I love traveling, but I honestly could not afford to do so as often as I would want. But this year is an exception — I was able to go to Europe and soon after to Tokyo. The Europe trip was a choice and pretty much on my expense, and the latter is a privilege of getting appointed to the job that I hold now.
My love affair with Tokyo began the moment I set foot at Narita Airport on that very fateful October 7, 2011 via Delta Airlines. Tokyo immediately won me over by its cleanliness, discipline and order, pace, and the people.
Cleanliness. I should say that Tokyo is cleaner than Singapore. It’s so clean despite not having trash bins available around the area. The Japanese knew how to keep their trash until they find an appropriate place to throw them in. The streets free of any piece of trash and it was just a pleasant experience to not get distracted by disorder.
Discipline and order. Six months after the Magnitude 9.0 earthquake that hit Japan last March, Tokyo showed no signs of any past disaster. The empty groceries they had last March left no trace in the typical Kombini (convenience store). They are clean, filled with products, and no apparent inflation in prices. At train stations, people knew where to stay on the escalator to give way to hurrying commuters. So much order that you could see the people walking almost equidistantly from each other and almost at the same pace! No one complained it was too hot on the trains when people are shoulder to shoulder crowded inside the trains. I have yet to encounter a Japanese who lost his or her temper because of another’s lack of concern for others. Everybody has foresight. Everybody has concern (though it might not be love). Honestly, I am one who would easily lose temper because of incompetence or lack of discipline and order. During my whole stay in Tokyo, I never lost my temper. Tokyo never made me lose my temper.
Pace. Japan is fast paced. It’s literally crazy. Everybody seems to move like clockwork. Train schedules accommodate the fast paced Japanese people. Trains come every three minutes on the dot. Only two things break this strict schedule: natural disaster or man-made (i.e. harakiri on the train tracks). It’s in Japan that you literally see the cliché “Time is gold” incarnated.
The people. The Japanese people are great. Like any Asian, they are hospitable. They are friendly, lovable. What attracted me to them is their calm. They are incredibly calm people — or at least the people I met at the school we had an exchange program with. You can see the concern on their faces when they have problems, but they never raised their voices nor lost their cool. This is probably borne out of the trust that the Japanese have with order and that everything could be fixed just with a little discipline.
Tokyo and myself have the same defect. Sometimes we both can be fixated on order and discipline, and forget about the heart. We both have to remember that people are not robots. They don’t work like clockwork as they appear to be. They — we — also have a heart to nurture. People work, yes, but we cannot forget that work is just a means to achieve the end. We don’t just work for the sake of working. Being a Christian, I know the value of work. Work could be a means to be a holy if it’s done well and for the love of God. Imagine if the Japanese are converted into Catholics, how many Japanese saints could be gained! They lack the meaning of life. We all know that the meaning of life is not rooted in work, because once we lose our work, we also lose the meaning of life. If the meaning of life is rooted in God, who does not leave us, then our lives will continue to have meaning. If we lose our job, we look for another one because we know that it’s how we get to God.
So that’s my love affair with Japan. In another article to follow, I will tell you the adventures I had with Tokyo.