A Love Letter To Japan
Before we met just five weeks ago, I was, admittedly, indifferent toward you. I felt that we were just too different to be friends, you and me. After all, we don’t speak the same language, sticky rice is your jam, I’m not sure *you’ll* ever understand the concept of middle-aged belly fat, and I’m not sure *I’ll* ever understand your infatuation with the Buddha.
But your extreme efficiency captured my heart immediately. Walking off the plane, filing directly into the immigration line, and speeding through the finger-printing and passport-checking and photo-taking: the orderliness and rapidity with which you processed hundreds of foreigners took my breath away. No other country in all my life impressed with such skill, such competence, such proficiency!
Surprisingly, your organizational capabilities didn’t stop at the airport terminal. Queues in public restrooms, at grocery stores, on subway platforms, at amusement parks, in busy restaurants, and at the bottom of crowded escalators moved along speedily and methodically. Why? Because you have actual rules. Said rules are not unspoken nor merely understood; you post them for all to see. And? The rules are relentlessly and respectfully followed. You have real-life rule-followers, and my heart swoons at the peaceful organization that ensues.
Adding to your organizational prowess, politeness abounds. Convenience store clerks, traffic-directing road-workers, garbage-truck drivers, train conductors, passersby on the street, coffeehouse baristas, Disneyland ride operators, popcorn vendors: 99% of your people bowed either to us, to others, or to one another. Oh, Japan! We love the bowing gesture and want so very much to adopt it. In fact, we’re in Taiwan, now, and bowing has become both our “thank you” and our “I’m sorry we can’t communicate with you; Mandarin is hard” gesture, all rolled into one. Is that okay, Japan? I hope you don’t mind that we’ve permanently embraced your gracious bow.
Another thing we’d love to adopt as our own? Your penchant toward modesty. Your women glow. Stunningly beautiful, inspirationally healthy and thin, they sport clothing that flatters, such as knee-length a-line skirts with button-up, form-fitting, short-sleeved tops. Classically dressed with no reason to reveal cleavage or thigh, you could teach many a thing or two about true allure. As a cut-off jean and sweatshirt-wearing gal, you’ve actually motivated me to maybe dress myself up every now again.
Do you want to know something else that allures me, Japan? Your inclination toward general quietude. On more than one occasion we marveled that the subway — even during morning rush hour with crushingly crowded corridors, escalators and platforms — exuded a tranquil serenity. Your subway cell phone rules — keep devices on silent, take no calls, use ear buds at all times — contribute to the metro’s restfulness for sure. But there’s something else… you have a propensity toward introversion, I think. And because I live with two inward-looking souls (I’m looking at you, Mitch & Autumn), I can appreciate your reflectiveness, dear Japan.
Something else about you that I hold in deep regard? Your eco-conscious passion for cleanliness. For example, not one public restroom offered paper towels, nary did we see them on the shelves at a convenience store, and rare, indeed, did we find napkins on the table at any restaurant. Surely you understand the detriment upon the trees caused by excessive paper product usage. And yet, your cities seemed to sparkle. Never (not once!) did we see a single piece of trash litter your subway (a true marvel). We witnessed people vacuuming metro stairs and wiping escalator handrails; we saw people sweeping public sidewalks, and we listened to lovely garbage truck tunes that reminded residents of the impending trash pick-up hour. Remarkably, your impeccable standard of clean succeeds despite the scarce number of trash cans located in any public space.
Japan, I could go on and on. Perhaps I love you so much because you were my very first Asian country? Or because my expectations of you were so very low that you exceeded them to the moon and back? I cannot fully explain my infatuation with you, but know this: I am not alone. My husband and both of our girls stand equally enamored with you. We all want to learn your language, climb your mountains, explore your beaches.
Thank you, Japan. You’ve set the bar high for your Asian neighbors.
Rhonda (for Mitchell, Autumn & Eden, too)