Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Land of the Rising Sun

The thing that I really like about Japan, and find most fascinating is it’s inherent calmness, and sense of order.  The people here really seem to show a proper sense of restraint.  They show a keen understanding and implementation of self control when in public.  For example, it is rare to see someone shout, speak boisterously, or show strong emotions in public.  It is also rare to see a sudden burst of laughter among a group of people.  Japanese people seem to wait in line much more than Koreans and Americans are willing to do, and they do so rather patiently.    

They seem to not be in quite as much of a hurry as Korean people, but it definitely isn't motivated by a relaxed attitude.  The calmness here seems to come from a certain etiquette where it seems important to keep oneself composed, in order to maintain ones’ sense of dignity, and it is something that is practiced for the betterment of society, as a whole.  

The people here seem to realize that they are a component of something larger, or greater than the individual.  Korean society has a similar mentality, but it’s manifested in a much different way than Japan.  

I am not saying that this is a universal truth, and applies to every single person, but I find that here in Japan, society and the group seem to be more highly valued, where in America, the individual to usually takes precedence.    

It is fascinating to see, to witness, and to experience.  There are places here in Tokyo that are absolutely overflowing with people, but it isn’t overwhelming like it is at other places, and the crowds aren’t as tiresome as they are in other large cities.  Whenever I told people in Seoul that I need a vacation, they would respond with, “Where do you plan on going?”

“I really want to go to Tokyo.”  

“Really?!  It’s even bigger than Seoul.  And you want to go there to recharge?!”  

After having the same conversation a few times with different people, I began to doubt my desire and my intuition, and I began to think about going to a place like the Philippines, or Thailand.  

I am glad that I followed my strongest desire and greatest interest, despite hearing people advise against it, because this trip has been exactly what I needed.  I feel refreshed, and rejuvenated.  As a person like me who has no attachment to this society, I am able to find rest in the inherent tranquility, and in the fact that I am seeing and experiencing something different.  

I would tend to think that if I were a part of the society here, and if I knew the ins and outs of the etiquette, I would probably be less able to relax, but being detached, and yet still able to observe, and to a small degree, experience the way of life has been perfect for me, and my condition.  

I sit here in a cafe on Ginza Street here in Tokyo on a Spring Sunday afternoon among a large crowd of people, but not overwhelmingly large, with everyone dressed in their spring apparel  (And Japanese women, much like Korean women, are extremely well-dressed.), while walking calmly and quietly in public.  It has been beautiful to witness, and every place that I have visited here has been that way.

The fact is, upon returning to Korea, if I were to tell my Korean students about the trip, most of them would have absolutely no interest in hearing about it.  I would go as far as saying that they would probably have some rather unkind things to say about my experiences.  

It isn’t a baseless prediction, because that very thing happened the last time I attempted to share with my students from one of my previous schools about a visit to Kyoto and Osaka, upon returning.  Those feelings that they possess do not come from nowhere.  They don’t develop these feelings themselves.  They have to be learned, and acquired from another source.  They come from their parents and grandparents, and the ill-will that Korean society, as a whole, has towards Japanese society.  Although those feelings are justified, because of the dark history between the two nations, they are not right.  

Despite those feelings, I’m quite sure that if a Japanese person were hurting, or in need of help on the streets of Seoul, that a Korean would be there to help them, but nonetheless, the feelings are rather strong.

The ill-will felt by Koreans towards Japan does not change my opinion that Japan has a beautiful culture, language, and a fascinating way of life.  It was a great vacation.  It was eye-opening, enlightening, inspiring, fascinating, and beautiful.  I hope to return for another visit. 

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