After studying in the UK for 1 and a half years, I planned to travel alone somewhere else before I got stuck with my work. I chose Japan to run away from the hustle and bustle of China, as in my mind, Japan is quite similar to the UK in terms of manners; they constantly apologise because they do not want to bother other people and tend to keep strangers at a distance to show respect.
However, when I arrived in Tokyo, standing in the infamous Shinjuku, I felt I could hardly breathe. I had never thought it could be this hard for Chinese people to travel in Japan. Yes, we have similar characters; I am even learning Japanese, however, the truth is, it is a totally different language. It also turns out that I found it much easier to travel in the UK than in Japan, because language is no problem at all. The intricate metro lines in Tokyo always confuse me, and it is awkward to ask for help with my limited Japanese; another failure of a conversation. Trains are divided into “normal”, “fast”, “express”, etc. With fast trains skipping some of the stations, it is easy to take the wrong train.
However, accommodation is easy to arrange. While hostels may always the last choice for Chinese, as sleeping in a shared area is seen as inconvenient and uncomfortable for young women, in actual fact, they are the best way to make friends and become engaged in a different culture. International travellers have also pointed out how safe it can be when traveling in Japan; public transportation and hostels offering female-only spaces. I stayed in Wise Owl Hostels, 10 mins walk from Shibuya Station. Their extraordinary cleaning service and public facilities polished up my hostel experience and it was pleasurable to meet people who share the same values as I, bursting with curiosity for the world.
Travelling alone means to conquer the continuous emptiness and loneliness by oneself, though I found it normal to be alone in Japan. Some ramen restaurants have set up fences to separate customers; customers finish their dishes as fast as they can. I have read that 50 percent of Japanese population will be single until 2035, since the pressure of establishing a family scares them off. My new friend, Remi, told me, “People here now start to find other ways to fulfil themselves than getting married”. I witnessed some retired people volunteering in tourist spots, as a kind of solitary celibacy extends across this land.
It is never news that working pressure in Japan can be extremely overwhelming; on Saturday morning, I witnessed commuters staggering back home, looking exhausted. Hanging out around the centre of Tokyo, white-collar workers, known as “working robots” wearing their universal suits, are always to be found.
After their work, they are asked to socialise with colleagues. Drinking alcohol may be appealing for the boss, a phenomenon that can also be found in China, while also in both countries, changes are now to be seen whereby young people are starting to reject such a socialising pattern, reckoning it as “meaningless or time-wasting”. Young Japanese today believe they need more private time for themselves, instead of talking about business in the name of drinking alcohol.
Yet, when it comes once again to manners and service, Japan is tops. After being spoiled by the UK’s caring service, I can barely get used to the Chinese way of serving people with an aggressive tone and indifferent face. In Japan, a Kimono-clad waitress went down on her knees and in a soft tone introduced us as how to eat each dish. After the meal, she kept bowing to us until I had walked some 300 metres distant.
My third time in Japan, but the first alone; my impression now with a deeper understanding into the lives of people, thanks to my local guide. There may be serious living pressures, but I am still impressed how people are treated, making me wonder as to what we should do to make a better life for people in my country.