Ruth Chen, a first year Optometry student, shares about her cross-cultural experience in Hokkaido, Japan.
by Chen Zhuling Ruth
1st year Optometry Student
The human being is a complex animal. They are so similar yet different from one another. A large portion of the difference is inborn, yet some differences are brought about by the environment in which they dwell. In a world where cultures are said to be fusing to become one global culture, I experienced the difference between the Japanese and the rest of the world during the trip to Hokkaido.
Most businessmen do not even dare think anything other than leather shoes to meet their client. Students are discouraged to dress inappropriately in and out of school. Yet when the students in Hokkaido reach school, the first thing they do is to remove their shoes and change into slippers. Slippers, in many places, are thought to be informal, and solely for home usage in some countries. Are the Japanese schools trying to inculcate a radically different thinking to the students? Well...no. In Japan, people wear slippers at home. So, I can safely induce that the slipper rule gave the students a sense of homeliness. A sense of homeliness in schools, imagine having that in Singapore!
School is home, truly. The tables and chairs are all neatly arranged, and the students hang their bags by the table orderly. The classrooms appear neat and tidy. This is not because Japanese schools employ good janitors. It is all thanks to the students who stick to their responsibility to keep their school clean as if it is their home.
Beside their efforts to make schools a homely place, I'm impressed by the habits the Japanese preach and more importantly, practice. For instance, they would greet before entering and leaving the house. They would also say "thank you for the food" before and after meal. These may seem to be basic manners, but look around Singapore. Children start eating before their parents start and many homes have family problems, much less greet one another. The behavior of the Japanese make some Singaporeans look uncivilized and barbaric. Indeed, such good habit is lacking in Singapore. I've even witnessed a Japanese mother educating her young daughter good manners of saying "thank you" every time after she receives something. Educating students in civics and morals is one thing, but getting them to practice what is taught is an entirely different issue. This 'practice' issue, somehow, is addressed much better by the Japan education system than the Singapore system.
In saying that, I find that the Japanese really do not indulge in teachings and doctrines only. They really put words into actions very successfully. For years, Singapore has been trying to encourage the 3 Rs - Reuse, Reduce and Recycle, in a bid to create an environmental friendly society. And I do admit there are some improvements, but just a little bit. One thing I realized in Hokkaido is the people separate waste materials before discarding. The concept of recycling has already been incorporated and deeply rooted in their daily lives. This is something that we don't really see in Singapore. Could it be due to a more highly educated society in Japan??? Who knows?
Other than being environmental friendly, the Japanese society is also senior citizen friendly. During the home stay, I found that not only were the old people treated with care and concern, they lead an interesting life. They occupy themselves wisely by taking up lessons in piano, yoga and weaving just to name a few. Also, they lead a healthy lifestyle by exercising consistently and watching their diet. Many even keep pets for companionship in the day when their children and grandchildren are at work or at school. Such a lifestyle, in my opinion, should be put in place in Singapore. Singapore has an ageing population. One can visit the Customer Service Centre of any Government board like CPF. It is very likely that one will see a large number of old men and women sitting in the lobby idling their time away. I do not think that is a brilliant way to use one's retirement time.
In a nutshell, I enjoyed this trip. I found it fruitful and enriching.