Traveling to China is no joke.

After being delayed a couple hours in Chicago due to snow, I finally arrived in Narita, Japan around 7pm local time. That means I was in the air for approximately 14 hours. I’ve flown overseas a few times but 14 hours pretty much doubles any continuous time I’ve been 35,000 feet. Luckily, I was in Business class and I had enough room to stretch out and get “some” sleep.

When I landed in Narita I learned that, due to the delay in Chicago, I had missed my connection to Guangzhou. Since there were no more flights to GZ until the morning, I was shuttled to a nearby hotel for the night. I was slightly excited to have a layover since I wanted to check out some of Japan but Narita Airpot is nowhere near any sort of city center. It’s now Sunday morning and I’m in United Red Carpet lounge waiting for my 9:50am flight to GZ.

From what I’ve seen of Japan, this place is definitely high on my short list of places to return to. It’s hard to accurately describe what it’s like but I’ll try. First of all, everyone is extremely gracious. And I’m not just talking about the people that are paid to help you like hotel or airline staff. It suspect the Japanese are raised/taught that graciousness is an important virtue. Leaving Chicago, a very ungracious place, then landing in Japan is like traveling to another planet. All the way down to their tone of voice (seriously, the way women smile, talk, and make eye contact here is unexpectedly attractive) the Japanese are a delightful people. And this is coming from someone who has never had much interest in Asia or Asian culture.

Furthermore, when you are in Japan you feel like you’ve boarded a DeLorean and traveled forward in time about 5 years. And it’s not like they have crazy inventions that are inconceivable (i.e. I haven’t seen any hoverboards for purchase). It’s more like they’ve just been quicker to adopt current trends; they invest in new technologies because they are useful and not because their old technology broke and they had no choice but to replace it with something newer. While small, I think the example below shows just how progressive the Japanese are. I certainly don’t need a machine that perfectly pours my beer but if we have the technology to do it… why not?

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One thought on “Traveling to China is no joke.

  1. So glad you had a good impression of Japan. I lived there for 10 years. By immersing myself in Japanese culture, I can say in very real terms that I “discovered myself”. I had no idea what American culture stood for until I had something to compare it with.

    The other point that struck me in your post was the Chicago reference. As a native of Chicago I can’t help but make comparisons. In general, Chicago folks are friendly, down-to-earth, blue collar, with a heavy penchant for informality. As you remarked, Japanese are “gracious” and to that I’d add “polite” or “fomral”. Their customer service is second to none. They are raised to be respectful, especially toward guests, which is what you were: a guest in their country. This special treatment given to “gaijin” can be very seductive to non-Japanese visiting or residing in Japan.

    As much as I love Japan, it also has a dark side. Excessive civility is sometimes used in Japan to keep people at arm’s length. It’s virtually impossible for a gaijin to be totally accepted in Japanese society. Some Americans get enamored with the politeness and civility, only to discover later that it’s a way for Japanese to “insulated” themselves from foreigners.

    While being an outsider might be perceived as a negative to some, I learned to embrace it as a positive because the price of belonging in Japan is just not worth the emotional price to be “part of the team”. So many obligations come with belonging in Japan. (For this reason, even Japanese are wary of associating with new groups.) As a foreigner, you learn to appreciate the double standard applied to non-Japanese–trust me, it almost always works in your favor. I see it as a blessing.

    That said, I was fortunate enough to make friends with very progressive Japanese folks while I lived there, mostly musicians and artists. Over the years we formed a circle of friends and I felt accepted. (It helped a lot that I spoke Japanese, but it was more of a cultural/compatibility dynamic than just linguistic competence.) Due to the gentle and open nature of my friends, the “reciprocal obligations” were not only bearable, but welcome.

    If you’re interested in Japanese culture–and the spirit moves you–check out my blog, “Intercultural Twilight Zone” at http://japaninsight.wordpress.com/

    A couple posts that I think would definitely interest you:

    “What You Don’t Know About Japanese Women”
    “Japanese-style Customer Service: The Art of Kikubari”

    Interesting content here. I’ll definitely be checking back.

    Aloha from Hawaii!

    Tim

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