Japan is vastly different from China, something that I wasn’t anticipating, perhaps I was starting to be influenced by all the Chinese who said Japan stole their culture. Admittedly I spent most of my time in Japan comparing it to China, perhaps because I was curious how my experience would have been different if I had chosen to teach English here instead and trying to convince myself I made the right choice.
Cleanliness: Coming from the crowded metro’s of Shanghai, where people push and scramble for seats, talk loudly on their phones or play music for the general ‘enjoyment’ of the passengers, to the trains of Japan, where people wait their turn and there’s a peaceful quiet as people talk in hushed voices was the first shock. What wore on me the most in China was the lack of hygiene, peeing in the street, horking and spitting out of windows, Japan is not only cleaner, but overall healthier. The diet, lifestyle and environment all reflect their high quality of life.
Laws: The governing of laws is at odds in China, censorship is strict, but things are relaxed in other ways, even though smoking is officially banned indoors, it’s a common occurrence, traffic laws appear to be mere suggestions, these little freedoms, compensate slightly for the wider oppression. Whereas in Japan, everyone follows the rules to a T, no jaywalking, everyone waits their turn in line, there’s a strong sense of community, I heard stories of people losing their wallets, and returning the next day to find it in the exact same spot, untouched. But Japan has it’s own share of repressiveness, as the proverb goes; “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This becomes apparent in their high suicide rates, sex dolls and intensive work ethics.
Culture: Both Japan and China highly value their culture and traditions. While both countries claim to have influenced the other, it is difficult to see any impact. Food bears very little similarity, they both follow Buddhist traditions but their temples and practices are different, Japanese following Zen and Shinto, while Chinese follow Taoism and Confucianism, Japan has Geisha’s and Sumo’s, China has ethnic minorities. The only similarities I noticed was a slight resemblance in art and architecture, also the Japanese language is derived from Mandarin, and they are able to understand each others text.
Dealing with Tragedy: Something that we don’t typically learn about in North America, is about the Rape of Nanjing. Around the time of the second world war Japan was occupying China and massacred, raped and tortured civilians in the old capital. China claims Japan never formally apologized, while Japan says they have, but China won’t acknowledge it and have censored the apology from its citizens. Upon visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, although the events were tragic, you see them portrayed in an unceremoniously dramatic light. Compared with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which handles the situation in a diplomatic and even forgiving nature, it even admits to the faults of Japan in the war. The main message of the Museum appears to be putting an end to nuclear weapons.
Pop Culture: Japan produces a lot of strange things. Something that surprised me was how shops could survive that were catering to such niche markets. For example, a shop that sold exclusively heart shaped doughnuts, or green tea pop. They definitely have a big kitsch market. Both countries follow comic books, but Japan claims that China steals their comics and makes their own version, for example a Chinese Pokemon, with a Pikachu’s with white ears instead of black.
Work Ethics: Both China and Japan have very strong work ethics. The children spend any free time available to them in extra-curricular courses and doing the copious amounts of homework they are assigned. Competition is high to get into a good school, and then to get a good job, which usually consists of long work days, with extra meetings and work functions outside office hours. Coffee has become a popular drink in Japan, whereas it still hasn’t made it’s way to China.
For foreigners living abroad, it is immediately apparent how easy it would be to adapt to the way of life in Japan. Comforts of home are readily available, the people are easy to coexist with, although perhaps hard to get too close or personal with, it’s beautiful, clean and modern. It would be easy for me to criticize Chine if I hadn’t lived there first, but I realize how China offers a relatively easy and care free life for foreigners. You never have to cook or clean, you can live in a nice apartment and go out every night, all this on a wage that would barely pay for an apartment back home. And there’s a certain attraction to a grittier city, and all the little challenges that come with it make life in China interesting. I would have no desire to live in China permanently, there’s plenty about it that annoys me,whereas in Japan it would be more feasible. But it has a lot more to offer than first meets the eyes. The country is developing fast and opening up slowly, if I were to go back there ten years from now I probably wouldn’t recognize it, it was an exciting time to be there, although I am no where near to understanding this complex , secretive country, I have a better grasp on what life is like there, and how good real Chinese food really is.