The Land of The Rising Sun

I haven’t blogged for a while now, especially nothing much for this year. Part of the reason was because I went to Japan and US for a holiday. There could never be too much of a good thing, but sadly it had to end, and now I am back in Sydney – ready to begin 2008, or maybe still not yet…

Despite what I am doing now, the holiday was fulfilling. I went to two countries which I have never travelled to, and found cool observations that were totally different to what I was used to. Japan was for 10 days, and US for about 3 weeks. Not a bad time-waster activity eh? :p

Ja Pan

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the soft-toys enjoying the view from shinkansen

It was a quirky country – for no matter how many times I’ve heard about Japan, I was utterly amazed at their idiosyncracy. So much to mention about this land; I don’t know where to start. To begin with, everywhere in Japan was very clean (as what you would’ve typically heard), but there weren’t many rubbish bins around! I could find one in front of the convenient stores (good old seven eleven) but most of the time my bag served another functionality as a waste pod.

One of the best part of staying in Sheraton was the heated toilet. I regularly spent quality time in the bathroom, and this feature has just brought it to a new level. I could spend ages on the seat, reading books or sometimes carrying squirtle (my laptop) to play around. The bowl came with a remote control that I could control even from outside the bathroom door. Dryer, bidet, different water pressure, you name it. It’s all there. The one in Shinagawa Sony Building was even better. It had a flushing sound button which, as the label suggests, triggers the controller to make a flushing sound. What for? That is what I still couldn’t figure out until now +_+

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from the left: stop button, 2 buttons to clean the bum, bidet, dryer, then pressure controllers

Everything in Japan was well designed. The power plug had a automatic rotating cover to make sure that unused plug would be safely covered at all times. The ticket machine received the tickets whichever way I slid it through, no need to look for where the arrow is pointing. The sewer cover was beautifully decorated with sakura pattern and other patterns.

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sewer cover in Nagoya-jo (see the castle in the middle?)

What made me realise is that it doesn’t take that much effort to do, but most of the time people don’t think about it. The tables in the restaurant have little ledges underneath the table top for ladies to put their bags on. It doesn’t take that long to attach those ledges, but it is rare for us to think about it that far. Most carpenters probably just stayed with the common way. They assume, if something is already mass-produced for a long time, it will be good enough to stick to the previous design. Design starts at the beginning not at the end; it‘s not an afterthought ((http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2006/08/fromdesignto_.html)). They need correct attitude to open new ways of thinking like the Japanese.

Another example of their prominence would be their train network. I imagine it would take at least 50 years for Sydney cityRail to achieve something equal to what Japan currently has. This was how complicated Tokyo’s train network – stations every 2-3 km allowing residents to go to every nooks and crannies in the area. JapanRail also had another network which include Shinkansen and other slower trains. Shinkansen could go as fast as 300 km/hr, really makes Sydney trains run like snails. In terms of schedule accuracy, the train would get there exactly to the minute (including inter-state ones). Ah life will be so easy in Japan, at least in terms of transportation.

But here is the quirkiness. Japanese are mostly slim and slender, thus I can hardly see any potential for the Biggest Loser to be popular there. Yet their most popular sport is Sumo. When it is in season, Sumo-chans go on match everyday, and Sumo-shows are broadcasted almost the entire afternoon. They are huge and fat. There is nothing muscular about them, except when they are fighting. The curtness of the match shows Sumo-chans immense power and control to triumph against their opponents in that split second. It reminds me of cockfights in Indo; feed the chucks so they would win. Exactly the same but definitely more addictive than watching cockfights. I still watched Sumo-chans until when I was in SF, thanks to NHK.

The Japanese were ridiculously polite. I was amazed at the guy that always stood outside the hotel lift and bowed to every guests entering and exiting the elevator. He was always smiling. The shuttle bus driver would say ‘Hai, doumo arigatou gozaimasu’ to every single person that went off the bus. That is about 20 times per run. Imagine he does 4 runs every hour, for at least 6 hours work: 6 x 4 x 20 = 480 ‘Hai, doumo arigatou gozaimasu’ per day! This guy was always smiling as well. Sometimes the politeness was just too much to bear and I wished they could be more like normal human being.

Conversation was not extremely easy though, even though I can speak a little bit of Nihon-go. I used to learn the lingo over 5 years in Indo, but the last time I touched the book was about 5 years ago. Hence I could hardly form a proper sentence at the beginning. I learned to use body language especially to the older people, so that they will correspondingly respond the same way (at least I could understand better then). Japanese will rarely respond in English no matter how much they understand them. Maybe because they consider it to be impolite to speak with broken english. Knowing Japanese was useful especially when I went outside Tokyo.

Japan is rich and stunning, travelling there was excellent. There was no need for tours and it was extremely safe. I felt a lot safer there than I do in Sydney. If you are looking for a place for a holiday, I would suggest this destination. Sometimes JetStar has some sales, like to go to Osaka for $380 one way :p I am tempted go again…

ps. I am less inclined to write about my US trip since you can easily see the US-culture (or the non-existence of culture) in the TV and the Net. There were nice scenic views and great buildings there, but other than that, it was mostly man-made within the last century (especially the sky in Julius Caesar Vegas).

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