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A timely taste of Japan

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Not Quite There

A timely taste of Japan

/ 05:49 AM November 12, 2017

A mere four hours away by air is a First World country—Japan. An eight-day sojourn took us to three of its centrally located cities—Tokyo, Takayama and Nagoya, in that sequence—and we came away already planning to return and see more.

Having planted ourselves domestically for some years, we embarked unkindly reclassified as over-aged. But, with Japan as our destination, it was just as well; Japanese conveniences, orderliness and friendliness do not discriminate, not to travelers our age in particular.

My husband and I used to be last-minute packers, unlike my mother, who seemed packing all month before her trip to the United States, taken every year until the very last. From some time now in our case, it’s been our kasambahay Lani who does the packing, especially for me, for all trips, short or long, local and international. We tell her how many days we’ll be away and what weather we’re braving, and she has an idea. Any problems arising after is our own creation.

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We are already on the Skyway to the airport, making good time, when it occurs to me that I changed handbags at the last minute. I begin to check, on the run, to make sure I transferred all the contents of my slash-proof to my trendier leopard-skin. Plane tickets, passports, travel-insurance papers—everything is there. But where’s our yen! We make a U-turn at the nearest exit.

It’s Sunday; traffic is light. My husband is still smiling, but his eyes are rolling upwards and his head is shaking, positive signs of disbelief that can deteriorate into impatience. Our driver joins me in giggles.

Cancelled flight

We are at the Philippine Airlines terminal, no time lost. In 30 minutes, we are at the counter checking in our two suitcases.

“Didn’t the airline contact you? Your flight has been cancelled due to bad weather.”

Matters of fate we are inclined to accept gratefully. We are to come back for the rescheduled flight at 3 a.m. We ask to be dropped at Resorts World for a late lunch at the nearest restaurant of the Tao Yuan chain, an absolute favorite. Eating well, which our trips are largely about now, has begun.

Friends on the same tour whose planes braved the storm will tell us later they had a most harrowing experience.

Our own flight is smooth and pleasant. We have lost a day and a night in Tokyo and missed our tour bus. But a guide meets us at the airport, gives us a hand with our luggage, and boards with us on the train to catch up with our group, who had gone four hours ahead by bus.

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It seems there’s nothing that a bullet train can’t catch. We arrive at the pretty seaside town of Atami well ahead of the group. Alas, we are 17,000 yen (around P8,500) poorer. There’s an even faster train, we’re told, but I dare not ask about the fare.

Priceless lessons

Japan, at any rate, offers priceless lessons in sociocultural studies. Orderliness is not just for appearances; it seems deeply rooted in a moral and spiritual regard for all life. They do good service and are insulted by tips, and they are incredibly honest.

I had left my handbag on a seat at a train station. I had taken off my coat, placed it on top of the handbag, and went for some ice cream. When it was time to go, I grabbed my coat; my gloved hands felt nothing missing. I was already seated in the bus ready to go on its final shuttle run back to the hotel when the senior lapse occurred to me.

Vergel and I never ran so fast. The bag was sitting right where I had left it, undisturbed.

Such honesty must come from an innate sense of order and fairness. Lining up for anything is second nature. I’ve seen long lines disappear in no time. There are no garbage bins along the streets. When I asked a lady where to throw my trash, she smiled and told me I should take it home. Which makes sense: Home is where my own garbage belongs, and its disposal is my own responsibility.

Japanese toilet

Thus, the streets are free of anything smelly and unsightly, free of flies, cats and rats. There are bins for segregated trash at eating stops along the highway, and the wonder is there’s not a piece of trash that missed a bin.

I had tried the public baths in previous trips, but not on this one. The traditional Japanese toilet I’ve never at all dared try. I’m just enamored of the Japanese western one—the soft and prewarmed seat, the warm water released from a spout under with pinpoint accuracy and perfect pressure.

In public toilets there are wipes to sanitize the seats before one sits, but sit one must in order to experience the thorough cleansing.

The toilet paper I find much too sheer. There are foamy hand soap, hand lotion and hand sanitizers in lavatories, but no paper towels. But a very efficient hand dryer does the job. It’s amazing that in provincial but charming Takayama tap water is potable.

It is in their gardens that they show the partnership between human artistry and nature—not a leaf or stone out of place, no randomness in the arrangements of ground pebbles.

Limousine ride

On the last day, while the others walked to the train station with their luggage, we, a very senior couple, thought nothing of blowing another 17,000 yen, this time for a 50-minute limousine ride from our hotel in Nagoya to the airport. The breakfast buffet had not yet opened when we left, but I had sliced persimmons in a zipped bag.

On the way to the airport Vergel and I, despite being famished, could not bring ourselves to eat in the squeaky-clean limo with white seat covers—trimmed with lace!

When I think of my own country, I see how far behind it is in every way. One of the suitcases we had checked in at our airport had been ransacked, its lock destroyed.

Upon arrival, we were packed like sardines at immigration unguided. By the time we realized, as did others, that we were in line for foreign-passport holders, we had inched halfway up. The sign was just too inconspicuous and the lettering too small for even the youngest and sharpest eyes.

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TAGS: Japan, Lifestyle, Not quite there, Travel
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