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Notes on Two Islands: Taiwan and Japan

Some of these observations are not country specific  but as I am a neophyte in both Taiwan and Japan they struck me as eye opening.

Taipei, Taiwan. 

On the metro:

-Plastic “poker chips” are used in the metro instead of paper tickets. You purchase a reusable chip, swipe it to enter the metro, and when you exit you feed it back into the turnstile before exiting. Brilliant system that cuts out the wasteful use of paper tickets so common in other countries.

On taxes:

-Receipts for purchases also act as lottery tickets. Not only does this stimulate the local economy by encouraging consumerism, it also ensures that businesses pay their taxes. Customers want their receipts, or rather a chance at winning the lotto, so businesses are pressured to use receipts and thus record all their sales. The system ensures transparency between the businesses and the government. It’s a clever approach to the issue of tax evasion, by giving the consumer real leverage over the businesses and creating positive incentives. Maybe this system could work in Greece? The lotto tickets also act as great charitable donations.

On purple ladies:

-There are a LOT of purple ladies here. Purple men too for the matter. At the flower market I would say 50% of the market attendees were dressed in head to toe purple. Color of royalty? Color of love? Color of Prince’s rain? I still haven’t figured it out but I’m glad I finally found the epicenter of the purple epidemic.

Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. 

On security:

-People are extremely polite. No one looks you directly in the eye. Men don’t harass women in the street. How pleasant it is to walk around and not be the victim of walk-by/bike-by/drive-by heckling/cat-calling/ass-grabbing (yes all of these things have happened to me in Spain and France). I guess all the leering is reserved for rush hour in the metro…

-Bikes are barely locked and people leave their umbrellas nonchalantly at store fronts with full faith that they will still be there in an hour or in a month.

I felt truly secure walking around Japan’s big cities, and even a little foolish for employing my usual travel security measures (like carrying a photocopy of my passport sealed in a ziplock bag and stuffed down my pants). Clearly those measures were over the top. I have never felt as safe in a foreign country as I did in Japan, except for perhaps in Sweden, but then all that snow and ice poses different dangers.

On Japan vs. Europe:

-Japan is what I like to call hyper civilization, compared to Europe anyway. This is how the Romans must have viewed the Greeks, as their hyper civilized eastern neighbors, while the Gauls to the west were simple minded barbarians. I suspect many Europeans feel similarly about Japan, that it is excessively civilized while America is comically primitive. Just a theory.

On Japanese culture

-Europe is not the center of the cultural world. I first became aware of this in Brazil back in October, and my time in Japan solidified the notion. There is a big developed world out there that spins totally independently of Europe or America. It blew my mind for instance that young Australians don’t necessarily dream of backpacking through Europe. They have the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean as their backyard after all! While I did notice superficial Parisian influences in Tokyo (there is even a Printemps department store), Japanese culture is not totally wrapped up in the western world. There doesn’t seem to be that paranoia that’s so palpable in France, the forced notion that “we are proud to be French and we will vehemently reject the English language and that vile Anglo-culture, or if we do decide to adopt it, we’ll obstinately pretend it was ours all along” (ahem, “le ahm-bare-gare”). As in Brazil, Japan has a confidence in its own culture that doesn’t seem too concerned with blindly adopting or stubbornly rejecting Western culture.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yeah I lived in both countries and it was an interesting observation that the two are similar yet so different. Even though Taiwan was occupied by Japan for nearly 50 years or so, they have adopted some of the Japanese mannerism, yet because of the strong Chinese influence, they still maintain the Chinese approach to things. It’s an interesting clash of two cultures.

    March 22, 2012
    • Sophie #

      It really is. It’s been interesting for me to go from Japan to Taiwan and see the similarities, especially when it comes to politeness and graciousness. From Kyoto to Okinawa and then to Taipei I have seen a gradual relaxation of manners that has perfectly matched my geographical progression. I look forward to visiting Hong Kong this weekend to see how it fits in with this trend.

      March 22, 2012

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