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The contradiction that is Japan

Updated: 2014-01-04 07:21
By Huang Xiangyang ( China Daily)

It was with this state of mind that I boarded my flight to Japan. We visited Kyoto and Nara, and the trip turned out to be one of my most impressive abroad. Never have I seen a society where tradition coexists with modernity in such harmony. Pilgrims crowded more than 1,000-year-old temples nestled steps away from busy shopping malls where the world's most trendy electronic gadgets are sold. My hotel room was covered with traditional tatami mats, but it was also equipped with the most high-tech jet-spray toilet that warms up users' buttocks and plays pleasant sound tracks.

I found so many things to marvel at: blue skies and white clouds, impeccably clean streets, water fowls wading in crystal-clear rivers, and buses and subway trains that arrive and depart on the dot.

More importantly, I had a chance to meet ordinary Japanese for the first time in my life - waitresses, housewives, taxi drivers, shop attendants and those whom I happened to seek help from on the streets. They looked energetic, efficient and enthusiastic about their work and extremely polite, bowing their heads constantly while saying arigato gozaimasu (thank you). I was mesmerized into doing the same after a couple of days.

I know it is not easy to truly understand a people in such a short time. There must be more to their character than the superficial impression I got from a few days of random contacts. Ruth Benedict, US author of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, says the Japanese people are full of contradictions. The sword and chrysanthemum are two parts of the picture, because they are "both aggressive and unaggressive, both militaristic and aesthetic, both insolent and polite".

But I still believe human beings, despite their different nationalities, are the same in nature. And I hope the devilish part of the Japanese heart - the dark side of human nature - is never released, not even when their leaders push the nation down the road of militarism.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. huangxiangyang@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 01/04/2014 page5)

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