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This was not as easy a post to write as I'd expected, simply because there's too many things to like. I've yet to meet another traveler that dislike the country. They all wanna come back as often as they can. There are many obvious things to like about a country like Japan, so I'm going to list the obvious for this one.
This one's pleasantly apparent to any visitor who has stepped into any shop in Japan. The extremely high level of service is not exclusive to high brand outlets or Michelin-starred restaurants. It's everywhere and anywhere. Even the neighborhood store selling toys or the food cart is going to serve you at a level different level. They always say thank you after you shop with them. In Singapore. unfortunately, it's the other way around.
Why is it good?
I've had a few friends working in the service industry who claimed they have never received training. Such professionalism is simply ingrained into their culture. It's taboo to make the customer feel bad in any way, and everything they say or do is to leave a good impression on the customer. This means no usage of mobiles during work, using maximum polite form when addressing customers. My two favorite terms being “yokoso okodoshikudasaimashita”, meaning a grand welcome, and “kashikomarimashita” which is a very subservient-sounding “understood”, more adequately used by maids or butlers towards their masters. Some staff even kneel beside you when they speak to you so you feel “higher up” and constantly affirm your decision as you try clothes on. No sense of pride or ego doing so if it means they are doing their very best.
Another obvious one. You see Japanese restaurants opening everywhere around the world and often associate them with premium, delicious food. Every dish you find in Japan is Instagram worthy and so so good. I've yet to eat any bad tasting food in Japan, they were at worst, average.
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Da Isa, the best pizza in Tokyo
Why is it good?
Dedication to their craft and all-round professionalism, thats why. Unlike Singapore where there are vendors who just do it for the sake of it and no real qualification is needed. In Japan, you are required by law to be qualified from a culinary school in order to be a chef. Not only that, any of your who watch “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” would see how all of them dedicate their entire life as a chef, and not do it as a side job. You can see the emphasis is placed on process when you see staff hand make their gyozas in ramen shops.
I've met some of the warmest people in Japan. While not all of them are “nice”, all of them know how to behave. Even Yaks or pimps on the streets know manners. You don't see kids screaming and running around on trains, parents would probably feel very embarrassed if that happens. Most of them are highly considerate and socially conscious. If you speak to them on the street, they'd at least acknowledge you as a fellow human being instead of minding their own business. My host in Japan always offers me his bed when I come by, his mom always make me a nice breakfast and make an attempt to get to know me despite the language barrier. It's heartwarming really. They just know how to treat people.
Why is it good?
Most are brought up well around positive influence. Their parents are well-mannered, cultured and treat others well and that trickles naturally down onto their offsprings. Naturally, one would be brought up that way. The Japanese I know genuinely want to be considerate to others and don't act because they have to (unlike Singaporeans and say, the reserved seats) Even if an inconsiderate brat takes the priority seat, you won't see an old man demanding it. They all act gracefully and with class. Of course, not all of them feel the way they act. “Two face” is a common settlement, especially among some service staff, where Japanese think differently from the way they act. They would be secretly plotting your murder in their head while the beam ear to ear at you. But at least they are professional enough not to show it.
Japan's an extreme place. You have people at the end of every spectrum. The subcultures intertwined into their society is just taken to the next level. Like how you would have Mambas who are an evolved (and pretty scary-looking) version of your average gyaru. Or how they would have openly displayed adult videos with bestiality, scat, and even sexually-suggestive titles of scantily-dressed girls under 15 years old (Junior Idols). Or how you have grandpas prancing around in a high school girl's outfit in town. They have hardcore denim heads, cosplayers, air guitarist, train otakus, the list goes on.
Why is it good?
It's the level it which things are taken to that makes the Japanese culture so intriguing and seem so diverse to me. Singaporeans rarely take things to the extreme, being in the judgemental and conservative society we are. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's just boring. There isn't content being discovered or subcultures being explored. We are just happy the way we are. I'm sure most Singaporeans like a sense of security and sureness, but I like adventure and change more than anything.
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Last but not least, girls. If your husband says he wants to go to Japan for the food or Gundam figurines, don't believe him! But you really can't blame him. They look good, and you can't deny that. While I have to say most have good features and have wrinkle-defying faces, they put in tremendous effort in making sure they look good before they leave the house. There isn't such thing as throwing on something “chapalang” (casual) when you're heading nearby. They will at least look proper, meaning makeup and nice shoes. Most of them sit with poise and speak gently. Being cute is such an important attribute to have for a Japanese girl. Even the way they talk, dress, makeup are all done in the way to make them as cute as possible. Mainly, they make walking on the streets a much better experience!
Why are they good?
Apart from societal pressure to look good, most are keen on getting married at the right age. Maintaining their looks become an essential part of being a woman in Japan. I'm really impressed by their consistent effort to keep up with their appearances.
That's obviously not all, but it's the main ones that keep me coming back. Do you have something you like about Japan?