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Monday, July 2, 2007

Trip to Japan: Day 8 6月24日日曜日

The last day of my visit to Japan was a short one. Up at 6, out of the hotel by 6:30, breakfast at McDonald's, then by subway and train to the airport, arriving by 8:40, giving me plenty of time to check-in for my 11:15 flight to T'aipei (Taibei) 台北. I was back in Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原 by the middle of the afternoon.

Compared to the multitudes thronging the Shinsaibashi 心斎橋 area in Osaka 大阪 just a few hours earlier, the streets were deserted at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.

My Cathay Pacific flight getting ready for takeoff at Kansai International Airport 関西国際空港.

And that was my week in Japan. I'm already eager to plan the next visit. Why? In comparison to Taiwan, Japan is (take your pick) cleaner, safer, has a longer and more interesting history, is more efficient and better organized, has a more varied topography and climate, is more beautiful to look at, is less corrupt, has a greater variety of food on offer and a generally healthier cuisine, has a fantastic public transportation system and, in general, is far more cosmopolitan in its outlook. Most of all, the people in Japan are lot more civil. Not only to foreigners (and I've met a lot of great people in Taiwan), but to each other as well.

One thing that has changed over the years in Japan is the reaction generated by the presence of a foreigner 外人 in its midst. Had I visited somewhere like Yoshino 吉野 or Dorogawa 洞川 back in 1989 (the year of my first visit to Tokyo 東京), the local kids would probably have been in hysterics and I might have received a lot of stares from the adults. These days, thanks in part to the JET program (which places a native English speaker in every public school) and a greater number of Western visitors exploring the regions outside of the main tourist spots, I hardly rated a second glance from the locals in any of the places I went. Taiwan still has a long, long way to go in this regard.

But while I may love Japan, I love my family even more, and so Taiwan will remain my home for the foreseeable future. And despite visiting a number of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples on this recently-completed trip, I never once asked the 神 for a single thing, not one favor. Rather, I am just thankful, very much so, for having a wonderful wife, a beautiful daughter and a second chance at life after the self-created cock-ups of a few years ago.

So to Japan I say また来年。

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