News Editor Tom Leaman looks back at the last hundred years of British Airways and peeks ahead at the nextWritten by Tom Leaman on 19th March 2019
My Favourite Place in the World: Japan
Travel Writer Jacky Sy shares his favourite place in the world
With the opportunity to study and travel, as well as a five-year Japanese learning experience, Japan has to be one of my favourite places in the world.
The Japanese are well-known for their warm hospitality. The first time I travelled to Kyoto, an old man offered to walk me for fifteen minutes to my hotel when he was meant to be going home, in the complete opposite direction. I will never forget how decent and helpful the local Japanese are, not to mention how enthusiastic the local students are when it comes to sharing every experience with foreign students. You really get an understanding of how much they treasure their traditional culture.
The idea of consistency is considered an extremely impressive personality trait in Japan. I went to try the Fire Ramen restaurant ‘Menbakaichidai’ in Kyoto. Here, you are subject to great food, service and even a fire performance, but only if you are willing to wait for more than 2 hours, given that they only serve 8 customers at a time. The chef apologized for the late service, but then explained that consistency and maintaining a good service quality within a small number of customers is very important in Japan. According to him, they put more emphasis on the service, rather than commercial efficiency.
Tourism is a big industry, bringing huge profit to every country. Most governments deliberately establish tourist spots, allowing you to experience their culture but not guaranteeing real-life experience.
Japan is a different case. If you have the chance to visit Japan, Shrines must be listed as the top-ranked priority. They are something more than simply tourist spots. Shinto is the biggest religion in Japan, and Shrines are where believers pray to their God regularly. The residents set up the booths and shops selling traditional food and products and a small community is established. Rather than just being a tourist spot, you are able to fully experience the culture – making you not only a traveller, but a local Japanese, even if it is just for a day or two!
Under the era of globalization, striking a balance between the preservation of tradition and the adaption to foreign culture becomes a headache. The Japanese have a good mastery of this balance. In Japanese, they have two separate writing systems: ‘hiragana’ and ‘katakana.’ The former, along with the Chinese writing system, is used as a traditional expression while the latter is used as a foreign or modern expression. For example, rice is in ‘hiragana’ while chocolate is in ‘katakana.’ As a result, the Japanese are able to learn local traditions whilst accepting foreign culture in the meantime.
Apart from language, their living style and culture also illustrate their inclusive personalities. In a normal house there is a living room, dining room, kitchen, toilet as well as the bedroom. Washitsu still exists in most of the Japanese houses, even though they adapted the modern house style. The room consists of several tatami and antique displays. It serves as a multipurpose room, be it daily conversation between family members or entertaining guests, from close friends and relatives.
However, it is reductive to hold the belief that tradition is always something old-fashioned. I participated in the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival in Fukuoka; it is full of competition, energy and spirit. It is a ritual celebration originating from the Buddhist priest defeating a plague by spreading water in the village. One of the highlights is the kazariyama float. Each represents a traditional family name in the region. The family enters it for a float racing competition every year. On one side, the floats are full of legendary characters and God’s image. On the other side, they are unexpectedly full of amine characters which illustrates the Japanese daily life and culture. One would be amazed by their creativity, presenting tradition in an innovative way.
Character, community and culture are just a few of the many reasons why Japan is one of the greatest countries in the world. The longer you immerse yourself in Japanese culture, the more you will discover about this fascinating country.