Cherry Blossom and Japanese Culture
January 1, 1970
by Remo Gisler
Who has travelled to Japan? It is different compared to the Western world, this is for sure. When I have to explain my friends how Japan is, I always try to make a comparison between India and Japan. And I love both of these countries. However, they are the complete contrary. While India is rather dirty, everything is very cheap, a lot of poor people and very delicious vegetarian food, Japan is ultra clean, a lot of very well-dressed people and a lot of fish food and compared to Western prices, not cheap. Naming it, if you are a fish lover, it is paradise on earth. As a vegetarian, it is rather a hard life.
March and April are the months of the year to travel to Japan for the Cherry blossom season, also called Hanami. I have travelled a couple of times to Japan, however, never before in the Cherry blossom season. I was always wondering why people make such a big hype around this thing happening. And now, having seen these gorgeous Cherry trees, I know why. It is actually hard to describe, how beautiful it is. They are everywhere, in the streets, in the parks, you even spot them from the train windows. And for me even more fascinating is the excitement of the Japanese people themselves have about the Cherry blossom. They do picnic under those trees, pictures, selfies, even paint them. Impressive to have such a passion for this!
Well, Tokyo is not only Cherry blossom. It is also diving into a complete different culture. Talking to people you really find out how different it is. Since space is very rare and expensive in Tokyo, some restaurants had the idea how people stay only the short time needed in the restaurant. They have the whole menu outside (this is nothing special), but you also buy a “ticket” with your desired food at a machine outside. You take this ticket and go inside and order directly. Isn’t it efficient? Talking about efficiency, we have to talk about Japanese Railways. Their trains are as punctual as Swiss watches. The two men working per subway train (two, because if one gets unable to work, there is instantly a second one available) have split their work. One drives, and one handles the doors. A typical Japanese thing is that you always show with your hand/arm what you see. So you always see the man standing next to the train and showing with his hand along the train (because he is checking if he can close the door) and also talking with himself (well, I did not understand what they talk). And on each Subway station you have an overview of all stations of this line, on which it mentions for each station the position of the car and where you have access to elevators, stairs etc.
The hotel I stayed in had a shuttle bus to the next bigger Metro Station. The bus commuted every 20 minutes in both directions. The departure of the bus was exactly on the scheduled time. When I write exactly, I mean exactly: On the second! There was even a man who stopped the little traffic passing the bus which was waiting. He looked at his watch, starting some 30 seconds before departure and was already in position to guide and later stop the traffic. Exactly at the scheduled departure time, the bus door closed and the traffic-man used his whistle and stopped the traffic. Isn’t it great? So reliable.
In certain regions in Japan they found out that there are relatively more traffic accidents by drivers over the age of 75 (well, where is this not the case). They now introduced an offer to voluntarily give back the driving licence for people over 75 years. In return, they get a discount of 13 % on their own funeral. Can you imagine this in a western country? This is solidarity to the community at its best – made in Japan. Solidarity is anyway one of the highest goods Japan has. A couple of years ago there was the nuclear power plant accident in Fokushima. At this time, some fruits in local supermarket in whole Japan were labelled with a small stick “Fokushima”. Why that? Not for the one reason I thought. It was done, to support the people from the region Fokushima. So people could buy those fruits and they did something good for the people around Fokushima.
It is fascinating to watch people’s thumbs moving softly or some even rather hectically from bottom to top on their mobile phones…either playing one of their funny games or just checking some social media apps. While other passengers just next to them are sleeping. Well sleeping in trains is nothing new, however it is again fascinating in two ways; Firstly, their heads are in an exact 90 degrees angular to their bodies; secondly, they wake up exactly at the station they want to go to. And not earlier and not later. Maybe it is because of the nicely played songs which are different at each station…I don’t know.
So, to sum up this short trip to Tokyo: Tokyo is not equal Japan. Japan is a big country with over 120 Million people and has a huge variety of nature, from the mountains in the north to the beaches in the south. The very famous Onsens (stands actually for hot source) are private or public pools/baths, where you go to relax. Especially those in the mountains are just stunning. A lot of Japanese people (especially outside the big cities, but sometimes in the big cities too) are not so fluent in English. However, I have experienced in the last couple of years that this has improved very much. So, this cannot be an excuse not to travel to Japan. You can travel with public transportation or by a rental car, both is very smooth. Temperature varies from very cold (like 5° Celsius) in winter up to 30° Celsius in summer. So, your choice. Book your flight ticket and enjoy the Japanese hospitality and culture!