Saturday, July 23, 2005

“Excuse me, are you Japanese?”

For some reason, that question has been directed to me a few times in my life. My first reaction to that was to laugh. Is there any part of me that looks Japanese? I am not petite, neither am I neat, well dressed, or fair skinned. Qualities in my opinion, most Japanese women have. Perhaps the only possibility is my slanted eyes. That I got from my Chinese mother. But that’s another story.

But perhaps, the people who often mistook me from being Japanese are those who have not been in contact with many Japanese themselves. Or to them all Asians are the same anyways.

I remember once on our trip to Mumbai, my husband dearest in his quest to look “local” decided to keep a moustache to blend in. Imagine his disappointment when a little child came up to him after a dandiya (a dance) and asked him, “Excuse me are you Chinese?” We really laughed quite hard then, because no Chinese person would ever mistake him for being Chinese. But perhaps the child meant to ask me but directed the question to him, but whatever it was, his attempt to look “local” was totally a failure.

But anyways, about being mistook for being Japanese, I must say that I was flattered non the less. Because I am a Japanophile. I have this obsession for Japan and things Japanese. Of course my religion forbids the concept of previous life, but if it was possible, I think I was a Japanese woman in my previous life.

I am very much fascinated by the culture, the handicrafts, the food and the philosophy of life. Japan was the country where I first saw rows and rows of bicycles left at the side of train station unchained. The people are full of honesty and integrity that no one fears that someone else will steal their bicycle at the train station. They also have an umbrella stand at the station for rainy days. People just use these umbrellas to walk home and return those umbrellas the very next day when they take the train to work. I simply find that so amazing! Imagine if this umbrella stand was put in KL or Singapore or London or Hong Kong, there wouldn’t be any more umbrellas on rainy days. The umbrellas would simply disappear!

We even had the pleasure of experiencing some Japanese honesty. We were on our way to visit a friend who lives in the outskirt of Tokyo. We had brought a long a box of chocolates as a gift to the host. While purchasing the train tickets we had inadvertently left the box of chocolates on the floor, and walked off onto the platform without picking it up again. I noticed that the box of chocolates was missing only after we found the train platform. By that time I was convinced that the box of chocolates would be gone by now. They were very good chocolates at that! But my husband dearest said we should ask the station master anyways and true enough he handed the box of chocolates to us! Someone had found it and turned it in to the station master. What honesty!

And contrast that to my experience in 1utama. My sister in law, had bought a new birthday gift for her friend. While withdrawing her money at the ATM machine in the basement, she left it at the side while withdrawing her money. She only realised that she had left it there when we got up to the next floor. The gift couldn’t have been left there for more than 5 minutes before we returned, only to find the item already missing. What a shame!

On another instance at the Coffee Bean at Scotts Shopping Centre. I had inadvertently left my shopping there, a cosmetic item. Upon realizing I had left it there, I asked the manager if the staff had found the item there. No luck. It strikes me that we Malaysians and Singaporeans take to heart the meaning of “Finders keepers.”

What is it about the Japanese and their culture that they have a strong sense of integrity and honesty? Or is it their religion?

On my backpacking trip to Japan last year, I had the opportunity to learn more about the Japanese religion. On our trip to Nara, we found a Japanese lady who volunteered to become our tourist guide for the day.

She explained to us that the Japanese believe in both Buddhism and Shintoism. They believed in Shintoism for this life and Buddhism for the next life. How they managed to combine both branch of faiths together to form their own faith was something else.

And then there are the Japanese handicraft. Somehow their craft shows how much they pay attention to detail. As a people, they are inclined to do things “the right way” and not just the “tidak apa” or “boleh la tu” or “malfi musykila” (no problem) attitude that some other cultures have. Its almost like they strive for perfection in everything they do, from their craft to their food. Everything, to my eyes, was a work of art, with incredible attention to detail.

One of my greatest wish is to be able to live in Japan, if not, to be able to visit it, often. One day Japan, I will return.

{Argghhhh this entry is written, as I really miss having good Japanese food and the lack of Japanese groceries being sold here. Sigh!}


Sang Kelate said...


Hmmm u made me wanna fly to Japan. I hope one day I will have chance to live in Japan or at least to visit Japan & experience its culture. I just started to learn to eat Japanese food after my beloved wife did learn to make sushi a few months ago. Hmmm miss Japanese food? Come here, have u ever try Wagamama? .. U can shop in Selfridges and walk for less than 5 mins to get yr lunch there. If you are lucky u will meet some celebrities who frequent that place. Ahhh, I do envy u... The only thing that i am so familiar abt Japan is its 'selipar jepun' ...


Sunflora said...

Heheheh although there are quite a few authentic Japanese restaurant in UK, nothing is better than the real thing in Japan :) No I havent tried Wagamama because its mainly Ramen. If or when I look for a Japanese restaurant, it has to be one that is patronized by lots of Japanese. One place I would recommend is the Japan Center near Leicester square, there is a balance between affordable price and authenticity there. If £ is no problem, then I have been told that Nobu or Zuma is the place :)

My mouth is watering already!

Leen Ash Burn said...

Actually, I also feel like going to Japan after reading this. Hehe

Sunflora said...

Leen jom gi jom. Kita leh duduk kat youth hostel £11 a nite share room with 4 other people.