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3 things the Philippines can learn from Japan

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by Jeanh, Aug 11, 2015.

  1. MANILA, Philippines – I recently spent a 6-day vacation in Kyoto and Osaka, my second trip to Japan since my stint as an exchange student in Tokyo 13 years ago. I was thrilled to make it back; it may have been a long time ago, but Japan's extraordinary way of life has since made a huge impact on me. This is especially significant now that I'm older and more aware of my own country's troubles.

    I'll say it flat-out: the Philippines – and Manila in particular – is broken in a lot of ways. Going to Japan made these problems even starker to me, because I got to witness the remarkably efficient and effective way the locals get to do things.

    Now, I won't dare to compare the two countries on a bigger-picture, government-level context, because I'm not too learned in this respect. But I will at least list down the kinds of contrasts virtually any Filipino visiting Japan would notice between our ways of life, because admittedly, there's a whole lot we can learn from our Asian neighbor.

    1) The un-greedy bus system

    As a Metro Manilan who travels down EDSA on a daily basis, I have an endless stream of complaints on commuting. The Japanese commuting system and what we experience are as different as night and day, and I could do a whole piece alone on the Japanese system's many aspects, from the extensive train system, to the bicycles' monopoly of roads, to the heartening respect of road rules, but I'll just focus on one for now: the bus.

    The most glaring difference with the Japanese bus system is that it is not Please or Register to view links, or forcing the driver to meet a cash quota at the end of each day. Instead, it is a slave to the clock. Bus stops feature specific arrival and departure times, and buses do arrive and leave on schedule, give or take a minute or two. That way, no street is ever congested by buses trying to pile as many bodies in as physically possible, and you don't have to travel like a tinned sardine.

    Furthermore, if no passenger signals the driver (via a handy button) that they're getting off at the next stop, and said next stop has no one waiting to get on, the bus will drive right past that stop, no questions asked. Japanese buses also never, ever, ever stop before or beyond designated stops. The concept of para po is absolute sacrilege, and pays respect to the idea that roads are marked and designed for the majority's safety and efficiency, and not to bend to any one individual's will, traffic be damned.

    Lastly, these buses run on a hybrid of gas and electricity, leading to significantly fewer emissions. You won't find a bus smoke belching in Japan anytime soon.

    Lesson: Commuting options are treated as public services, not businesses.

    2) The hyped-up history

    Most of my recent visit was spent in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan and home to countless ancient shrines, temples, and palaces pulsing with historical significance. Needless to say, every landmark was gorgeous: immaculately well-kept and stately, surrounded by sprawling parks and gardens to hold hundreds of tourists.


    KINKAKU-JI. The grounds on which this marvelous temple sat were immaculate.

    Even the simplest spot, so long as it had ample historical significance, would be preserved and displayed. A modest hut where the poet Basho once wrote in, for instance, was dutifully frozen in time. This, while Please or Register to view links, from the out-and-out neglected Paco Railway Station, to Intramuros' many drab and filthy corners.

    Most tourist spots in Japan naturally had souvenir shops and restaurants nearby too, but they had their own clean and orderly areas, with plenty of washrooms and places to sit and rest. Vendors called out politely from their stalls, but no one would come right up to you and push their wares in your face, wheedling you 'til you caved in. Tourist traps these pit stops may be, but you wouldn't guess it by how beautiful and orderly they are.

    Lesson: The pride and respect a population gives to its history should be sincere, because it will physically show; otherwise, it's just lip service.

    3) The obsession with hygiene

    Mouth masks are de rigeur in Japan when you have a cough or a cold. Most service people, including bus and taxi drivers, wear white gloves as part of their uniform. When paying at registers, cash payments and change are placed on metal saucers to prevent direct hand contact. And, of course, there's the famed Japanese robo-toilet, with its hands-free (and multi-setting!) bidet, deodorizer spray button, built-in handwash sink, and insta-flush sensor.

    (On a side note: I encountered one particular toilet stall where even waste disposal was hands-free. You just waved a hand over a sensor, a tiny shelf next to you would flip outward to take your used tissue, and then the shelf would automatically close, dropping the tissue into the built-in bin for you. I know these are Howard-Hughes levels of cleanliness at this point, but you have to admire the effort.)


    SPOTLESS. Even the slimmest side street was perfectly clean-swept.

    In the Philippines, people would cough without even covering their mouths with their hands. Men would pee on walls in broad daylight. Public toilets are the stuff of nightmares. Please or Register to view linksIt is glaringly clear that preventing sickness isn't a concerted effort; that people don't see how their actions can affect the health and wellbeing of their fellow citizens (let alone their own). How are we supposed to help each other through times of utter distress such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, where whole cities are buried in death and debris, if we don't even care to flush?

    Lesson: Citizens can and should work together and take care of one another in simple but impactful ways.


    These 3 points are just some of the ways Japan is doing it right, in my view. I'd dare say that any Filipino who'd visit Japan would notice such things, and quite a bit more, and wish that his or her homeland could imbibe some of this culture for its own good.

    But no, I'm not naïve; I know reforms are far, far easier said than done, mainly because our country has spun itself into its own, sprawling web of corruption and complacence, making it a daunting and draining task to even figure out where to start, much less how.

    Some would argue that Japan is obviously 10 steps ahead because it is a rich country, and can thus afford to have nice buses and well-tended heritage sites and toilets that clean themselves. I don't see that holding water for two reasons:

    One, we are not a poor country. We are a rich country whose money and resources are being ( Please or Register to view links) ill-spent. We can have nice things; it's just that the people who deigned themselves the purse holders and spenders don't want us to, or are horrifically bad at it.

    Second, even if our country finally manages to treat itself to a commuting/heritage/hygiene shopping spree, it's how these purchases are used and maintained by the population that matters, and no amount of money can buy us the right mindset for that.

    Forgive me for the reference, but it's kind of like how many reality show contestants who get fashion makeovers or get their filthy houses cleaned tend to bounce back to their old, ugly habits once the cameras leave. The problem is not the lack of nice things. The problem is the lack of self-respect. The problem is refusing to see how we, as individual persons, bëâr a gargantuan responsibility to be pro-actively good to ourselves and the people around us.

    Again, far easier said than done. But the least I can do is implore you – as you stand squished in the middle of an overcrowded bus careening and screeching down EDSA; or spend the weekend at the new mall wing with your kids yet again, instead of somewhere remotely educational; or stare at the mud-caked, piss-stained, tissue-bereft toilet stall you've just entered – to think about it, hard, and actually do something. – Rappler.com

    What others lessons can the Philippines learn from other countries? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
  2. Thanks for sharing :)
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