Monday, October 28, 2013

Post Japan Thoughts

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Well it finally happened, yep I've been to Japan, I've partially fulfilled my life-long dream. I said partially because there are still many places that I wanted to go to but I'm short of time and resources so I just have to compromise and settle on coming back. My thoughts aren't really organized right now, there are so many things I want to put in here and I'm not sure if my vocabulary bank is enough to justify the amazing experience I've had. I won't go into details right now, today I'll just give an overview of my short stay as a tourist.

It's hard not to be biased, I practically worshiped the place for a very long time, and being there, realizing the scenes I've played on my mind for so many times, I'm just happy to say, it didn't disappoint. I found myself falling in love with Japan all over again. So yeah, you're most likely to hear only good things,  but my pre-Japan worries turned out to be warranted, the typhoon disrupted my schedule so there were places (in the itinerary I drafted) I didn't get to see. I missed the Yasukuni Shrine, Imperial Palace and the St. Mary's Cathedral (designed by the world renown architect Kenzo Tange). But it did give me a perspective how everyone is prepared to handle disaster, they reduce the speed limit in highways, offices advise people not to go to work, there are train status notices, safety is a top of priority. While I was inside my hotel room I hear sirens and afterwards some announcement, the only thing I understood was the word "kudasai" at the end of every announcement. I get to see the extreme politeness of people first hand to the point that they apologize for something they didn't even do -- our Mt. Fuji tour guide, Emiko-san, would always say "I'm very sorry for the bad weather" "I'm very sorry for the traffic jam" "I'm very sorry for the delay (because a tourist came in late)". 

I love the fusion of the old and the new, despite being an ultra-modern city, some things that a lot of people considered to be a thing in the past are still very relevant. Payphones for example are obviously still widely used. Even though most people are munching on their smartphones, I saw a lot of people reading physical books in the train. Then everyone seems to own more than one bicycle, it was probably the most ubiquitous thing in Tokyo (or next vending machines). I hardly see a motorbike. Salarymen in coat and tie, old people, mothers taking their children to the school - they are all on bicycles!

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Payphones, still widely used

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A mother taking her kids to the school

I love how strong old people are (one time I came across an old lady carrying a huge suit case while on the way to the train platform). Speaking of trains, the subway system is very convenient, efficient and not as confusing as I thought it would be. Thanks to the Romanji signages, I didn't get lost! Though I got a little too cocky that on my way to the airport, I did get lost and got on the wrong train (different types of train were on the same platform, I didn't know I had to check the timetable to make sure I'm getting on the right train).

I am amazed with the culture of honesty, coming from a country where you always have to be on guard with your valuables, that was a big thing. I miss being able to walk around and just have my backpack on my back and my tablet stashed in my backpocket without worrying that a wandering hand would intrude to get something. I lost my camera THREE times and I was able to retrieve it every time. The bikes are parked in legal places without locks. I don't see security guards either on business establishments. It made me really cringe with envy. I thought, why can't we emulate this culture of honesty? I am tired of hearing blames on poverty, Batanes can pull off this behavior, and though I haven't been to Batanes, I can tell that the the state of poverty is just as evident as the other places in the Philippines are. Is it really that hard to act like a first world citizen in a 3rd world country?

I miss the huge parks with full of trees, I miss the museums with rich diversity of audience (here people choose to flock to the malls, the under appreciated museums' regular customer are either tourists or students), I love the presence of art in everything, the efficiency and convenience of the subway system.  I could go on, but I guess what I'm just trying to say in this post is I loved my short stay in Japan and I miss it badly.

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Art in everything: A manhole with Sakura ornaments

But I wouldn't go as far as saying that it's more beautiful than my own country (or vice versa). No matter how rich or poor a country is, I believe that it has its own charm and beauty that you won't find in other countries. Yes, they are all equally beautiful. But we have a loooonnnggg way to go, we've got so many problems here and the idea of moving and living in a country where my frustrations are addressed is really tempting. When I got back home, I was full of wonderful stories, I didn't waste a minute in telling everything to my mother. Then she asked me if I'd like to go back to work there. I paused for couple of minutes and sighed, "nah, I'm staying here, it's much more challenging here". That's an absolute truth, and this I think is a testament how much I've grown up and change. Ten years ago, if you ask me if I'd be willing to migrate for greener pasture and change my citizenship, I wouldn't bat an eyelash and would have said yes. But now, if asked the same question, all I could say is, I refuse to runaway from the problems, I choose to be a part of the solution.

But I'm still going back to Japan for travel and leisure hehehe. Oh I can't wait to go back!

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My first peek of Nippon

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pre-Japan Thoughts (and Worries)

More than 13 years ago, I fell in love with a country that produced a lot of my favorite TV series, or should I say, animated series. To say I was a big fan of anime was an understatement. I still am by the way, I just happen to be very picky nowadays. When you've seen a lot, you tend to look for fresh and edgy material. My excessive fondness of anime and manga ultimately led me to embrace almost anything Japan related. The language, the culture, the people, the place... I wanted to move there and work. Of course things don't always happen the way you planned, sometimes it's just not meant for you, and sometimes, you change, you grow up. I no longer have that desire to work or stay there for a long period of time. But going there for a visit never left my bucket list. As I write this, I am a sleep away from fulfilling a life long dream. I am finally coming to Japan.

I should be happy and excited, right? Right, but there are these last minute hurdles and threw apprehension, frustration and even sadness into the equation. Obviously, I don't have to explain the positive side of this mixed emotion I feel, let me explain the negative side.

It started a couple of weeks ago when I noticed my monthly period got prolonged than normal. When I saw no sign of stopping, I consulted a gynecologist. Apparently, I've got this hormonal imbalance going on, I am now on medication, the bleeding has stopped, but my (internet) research tells me I should expect to bleed soon. In fact the past days, the symptoms of PMS had manifested in me --the annoying occasional cramps. I hate it. I can imagine the discomfort it would give me while exploring a foreign country.

Then there's this weather situation, extreme weather situation. I thought typhoon Santi (Nari) was a concern, apparently not, it's on its way out of the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) but a new storm is threatening not just my travel but Japan itself. Typhoon Wipha is forecasted to enter Japan by October 16 (I'm leaving Philippines the 14th), how great is that? What makes this really frustrating is, usually storms move in a one quadrant direction (at least in my amateur sky tracking experience), but Wipha's track is shaped like a boomerang, it's moving northwest then at some point it'll move northeast? And I'm like, is this some kind of a big joke? 'Cause it's not funny.

Remember our disbelief when Typhoon Peping (Parma, 2009) after pounding north Luzon, made a u-turn and made a second landfall, bringing more damage than it already had?

The truth is, it's too early to tell. It's just forecast, a prediction, the storm can still change its course right? But it's a scientific prediction and my pessimistic side is getting the better of me. I hate it. No I don't want it to go towards the Philippines or anywhere else, just dissolve or go in area where no casualty will occur. Sounds like a long shot eh? But hey, miracles do happen, so...

Another thing that's making me a little bit sad is the fact that I'm traveling solo. It's not so much of a big deal, it's not an issue of independence, it's just that I didn't actually dream of going to Japan alone. I shared this dream with some of my closest friends. I was looking at my 2004 pocket journal and saw a note I left in March 28, it was a promise I made with a friend, that we'd go to Japan 2 years from then, and like I said, people change. Priorities change over time, she's still wanted to to, but she's in a different situation now, and Japan would just have to wait until such time when circumstances are leaning onto her favor. I also wish I could bring my parents, but I can't fend for their expenses. My dad wanted to come with me, but there was a problem with his birth certificate and getting an authenticated document from NSO took time. The visa policy of Japan had eased, Thailand and Malaysia got exempted from visa requirements, I wish they included Philippines from this exemption, it would have been a different story if it were the case.

I hate to admit it but, yeah, these worries and sad thoughts are kinda overshadowing my excitement. I still have not packed my things, somehow it doesn't feel real anymore. Nevertheless, I'm still pushing the trip with much anticipation, and while I am no longer expecting for things to go perfect on my first visit, I will try my best to have a blast. And even though I haven't even touch down Japan, I know for a fact that I will definitely go back.