Thursday, March 8, 2012


by Alma R. H. Reyes

Spring air—
Woven moon
And plum scent.
- by Matsuo Basho


So, here they are—the refreshing pinks and whites of spring! In Japan, spring is not only a season of new beginnings (first day at work, first day in school, start of fiscal year, etc.), but also a special moment of contemplation and melancholy. Japanese use this time to ponder on intended visions and dreams, and to reflect on past committed errors. In fact, Japanese say that spring is so beautiful that it allures, strange enough, many deaths and suicides. Bizarre? It’s like Yukio Mishima’s novel, The Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji) where the hero burns Kinkakuji simply because it is too beautiful. Surreal…


So, alright. I will then, get a little bit melancholic :) If you have been living in Japan for, at least, ten years (yes, less than ten years does not count in this condition), surely, this question has popped up in your mind one way or the other: “Why am I still in Japan? And, why can’t I go home (yet) for good?” Ano, totoo o hindi? In the past two years, I have gone back to the Philippines about four times a year on average by unprecedented circumstances. That is an incredible record for someone like myself who likes to travel to other destinations. And, with each return to our beloved homeland, I cannot help encounter certain episodes that make me go back to that fatalistic question, “Why am I still in Japan? And, why can’t I go home (yet) for good?” Of course, the answers vary on many premises. Some of you have extendable job contracts that you cannot help but renew each time they expire. Why? Because work conditions are good; salary is high (higher than in the Philippines); and other reasons. Others may be married to Japanese, or foreign expats, or have children who have settled in schools here. For others, still, there is always that magnetic pull that stretches to a kind of love-and-hate relationship between being here and being “home.”

All I know is, every time I go home, I always taste the feudalistic Filipino lifestyle that never fails to astonish me, since Philippines is no longer a colony of Spain that brought feudalism to our history more than a hundred years ago. Yet, here they are—the helpers (not just one, but two, three…), drivers, gardeners, guards—the ever-dependence on somebody else’s aid, like living without it disrupts our biorhythm. Don’t you hear Pinoys who complain and panic when their maid has left their house? So, I say, but I have been living outside the Philippines for more than twenty years without a maid!

Upon arrival at NAIA, at once, here they are—the “baggage pullers” who volunteer to pull your luggage out of the baggage carousel. No such thing in Japan, we know. When you get out of the exit gate, here they are—the “barkers” who again, volunteer to carry your luggages so you can hire their taxi. No such thing in Japan, we know. When you reach your home, here it comes—the driver who voluntarily lifts your luggages out of the car trunk. In fact, most of the time, I like to pull out my luggage myself only because I know I am capable of doing it, and because I got used to the ways in Japan, where here, you have to do everything by yourself.

Then, there is the supermarket episode. In every cashier stands a “bag packer,” who packs your groceries in plastic bags. No such thing in Japan, we know. That is separate from the “boy” who places the bags in a cart, and drags the cart until your car in the parking lot (yes, never mind if it’s far). No such thing in Japan, we know, because here, even if you are 70 years old, you have to pack your grocery bag by yourself.

In shopping malls, I have witnessed Pinoys “ordering” sales ladies around (yes, “ordering,” not asking). There is a kind of presumed Filipino attitude that customers are “upper class” and sales clerks are “lower class;” hence, clerks can be “ordered” around. I find this very appalling. No such thing in Japan, we know, because here, everyone is treated as equals—at least, that is what Japanese try to show each other.

Maids, who are asked to do the most menial of chores—turning on the air-conditioner, switching off the light, fetching the slippers, answering the door, etc., etc.—these episodes, too, after living more than twenty years outside of the Philippines, I have found quite disturbing.

Abroad, many foreign employers like to hire Filipinos because we are reputed to be hard-working. Yet, we are also lazy by nature, aren’t we? This laziness stems from the fact that our culture has been so uprooted in over-dependence on external help, when, if you stop and ponder on it, you realize that we don’t need all that attention on hierarchy, status, and self-proclamation. I confess this feudalistic system has made me wonder about re-settling back home. But, I also think about the bicycle rides I cannot take around Manila (due to pollution, dirt, bad traffic manners, invisible sidewalks); the afternoon visits to parks and rivers I cannot make (due to pollution, dirt, poor maintainance); the seasons of spring, autumn and winter that I cannot enjoy; the efficiency of the Japanese convenience stores where you can purchase movie and concert tickets, and pay your utility bills and taxes; the speedy takkyubin delivery service; the automatic bank remittance system; the Co-op service of home delivery; the super efficient transportation system and time schedules; the severely polite manners; the humility and low profile of the Japanese…need I say more?

But, despite all these, Philippines is HOME. It is FAMILY. It is FRIENDS. It is chicharon, bagoong, kare-kare, San Miguel beer, Simbang Gabi, and Bisita Iglesia. It is laughing at corny Pinoy jokes. It is watching unfortunate street children sing and play. It is smiling back at the waiter who smiles at you. It is being stopped by a security guard who hums a tune while he inspects your bags. It is being able to say “Anu ka ba?” No such thing in Japan, we know. It is, as the Tourism Department promotes, FUN.

Some day, we will all have to make a choice; that very difficult and melancholic choice.

Enjoy the wonderful cherry blossoms!

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