JAPAN TRIP-PART 3: THE HOSPITABLE JAPS AND THE TOURIST-FRIENDLY STARBUCKS

 

 

 

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[Left photo shows the full length of the front part of the second floor of the Tsutaya Starbucks Resto in Dotonbori, Osaka; while the right photo shows the rear part thereof] 

 

 

I always thought, perhaps due to some air of patriotism, that the Filipinos are the most hospitable people in this part of the globe. But, I now feel based on what I have experienced in our 6-day touring stint in Osaka-Kyoto-Nara, Japan is that the Japanese people would defeat us Filipinos,  by a long mile.

However, the trait of Filipino hospitality, is I think still deeply ingrained in our character.  But my gut feeling pointed to a direction where I could sense that there may have been some kind of moral suasion from the Japanese government unto its citizenry to be extra hospitable, especially among tourists.

A subtle persuasion plausibly made through the media, which has encouraged the Nipponese people all the more to be friendly with tourists. It is a logical thing to do as the tourism industry is one industry where the multiplier effect of economic benefits is so much resonant.

My first encounter with that Japanese brand of hospitality was at the Kansai International Airport where we partook of some ramen dinner in a restaurant  within the airport’s premises. The waiter who served us, plausibly not much familiar with the English language, and for lack perhaps of any other English greeting within his ken, kept uttering MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of us every time he delivers food unto our table. And that greeting is coupled with an obeisant bow.

During our train ride from Osaka to Kyoto where we were billeted in a modest hotel, particularly at the URBAN HOTEL MINAMI-KUSATSU, I sat beside a couple of senior aged Japanese.

I got easily detected by the Japanese lady as a foreigner, as I felt by the way she was muttering some Nippon phrases, that she was asking for our nationality. I just uttered the word “PHILIPPINES” and a great smile formed on her face while repeating the word “PHILIPPINES” with the unusual Nipponese twang.  When I barked out a controlled cough, the Japanese lady was quick in offering me a couple of  Japanese-made lozenges while she was pointing to her throat. A way of saying perhaps that it is good for an ailing or sore throat.  I took it and popped it then into my mouth. When my youngest daughter Alee, snorted out too a muffled cough, the lady was again quick in his offer. And after sensing perhaps that we were travelling as a family, she distributed the lozenges to all of my kin.

What struck me most was how a high-heeled lady with a coat made of expensive-looking fur went out of her way to show us the direction as to where to buy train tickets for a particular destination. The Japanese lady who was in her late 30s, not perhaps convinced that we understood her instructions delivered in halting English,  walked with us  for a distance of about TWO (2) kilometers just to insure that we will be able to reach the destination where she wanted us to reach. That was amazing hospitality indeed.

What was most amazing however, as a clear and  eloquent display of Japanese hospitality is the 230 seater Starbucks Restaurant located within the Dotonbori district in Osaka. It is a 2 storey resto which doubles up as a library at its second floor. The name of the Starbucks outlet  is Tsutaya Starbucks. At the second floor, you can browse through for free into a plethora of books with diverse subjects from Michelangelo, Greece, Hinduism, etc. The first floor has about 50 comfy seats and another 80 seats on the second floor. The Starbucks outlet is so well-illuminated and so commodious. Easily, it has become the point of convergence among tourists especially Filipinos (who would usually digress into their separate shopping destinations within the Dotonbori district) to rest their wearied feet and relax their tired legs after hours of walking, ambling, hiking and perambulating in the busy streets of Dotonbori. I myself got so wearied and tired with those long hours of walking for which reason, I asked that I will just sip coffee at the Tsutaya. And piece by piece, I became the depository in one corner of the coffee shop of bags of goodies and items brought by each one of my family members. Though I ordered a cup of coffee and a piece of pastry, it would seem, as there is no one “policing” the ingress of habitues into the coffee shop; one does not even need to buy either a sandwich or a drink, to seek refuge to this relaxing and hospitable sanctuary, the TSUTAYA STARBUCKS in Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan.

 

OUR JAPAN TRIP – PART 2: DOING SOMETHING GOOD AT CHRISTMAS

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[At left photo is Chona wearing a light brown jacket with Manilyn in her red dress cuddling the infant Ryu dressed in a yellow coat complete with a hood; at right photo is Chona cuddling Yuna, the second child of Manilyn and Mori]

It was pure serendipity! Serendipity actually means the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. And, indeed what transpired in this narration of mine was truly SERENDIPITOUS.

In early October 2015, my daughters Shayna and Cheska were busy surfing the internet to look around for promotional fares to tourist-destinations here in Southeast Asia or elsewhere in East Asia.  We were thinking of, as first priority, either Vietnam, or Japan or Singapore or Hongkong. I was however biased against going again to a wintry frigid-weather country as I got really pissed off by the coldest weather in South Korea. Temps dipped to as low as minus NINE (9) celsius when we went there to Seoul in South Korea for a Christmas vacation in December 2013.

What I did not want to do once more (after that December 2013 South Korean trip) was what is termed as that tedious practice of “layering”. “Layering” is a term supposedly made out by Filipinos which pertains to a mode of clothing one’s self (a convenient way to fight off the shivering effects of a very cold, nay freezing ambient temperature in most frigid countries during winter). By “layering”, you have to first dress up your upper torso with an undershirt, then a long sleeve thermal undershirt again, then a collared short-sleeved T-shirt; thereafter a long-sleeve polo shirt, then,  a sweater. And by way of a final step, you wind up the shawl around your neck and eventually, wear the jacket complete with a hood to cover up a baseball cap.

For your lower torso, you begin with an ordinary bikini brief, a long-sized brief, then a thermal underwear, then one’s pair of pants. With this tightly covered/clothed lower torso, you really have to spend much time trying to make an opening to allow you to urinate as you have to literally dig into your lower torso which has been layered and covered with a pile of clothing.

But Shayna and the girls wanted to visit Japan as not one of us except my wife Dang (who during her teens together with her siblings were brought to Japan on a holiday by their Papa Anteva), has been there. Shayna even argued that relatively speaking the price that she has got was clearly so cheap. Thus, the eventual and majority choice was Japan.

Earlier, as I am a litigation lawyer, I have been engaged to eject settlers in an 860 square meter lot which is located just across our Law Office here in Murphy, Cubao, Quezon City, Metro-Manila, Philippines.   The lot houses the dwelling units of about 25 families who have not been paying their respective rental for years. I had to apply some kind of persuasion to convince the residents to leave voluntarily. In fact, some kind of financial assistance was dangled to sway the renters to peacefully leave and avoid a messy ejectment cum demolition operations. A number of the residents availed of the financial aid and voluntarily left the premises. It was a great relief as getting a court order despite the summary nature of an ejectment suit to legally oust the defendants to the suit from the premises would still take much time. Time was of the essence as the lot owners are committed to sell the lot to a ready and interested buyer.

Among the renters-in-arrears is the family of Chona P. Ramos who is a 40 year old matron who has knowledge about the traditional Filipino “hilot” (English translation: physical therapy by way of touch and massage), and has been serving us, in the Law Office as masseuse whenever any one among us, lawyers in our Law Office, would feel so tired and exhausted after a hard day’s lawyering work. I actually purchased a comfy foldable bed and that whenever Chona would be summoned to give us some kind of relaxing massage, the comfy foldable bed becomes very much in use.

But Chona is married to a husband (by the name of Rudy who is in his late 50s) who is many years older than she is and that because  of Rudy’s age he can no longer get a regular paying job. Though Rudy takes on a motley of odd jobs,  these jobs however are rare and so far between.  Thus, the family of FIVE (i.e. Chona, Rudy and their 3 kids) would have to feel content with Chona’s income as masseuse and at times, as part-time helper in a school canteen, to tide them over financially. I was able however to convince Chona and Rudy to avail of the financial aid but that the couple confessed to me that after the financial aid is totally spent, they would really be hard up. They even told me that from what they have been earning from Chona’s fees as masseuse and Rudy’s odd jobs on a monthly basis, they cannot even  pay the meager Php 500.00 monthly room rental (a rental rate which has been pegged years ago). And that as rental rates have recently shot up within the Murphy, Cubao vicinity; they have been compelled to accept and shoulder a Php 5,000.00 monthly rental for a modest room as they cannot afford to relocate far due to the schooling of their kids in public schools within the Murphy, Cubao vicinity. Thus, part of the Php 40,000.00 financial aid which they received, got substantially spent to pay for the 2 month advance and 1-month deposit which they remitted to their present lessor. I actually vowed to help them as I even recommended Rudy for a regular-paying job in a hospital, but due to the hospital’s age limits, Rudy was not hired.

In mid-October, my 60 year old Japanese friend Yasuaki Mori, a university professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University communicated with me in a very urgent tone. His wife Manilyn, who is a 25-year old Filipina and a native of Samar in southern Philippines, just gave birth to their 3rd child and that the burdens of child rearing (i.e. Rikaan who is 3 years old, Yuna who is 2 years old and this new born babe, Ryu) is taking a toll at their familial relationship. In fact, Mori confessed that they (i.e. him and his wife Manilyn) would almost always be engaged in a domestic spat as Manilyn felt so tired and enervated almost everyday doing the usual kid-rearing chores.  Thus, Mori who however has to be out for work as university professor in Tokyo, said that they need the services of a domestic helper quick. Years ago, Mori lost his Japanese wife and in another wave of serendipitous circumstances met Manilyn.

Indeed, things feel into place after Mori visited me in the first week of November 2015 to meet and interview Chona. Eventually, after ardently praying for Divine help, we were able to get Chona a Japanese visa and off we (the whole of my family) flew to Japan on December 18, 2015 with Chona in tow. Thus, after our dining date with Mori at the Zuboraya Restaurant at the Dotonburi district in Osaka on December 20, 2015 where we ate the famous but deadly puffer fish; Mori brought Chona to their place in Kanagawa, about 44 kilometers from Tokyo via a 4-hour Shinkanshen (i.e. Japanese bullet train) ride from Osaka.

Based on what I learned, after Manilyn communicated with me through phone, is that she is very much satisfied with Chona and both Manilyn and Mori have thanked me for saving their almost deteriorating marital relationship brought about by the burdens of Manilyn’s taking care on her own, their  THREE (3) lovely growing babies.

On the other hand, Rudy is similarly thanking me profusely that with the regular income that Chona will be receiving, their planned relocation to Chona’s province in southern Philippines about 1,300 kilometers south of Manila particularly in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte will not anymore push through. Thus, the family’s dream shared by both Chona and Rudy for them to be able to see through the education of their children in Metro-Manila until the completion of a modest college education can now come true. With what she will be earning from his domestic helping stint in Mori’s household, Chona will be making six (6) times more than what she would usually earn doing his masseuse and traditional “hilot” practice in the Philippines.

Indeed, it is a nice feeling especially at Christmas  to have helped TWO (2) families: one (1) here in the Philippines and another one (1) family there in Japan  with a GOOD DEED that would further strengthen their family ties and bonding. Truly, the common aspiration of having peace, love and joy in the family will be a reality to Chona’s and Mori’s respective homes.

OUR JAPAN TRIP-PART 1 and THE PUFFER-FISH EATING FEAT

 

 

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[Top photo shows a puffer fish aka FUGU  in Japan; while bottom photo shows a licensed Japanese chef meticulously  slicing FUGU sashimi]

 

Years ago, the enticement to a travel to Japan from here in the Philippines, is invariably being avoided like a leper by the middle-class as it was perceived as too costly. Up to now even, those who might not be in the know (and who have been privy to talks about the high cost of living in Japan as bruited around before) would still not even dare touch a Japan-bound airfare ticket with a ten-foot pole. But that perception is now becoming  a thing of the past. In fact, as will be discussed hereunder, we experienced a unique feat, an enticing but deadly “romance” with the PUFFER FISH also known as FUGU in Japan.

Thanks to cyber-age especially the INTERNET and the neck-to-neck competition among travel-related industries such as airlines, hotels and the like; travel to Japan now has become affordable. And the cost of food and commodities has surprisingly become affordable too.

This is our family’s first trip to Japan and the impressions that we have observed and shared in our week’s stay is truly so positive.

The airport in Kansai in Osaka, Japan is convenient and comfortable. The airport seats are made of leather; thus it would not make you jump off the seat when you lay your warm booty on it. The likes of ensconcing on  those steel and/or metal made seats that feel like a block of ice after having been cooled by the air-conditioning units. The toilets are so clean and well-appointed complete with liquid soap and hand-driers.

What is more amazing is that in the hotel where we got billeted in Kyoto, the  URBAN HOTEL MINAMI-KUSATSU, the toilet seat is warmed by some kind of gadget and the mirror inside the bathroom does not turn into a blanket of mist after you take your warm bath. The toilet mirror especially the large central portion thereof would remain clear and un-misted or un-fogged (perhaps the latter is the better term).

In most instances, when you are staying in hotels; after your warm bath, thereby making out a warm ambient temperature inside the bathroom, mist would form on the surface of the mirror and one would be so pre-occupied polishing the fogged-up mirror to its original sheen.

But what is most pleasurable  is the hospitality and courtesy of the hotel staff and everywhere in Japan, the sales people in the malls and the stores, the taxi drivers, the hotel staff and the restaurant waiters and waitresses. They would not stop keeping you mystified by their politeness, courteousness and their brand of Japanese obeisance, their traditional bow every time they would utter the magical phrase: “ARIGATO GOZAIMAS”.

When my Japanese friend Yasuaki Mori told us via an email message a couple of days before our Japan trip, that he would invite us to dine in a puffer-fish restaurant, I told my son Anthony to brace up to the challenge. But as Anthony was all out for it, I did not exert much effort to convince him. Anthony is usually adventurous, so wanting and daring to experience new things.

I have actually prepared a motley of excuses as my alibi in case Mori would become so insistent to persuade me to eat the puffer-fish.

All along, I easily expected that I can dodge the invitation by Mori to swallow and savor the deadly meat of a Japanese puffer-fish. Actually, I have prepared what I thought, would be a convincing excuse, my usually bum stomach.

But, when we entered the Zuboraya Resto at the Dotonbori district in Osaka, Japan and learned that all the meals therein are puffer-fish dishes; we never got to put up, especially mine and my girls’ excuses.

But what transpired was something unexpected. My girls (i.e. my wife Dang and my daughters Shayna, Cheska and Alee) never ever ate even a shred of sashimi every time we would dine in Japanese restos in Manila. If at all, they would ask the waiter/waitress to grill the raw salmon sashimi (my usual order) into some kind of well-done grade before they would wolf it up. But Mori was a good enticer and since my girls felt that they were into some kind of unique experience, they all shed their gustatory inhibitions and started to “dine with the music”, actually the step by step instructions from a seeming musical conductor… Mori. Mori started to dictate in rhythmical cadence what should be poured first into the boiling shabu-shabu pot. But before pouring in the ingredients, Mori picked up and removed from boiling pot what looked like some dried weed (or is it a dried bark) which apparently was earlier placed into the water-filled pot to enhance the eventual broth’s savor and taste. Thus; the ingredients were poured into the pot. First, the chopped parts of the puffer fish with bones; then, those without bones; then the pieces of mushroom and last, the pieces of vegetables with noodles.

But before the boiled puffer fish got cooked, the puffer fish sashimi arrived at the dining table. The puffer fish sashimi looked like thinly-sliced filaments of white radish which were assembled in triangular pieces into some kind of a circular presentation. Then, as we got so enticed by Mori; one by one, everybody was chewing the sweet-tasting and gummy substance which proved to be so palatable and luscious to the taste. Five minutes from when the chewing started, almost all the puffer fish slices were gone on the serving tray. Then, Mori started serving the boiled puffer fish and it tasted even better than the usually favorite grouper fish in most Filipino feasts.

When I posted the experience in Facebook, a fraternity brother of mine, Brod Glenn Golla, sent in this message:

“Brod, puffer fish is very special in Japan. As you said, it is deadly if improperly prepared. Only the brave eats this fish because it is very easy to err when preparing it. I think the chef has to get some certification or attain some special status to be allowed to prepare it.”

And my riposte to Brod Glenn, was this: “Yes Brod, I am in the company of brave ladies plus my braver son, Anthony, too!”.