Many people will think I am doing something a Chinese Kung Fu person should not do, that is paying patronage to the eternal enemy of the Chinese race. They probably took the WW2 movies such as Ip Man too seriously. Or they believe that revenge is the essence of Kung Fu like a random movie Wing Chun master has said. Trust me, there are people who have a really staunch stand when it comes to the Japanese. My personal take on this is they should at least know and admit what happened from 1937 to 1945, whether or not they want to apologize is up to their own conscience.
I remember some Singaporeans telling me that the Japanese are ‘fake’ with formalities and being robotic by adhering to systems. However I can see that most Japanese people mean what they say and do much more than most Singaporeans, saving themselves much self contradiction. The introverted behavior of keeping important feelings to themselves is somewhat similar to Singaporeans, although they are more confident in expressing themselves. I find that it’s due to them being a larger, more recognized country and more so because Japanese people have solid cultural foundation.
In this trip, I went to the Kansai and Chubu regions. Kansai, in which Osaka is the main city, is a good representation of the older Japan before the latter half of the second millennium. Osaka, Kyoto and Nara are cultural cities that thrived before the Warring States period of Japan. There we can see how the Japanese developed Chinese art and lifestyle to their own style. I was particularly attracted by the overwhelming intensity of autumn colors displayed in Kyoto alongside the historical buildings. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for the most of Japan’s history. It was also the home to the palaces of most Japanese emperors, together with being the center of culture. Kyoto can be very touristy though, with buses and buses of Chinese and Korean tourists parked along the attractions. I did not make Kyoto the focus of my trip.
The countryside in Chubu region is far more comfortable to tour. Except for the most highly ranked UNESCO heritage sites, there are not so many tourists. I like to make my experience unique. The beauty of Japan is in their relaxed, yet orderly and artful countryside. If you want to take pay pilgrimage to gigantic temples with huge statues or do shopping with crazy crowds, you might as well go to Hong Kong or stay in Tokyo and Osaka downtown.
Strolling in winter wear among autumn foliage and rustic eastern architecture in temperatures of 1 – 10 degrees is very precious for Singaporeans living in sun baked sea steamed concrete jungle year round. I feel like a salmon in a stream of mountain spring water instead of pork ribs in a pressure cooker. The fresh air and colorful rolling hills of the countryside returns life energy back into me from nature. While crossing rivers and streams, I can see the fishes and ducks swimming in the water, cranes wading the shallows and eagles soaring the sky. The animals look healthy. Even tortoises in Japan line up neatly, I am not kidding you.
Most of the land in Japan is used for agriculture. Many of my friends and students tell me they had enough of office work stress and intend to migrate to the farms and retire. They can try Japan, fresh locally grown vegetables, fruits and livestock are available in morning markets and supermarkets. It’s very beneficial for the digestive system to consume fresh organic food. The nutritional value is much higher and we do not have to waste energy to digest food matter that doesn’t provide much nutrition. Quality of nutrition is important for us who want to have strong, combat ready bodies. For the sedentary, organic food is better for mental health.
When you walk around small towns or even cities, you will see quite a few people wearing kimono for daily activities and commuting. To Singaporeans, people who wear Hanfu or Kimono are cosplayers, but for Japanese people they wear their own costume because they are proud of their identity. We can see from the contrast of national atmospheres that the Southeast Asian Chinese and other diasporas has some cultural esteem issues.
In Japan, the streets are not saturated with commercial brands and nationwide franchises. There is a healthy amount of small businesses in small shopping centers and family businesses in rows of shop houses. There is a place for everyone, from big to small, popular to obscure. Japan is most noted for long running family traditions of food and handicraft; these are dying out quickly in saturated cities like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Walking the streets, be it in the city or the countryside, I noticed that all working age adults and children do not have postural problems such as having a hunched back. Necks with anterior tilt are very common among Singapore youth. We always know Japan to be a world leader in sexual expression, but their women have do not have anterior lumbar tilt like that commonly seen in gravure models. I always describe it as ‘chicken backside’. Could it be that Japanese culture is very particular about good standing and sitting posture?
Bad postural habits causes Singaporeans a lot of health issues, and after seeing the absence of poor postures in the Japanese population I believe that the cause of distorted figure is not genetic, it is due to bad habits developed from young that are neglected and not corrected. Postural problems are still commonplace in mainland China and Hong Kong, especially among city dwelling Chinese. In the large cities like Tokyo and Osaka, most people are still under a lot of stress from work and they are not getting enough sleep while surviving on fast food and instant noodles. Not all of the people on the trains have fabulous healthy skin and hair that we see on television.
Many of us who watch and read Asian news can imagine mainland Chinese and Japanese going at each others’ necks. In Japan, the mainland Chinese can get along well with the Japanese, unlike what we imagine. It may be due to the lifestyle and traditions of Chinese and Japanese being more similar to each other. Their schooling system, four seasons, Chinese based language and even cooking ingredients are more similar. It’s easier to learn Japanese if you already know Mandarin or Chinese dialects and can read Chinese characters. In the case of Singaporeans, learning Japanese from English medium is very challenging; the only advantage over Westerners will be that the government made it somewhat mandatory for the Chinese to have Chinese as a subject in elementary school.
The Japanese are known worldwide for their broken English due to their katakana system. Despite that there are some Japanese who spoke to me in Mandarin and I found they were pretty fluent. In fact their Mandarin sounds better than Singaporean tone deaf jiak kantang (English speaking Chinese). It’s easier to adapt across East Asian languages. Angmohpai Singaporeans will feel more out of place in Japan than mainland Chinese will.
I find that we should not use what we see in our news media to judge people. Both the Japanese and Chinese generally want peace. It’s the minority who seeks conflict and they are usually the ignorant and immature ones. Overall, my trip to Japan has gifted me with precious memories and I wish to visit other beautiful spots in Japan and let all of you know about it in the future. Given that I do not travel as frequently as some of my students (they have 6 or 7 fortnight long vacations in a year), I may only return to the onsen towns and farming villages in Chubu 10 or 20 years later. Till then, I will miss those memorable places…