was reading small English translations written on top of ATM-like machines in one of Shinjuku's entrances when an old Japanese man, probably in his 50's, approached me. It was obvious that me and Joms were confused of where to go. I got my ICOCA card, a top-up train card you can use in most Japanese trains, which we bought in Osaka the other day. We have to buy more prepaid credits so we can ride the trains from this station to our hotel and to the places we were scheduled to visit later that day. The old man, whose name I forgot because it was deeply Japanese, grabbed the card and pointed one of the machines. 

"You, going... where?," he asked. I tried to speak as slow as I can: "To Kanda station. We... need... to... add... 2,000 Yen to this," I said while pointing at the card. He smiled and gave us step-by-step instructions. There were two people, dressed in corporate clothes, waiting for their turn but they were also smiling behind us. After a minute, we loaded our card successfully. 

The man asked where we are from. Joms replied that we're from the Philippines. "Ohhhh. Philippine... Filipina, very beautiful!" he said. We learned later on that he worked in the Philippines during the Marcos administration to help develop the nuclear plant in Bataan. While walking to the customer service kiosk to help us grab a subway map and assist us talk to the train staff for instructions to Kanda station, the man spoke all but good words about the Philippines and about Manila where he stayed for 4 months. He shook our hands and bowed when he was about to leave, smiling, and saying that we should take care and send his love back to the country. 

Such a nice welcome to Tokyo, I thought. But this wasn't the first.

Japan Blog
Japan Blog

A day earlier, we were rushing from Kansai Airport to Umeda Station to catch our overnight bus ride from Osaka to Tokyo. I underestimated the time. I thought we only need 30 minutes to arrive at the bus station but the directions were so hard to comprehend during our first night. We arrived at Umeda Station 25 minutes behind our schedule and barely 20 minutes before the bus will depart. I know how the Umeda Skytower looks like in pictures and I was told that it's 8 minutes walk from the station. But when I looked up, I didn't see the building. 

I asked a lady who was rushing to transfer from one train station to the next. She stopped and suddenly changed expression. She started to smile. I gave her the printed IT of Willer's Bus with both English and Japanese notes. "Hmmm. Not sure," she said. I was about to look for another person who might know the way but Joms stopped me. I was surprised. The girl was Googling for directions. Talk about going the extra mile. She realized we were in a hurry so she called a cab, talked to the lady driver herself, showed to the driver what she found on her phone and asked us to get inside the cab. We made it to the bus station just on time. 

The Philippines is known for its hospitality but we got ourselves some great competition. If we have to rely to friendliness to lure tourists in, we got to start educating our children the values of being accommodating and warm. At Japan, every man on the street are ready to answer questions. As we tour around the western cities of the country, I fell in love not just with their attractions but with how beautiful and kind the Japanese people are. 

Monday rush hours in Tokyo station are as fast-paced as a stock market. Only that they're not noisy. They walk fast, head down, sometimes looking only at their phones with blank expressions on their faces. But when you talk to them, their faces will light suddenly like a lamp supplied with electricity. They're generally quiet people, standing on the street or sitting down on a bench in a park even if they're with someone. The noisy ones are only those working in theme parks but because they have to. 

Although they're not dressed as flashy as their Asian neighbors, make no mistake in concluding that the Japanese know nothing about fashion. Designer bags are being paraded in train stations, authentic leather shoes are making those soft noises on cobbled streets. But the Japanese avoid the loud designs; more of matte, less of shining, shimmering materials. They wear less jewelry too. But you'll notice that a single ring in a finger for a limited few who bothers to wear one would be enough to buy you a car. 

In a dinner in the middle of the happy Gion District in Kyoto, we found a table next to a group of friends who were laughing loudly, maybe exchanging stories after their day at work. You'll realize that the Japanese are not cold. They know how to have fun but they know exactly where and when.

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One girl in the next table cracked what could a be hilarious joke because her friends were laughing loudly. She seemed to be the life of the party. But when she ate her noodles, she went quiet, mouth almost closed, carefully lifting her noodles with her chop sticks up to the end of the last strand. Her friends around her were still laughing non-stop but she didn't join them until all the noodles were consumed. It was a beautiful blend of sophistication and rough, I told myself.

We were aboard the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, the next day. (Read our experience here: Tokyo to Kyoto aboard the Shinkansen) I was sitting with smile ear to ear in our comfortable ride. The train was smoothly gliding, with little to zero vibrations. But while I was inside the ultra high-tech vehicle, traversing the towns in between the cities of Yokohama and Nagoya, I was also appreciating how the Japanese maintained culture and nature outside. Houses were neatly arranged along the road, on the side of the hill, and in between green vegetable fields, all of them looking the same as the other. No house is too big nor too small. There were no mansions and there weren't slum areas. I started to think that the Japanese hate ostentatious living and the gap between the rich and the poor is hardly recognizable. I've not seen a single family showing off! 

With very less stress in their lives, not only because of their first-world situation but because they're too respectful to cause inconvenience to others, wise enough to keep their attention on what really matters in life beyond wealth, and loves peace and serenity more than anything, there's no wonder Japan ranks number one in terms of life expectancy in the whole world. According to the World Health Organization, the average death age of the Japanese people is 84, the oldest in the world. Even older than Iceland, the world's most peaceful country, which has a life expectancy of 80 years old. The Philippines is ranked 129th with most people dying after 69 years. 

Even if the government is spoonfeeding its people with the latest in technology, the Japanese seemed to not abuse it. They love gardening even if they're in the middle of Tokyo. They love to read books even if Kindle is cheap. They prefer the healthy Sake even if beer and wine are delicious. They prefer to ride the trains and walk a little instead of riding their cars. And for the nicest part, they smile... even to strangers.

Japan Blog
Japan Blog
Japan Blog

Photos are taken with an iPhone 6 Plus. 

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