The mountains are thick with forest. Tall, centuries-old trees loom over, ably absorbing rainwater and preventing flash floods, and sufficiently providing much-needed oxygen that cleans the atmosphere.
By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr. Publisher & Editor San Diego Asian Journal The Original and First Asian Journal in America First in a series of Articles San Diego, California September 12, 2008
My family and I just arrived from a two-week stay in Japan followed by another two-week stay in the Philippines. I must say that our stay in the “Land of the Rising Sun” was quite a revealing experience.
We walked all day under the scorching sun in the muggy heat of summer. By the end of the first week in Hyuga, a town in Miyazaki on the southern tip of Japan, I had lost ten pounds. It was then that I realized that vigorous exercise would give me the energy that I had been desperately in need. Before then, I had been drinking energy drinks like Red Bull, or putting energy patches on some parts of my body. But that is another story.
My second daughter Ashley, like the rest of our family, caught the travel bug when we started traveling together during my children’s high school years in the 1990s. But in addition to our family travels, her adventurous spirit brought her further to a year of study abroad in Spain during her junior year of college; another year of teaching English, also in Spain after she finished her Bachelor’s of Arts degrees in English and Spanish at the University of California in Berkeley; a summer in Hong Kong, also teaching English; and lastly, a two-year stint teaching English in Japan as part of the JET program sponsored by the Japanese Government.
Her gig in Japan was finished by the end of last July and she found it hard to leave her friends behind. So to make it less emotionally taxing for her, she asked us if we could pick her up. In the process, we would tour Japan.
Acceding to the request of a daughter was easy; what made it difficult was when I found out that the trip would coincide with the Olympic Games, an event I keenly watch on television every four years. The solution was to order a feature from my cable TV provider that would allow me to tape the coverage of the games for a substantial period of time. The events that could not be covered by this feature, I taped on the VCR of our three other TV sets: one in the living room, one in our bedroom and the other one in the garage, located right in front of my treadmill, while we were away.
Off to Japan
So off to Japan we went on July 26, 2008. We had a stop in Manila en route to Fukuoka. On our return trip, we would spend another two weeks in Manila where we planned to visit a Gawad Kalinga Village and the Smokey Mountain community in Balut, Tondo, two charitable projects we are supporting, so that we could write articles about them. In addition to attending to some other official business, we also planned to visit a friend from San Diego who retired in his hometown in Naga, Camarines Sur. He had developed his 2-hectare property by raising crops, fish, goats and cattle, “to show to the people in the area that if one were to do so, he would not go hungry”. Personally, I feel that others might not be able to follow his example because they do not have a large farm like his.
What are my impressions of Japan? I must admit that I have learned to admire not only the country but also its people. Passing through Mt. Aso on our way to Hyuga where our daughter spent the past two years, we did not find any space that had not been planted with crops. It seemed that every piece of leveled land was planted with rice. The same is true in the countryside. This is perhaps the reason why Japan, a rice-consuming country, has a surplus of rice while countries like the Philippines, where rice is the main crop, has a shortage of it. Even in the town proper, no vacant space is idle. Each plot is green with the healthy and abundant stalks of rice. The world-famous Banaue Rice Terraces? The Japanese have them too, and they are fully utilized to the hilt all year round!
The mountains are thick with forest. Tall, centuries-old trees loom over, ably absorbing rainwater and preventing flash floods, and sufficiently providing much-needed oxygen that cleans the atmosphere. When we told our guide, a friend of my daughter, that in the Philippines, mountains are bald due to illegal logging, causing a lot of disasters like landslides and flash floods, and resulting to the lost of thousands of lives and multi-million dollar worth of properties, she naively commented: “Maybe those are the logs we import and use in making our houses and furniture. Your government should prosecute those illegal loggers,” she suggested, even though she is aware that her country is the one of many benefiting from the crime.
Courteous and respectful
The people are courteous and respectful. Forget about the cruel Japanese soldiers who occupied the Philippines and committed brutalities against the Filipinos during World War II as described by our parents. Everyone we met as we took an early morning walk along the riverbank in Hyuga never failed to greet us “Ohayou gozaimas (Good morning)”. Whenever we entered a sushi restaurant, everyone, the chefs and the waitresses included, would shout greetings at us individually: “Irrashaimas! ” Whenever we left, they would individually shout goodbyes: ” Arigatou gozamshita!” So as we ate our sushi and sashimi and dipped them in soy sauce garnished with wasabi, the shouts rang in our ears as other customers came and went.
The mood of the people, however, was different as they rode the metro trains. Many looked like zombies, too tired to sit up straight or have an animated conversations with their seatmates. Young people wore Ipod earplugs in their ears as they stared in space. “Salary men,” the middle-management and ordinary Japanese employees, held on to their overhead straps and rods, and their suitcases. They also looked grim and tired, but would not take off their jackets and loosen their ties even in the heat of summer. It is because Japanese people work long hours. Men folk stay out until late in the evening, hardly seeing their families, except during weekends. In the Akasaka District where we stayed in Tokyo, “salary men” spent their evenings drinking and singing in karaoke bars. And I do not mean only during Fridays but also during the rest of the weekdays. One tour guide joked that being a good drinker and a good karaoke singer are some of the requirements in succeeding in the corporate world. While explaining to us the Japanese practice of greeting people by bowing, she said: “When you meet an acquaintance, you bow slightly. When you meet a respected person or a client, you bow up to 90 degrees. But you bow even lower to your wife if you are a husband who just spent an evening with your officemates in karaoke bars.”
The Japanese are the top producers of cars, even quality cars, in the world. They gave us the Toyotas, the Nissans, the Mazdas, the Hondas and other car brands. But unknown to outsiders, they reserve the compact cars, very small “Kee” cars, for themselves. In Hyuga, majority of the cars are small. The Japanese may have the money, but they do not waste it on gas-guzzling modes of transportation like the Americans do. I did not see any Humvees or 8-cylinder SUVs in Japan. You would think that since they manufacture the cars, they would drive the best and biggest ones. But no. They are such a frugal and environmental-friendly people that they would rather settle for small, economical cars.
Then there are the modern contraptions I have not seen anywhere. When one enters a mall, hotel or other business establishment in Japan during a rainy day, one can insert a wet umbrella in a vertical standing cylinder with a long plastic dispenser next to the door. If he pulls his umbrella sidewise, it would be wrapped in plastic, preventing rainwaters from dripping on the floor. All the hotels we stayed in had a bidet (a device that washes your ass) in the bathroom, a luxury not available even in many five-star hotels in Manila. I just noticed that this device is now available in Mitsuwa, a Japanese market in San Diego. The price ranges from $140 to even $800. I assume they are worth their exorbitant prices for they are “cool”, if not create a tingly feeling.
Most of the tourist spots we visited in Japan are centuries-old temples and pagodas. I realized that in Japan like in Europe, historic and ancient sites are the tourist attractions. In contrast, tourists go to the Philippines for its natural beauty, like the beautiful beaches in Boracay, Palawan, Cebu and the natural geological formations like the Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan; the Banaue Rice Terraces; the Mayon Volcano in Albay; the Chocolate Hills in Bohol; and others. What the Philippines lacks in history, it more than makes up for its natural beauty. It is therefore up to the Filipinos and their public officials to avail of this natural advantage to generate more tourism dollars for the country. – AJ
(To be continued)