I did a double take. Yep, my eyes did not deceive me—indeed, there waltzed a fluffy puppy wearing nothing short of a frilly, pink dress. And suddenly, I saw another one, then two, then five walk by casually on the quiet Motomachi shopping street, guided nonchalantly by their respective owners. Lesson one: the Japanese like to accessorize. I was in Tokyo’s sister city, Yokohama, for less than an hour and I already had determined my trip’s purpose: to people watch.
For me, traveling to Asia was no lofty task; I had done it for years, making the fourteen-hour flight as easily as I would a trip to the mall. But my perception of the entire continent lay in my annual visit to China with its millions of bustling, overanxious people, disorganized and messy, yet full of pride. So at the mention of traveling to Japan, I was a bit hesitant. I had followed the country’s recovery from the disastrous tsunami very carefully, noting especially the discipline and honor with which each person held herself. But I still had to see it to believe it.
On the street, past the peculiar advertisements in the stores’ windows, and past the ever-present vending machines, there stood a metro stop. In it was silence—people keeping to themselves, obediently standing in perfect lines behind marked boxes and never once thinking about disturbing the peace. Lesson two: the Japanese are honest. Never in my past years in China, the United States, or anywhere else in the world have I ever seen such organization, especially without an authority figure pressing upon the masses. I appreciated this simple task with a smile as I took my place in line.
Lesson three: the Japanese trust each other. As I stood by the subway station outside Sogo, the country’s equivalent of a Macy’s department store, I once again found myself staring. In front of me walked a five-year old child, calmly strolling alone at dusk with his backpack loosely strapped to his back. No one around me seemed to think anything of it, so I quickly checked myself and entered the building.
Inside, I was struck with an intense craving for Japanese ice cream, satisfied in a quaint teahouse. Immediately upon my entry, a friendly waitress greeted me with a bow, since most people do not shake hands, and a beaming smile. I made it clear that I spoke very little Japanese but that did nothing to phase her and her comforting expression. She tried to do everything she could to communicate the menu to me, without a hint of impatience. Lesson four: the Japanese are kind.
Some people may say culture is reflected in a country’s architecture or musical taste alone. But I disagree. Japan exuded a difference in its culture by the simple acts conveyed by its people. The thing is, everyone around the world learns discipline and respect. Yet, upon observing the fluidity of the Japanese’s reserved actions, I was still in awe. It was a culture that looked at chaos, and politely declined. I had a change of perspective, on the Asian continent, and on myself. From these people who endured so much from the shameful aftereffects of WWII up until their recovery from their recent nuclear crisis, I have learned that self-control, honesty, trust, and kindness, are attainable in all situations, regardless of urgency. From the Japanese, the world can see that humanity is not as lost as some may think. And so, maybe, their perspective can be changed, too, in a simple encounter with a dog in a pink dress.
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