Postcard from Osaka: A Singaporean describes his first experience of Japan
Being a Singaporean born and bred, it's easy to get used to a certain level of comfort and stability in how things work. How ironic that a first-time trip to Hello Kitty’s country of origin has opened my eyes to a world that is so culturally different but shares some fundamental similarities in nature.
The destination was Osaka or "Tokyo with soul" as one of my friends called it. Every street and street corner bustling with life, whether it is the staff at the supermarket or the traffic warden ushering pedestrians at the sight of the green man, it is humbling to see the Japanese conduct themselves with great humility and pride in whatever they do.
The taxi drivers are decked out in their gloves and fancy tuxedos, or at least a suit, to chauffeur you around town: An Alfred to your Bruce Wayne. However, a financial handicap prompted me to veer away from the billionaire playboy route and take the trains. Like in Singapore, the locals avoid eating or drinking on the trains although doing so won’t get you fined. In fact, vending machines are available everywhere and there even was a small food stall on one of the train platforms.
The Japanese seem to come naturally to being very responsible and civic-minded, something Singapore authorities hope to ingrain in its citizenry through years of fines and mental conditioning.
The Japanese are as passionate about their food as Singaporeans. A trip down to the Dotombori district will set mouths watering and eyes to glaze as you're confronted by the huge variety of gastronomical delights and mega billboards that blaze from the buildings. While e don’t have mega billboards in Singapore we can be proud to have quite a diverse selection of food from various local cultures.
We also share an eye for a bargain with the Japanese, albeit in different ways. At about 7pm every evening, the massive food outlets at the basements of their departmental stores slash their prices by up to 50 percent, attracting all manner of people to clear the shelves faster than you can say "Mr Kiasu" (a popular comic character in Singapore, whose name "kiasu" means "fear of losing out"). Throw a Singaporean into the fold and you’ve got me buying sushi like I’m stocking up for a nuclear winter.
Finally, what is up with Japlish? We Singaporeans may be proud of our Singlish derived "lahs" and "hors" but Japan is a totally different ball game, with wildly entertaining signs pasted on billboards and posters containing messages that could be both hilarious and strangely profound. One particular billboard i spied boldly proclaimed the game of Pachinko as being "It is strong in time, and it is gently to time tough at time." Another product I spotted in the shelves of a pharmacy was named "Jesus Body," which is wrong in so many ways. Many websites have been set up dedicated to the art of Japlish, but nothing beats witnessing these fascinating hybrids of cultural communiqué yourself.