Five days ago, I locked the door to my apartment one last time, loaded a taxi with three giant boxes, three suitcases, and two backpacks, and sped off to the airport. As the city of my birth, my adopted city, the first city that has really felt like home since I lived in Los Angeles years ago, sped past my window and into my memory, I felt both sorrowful and free: It was time to let go of Hong Kong. For now.
My favourite 3 things about Japan
For the clumsy-fingered foreigner, the first time you use chopsticks will be like trying to use stilts with a broken ankle. On a foundation of violently vibrating wood, the first piece will invariably shake and, Bambi-like, fall before it reaches your expectant mouth. Nonetheless, the rich taste and refreshing nature of Japanese food always succeeds in forcing the puffing, red-faced diner to try and try again until they can wield the formidable utensils like the fly-catching Mr. Miyagi.
Japanese food strongly emphasizes freshness and is thus a seasonal affair. Food is usually cooked either for a very short time or served raw. The central place of fish, fruit, rice, and noodles in the Japanese diet means that it is often mentioned in connection with a healthy lifestyle. Rivalling Van Gogh’s palette, the wealth of color found in the cuisine ensures that it is not only pleasing to the tongue but also to the eye.
The only thing that can rival Japan’s natural landscape are the creatures that inhabit it. Including the aforementioned snow monkey, the country hosts a rich bio-diversity, and it is not strange to see local deer sauntering through urban areas. Other animals native to Japan include martens, sables, black and brown bears, salamanders, and red-crowned cranes.
However, the most famous animal in Japan is, probably, the koi fish. As an island nation, the relationship between the Japanese and the native fish is a close one. The diet consists largely of fish, fishing is a national pastime, and houses often contain aquariums. However, nowhere is the interaction between the Japanese and marine life more profound than in their relationship with koi fish. The Japanese even had a hand in the animal’s evolution, when in the early nineteenth century rice farmers began breeding carp to exploit their natural aesthetic qualities.
It is in the sphere of hospitality and general kindness that the Japanese distinguish themselves. Known as omotenashi in the industry, Japanese hospitality is one that attempts to preempt the needs of their guests or clients, as those who make direct requests are thought to be unsophisticated. It is a concept that has selflessness and going the extra mile at its very heart.
Although it is hard to define, anyone who has been to Japan will know exactly what it means and for many, it is one of the highlights of their stay. However, it is important to note that the courtesy and kindness of the Japanese extend beyond the service industry, thus making expatriate life here somewhat easier than elsewhere.