I entered Tsukiji as a tourist. I came out of the fish market, a believer in the Japanese race.
The Tsukiji Market is one of Japan’s tourist attractions. For Sushi lovers, they get to see where the raw material comes from, and the effort it takes even at the raw material stage.
I came at lunchtime. No way I could make it to the 4/5am Fish Auction. But the tour guide said, “Tsukiji is still great to visit.” So I did. I was looking for a place to eat sushi. I assumed that if all the fish and their corresponding stalls and vendors had gone home, then the fish would all be in the nearby restaurants. I guessed right. For someone raised to love this kind of food, it was glorious to smell the scent of a thousand gorgeous fish waiting to be eaten. The market itself was very interesting – octopus stalls, scallop vendors, uni and scallop vendors, and the hundred and one kinds of sushi restaurants.
One problem: The lines.
It was half past 12. I had just come from Odaiba Island to see the Giant Gundam and was properly amazed to forget my hunger at noon.
Probably because the place had terrific sushi restaurants, or because it was the heat of lunchtime, every restaurant had at least 5-10 groups of waiting customers. There were actually only a few tourists. The locals dominated the queues.
The Pinoy in me didn’t want to wait another minute to get food into my stomach. After all, I come from a culture that considers shaving ten minutes off a traffic-infested road a victory.
But I looked at the Japanese. They just lined up.
Like it was the most normal thing for any human being to do.
So I did, too.
Of course I’m glad I did because I got to eat in this really interesting sushi place and got to eat sushi in Tsukiji. But I’m glad I lined up, too. Because I got to see – and experience – something that makes humanity the amazing thing it was probably meant to be.
This habit of lining up echoed throughout Tokyo. Or at least wherever I went throughout my stay there. No matter how busy the city got, no matter what time of day, whether there was an old lady trying to count her coins, or a cash register took too much time computing, the discipline in lining up, as well as the disposition of the people in the lines – never changed.
Of course, as a tourist, I couldn’t help but contrast this with my own culture.
Right when our group landed at NAIA Terminal 1, I let out a sigh that said: “Toto, We’re not in Tokyo anymore…” The NAIA 1 immigration lines zigged and zagged without heads nor tails easily visible. People were criss-crossing, cutting, and shoving. Upon commuting the next day, there was the usual rumble to get up a bus. When I tried entering a mall, I was shoved from behind for no apparent reason.
And this would echo throughout Manila. Or at least wherever we ought to see lines. In government offices. In Bus Stops. In Malls. Sure. There are bright spots here and there, but who are we kidding? We’re a culture not known for lining up.
Is the difference patience? Or discipline? Or a need to get ahead someone? Maybe these, too, are merely symptoms. Perhaps we can get to see a clearer picture during the times these two contrasting cultures were pushed to the extremes. For isn’t it true that the worst of crises pushes human beings to show who they are?
The Japanese’s recent crisis was the Tsunami. Sheer terror gripped not just the Japanese, but the whole world, as we all watched the wall of water move from the Pacific and slam into the Japanese coast. Devastation. Decimation. Even a Nuclear Disaster.
But the whole world dropped their jaws, too, when we saw the pictures of the Japanese people lining up to receive their relief goods. When they lined up to help one another. Lining up here wasn’t a simple cultural quirk. It had become so ingrained that it became a way to help save themselves.
The Filipino’s recent crisis was Yolanda. The whole world warned the Philippines that no storm in the recent history of humanity was this huge. And we watched in anguish, together with the world, at how the storm claimed entire cities, buildings, houses and lives.
Now I want to make a clear point here: We are a resilient people, yes. Yes that is one of our positive cultural traits. We know how to help one another, yes. I am not dissing us as a people. All I’m saying is we can learn something from the Japanese.
Our relief efforts were crippled by a lack of clarity in logistics. Even corruption. And when relief goods did come to the places that needed them, people would come in swarms. Rarer are the sights of lining up to get relief, and perhaps the lines came only after much shouting and fighting. Isn’t it true, too, that we are told to be very wary when we come to devastated areas with relief goods because “dudumugin kayo”?
You can tell me, of course, that disorganization is a natural reaction to devastation. And I would agree with you. And no, I don’t expect anyone to actually line up properly even in the face of death.
But the Japanese do. And they did. And when their humanity was stretched, they did one of the things they do best – they lined up.
Is it because they have a bigger capacity for discipline? But even discipline can be a symptom, rooted in a more fundamental cultural element. Why are you disciplined?
I look at our utter disrespect for lines in the Philippines – for LTO, for NBI clearances, for elections, name it – and perhaps it is rooted in a lack of faith in one another. We cut lines because we don’t think our government is competent enough and compassionate enough to provide help for all. That because resources are not enough, my kapitbahay will get some while I won’t. Even if we ourselves are patient and disciplined enough to stand in line, we don’t believe that the person behind us or in front of us is the same. Here in these islands, patience is not a virtue anymore, but merely for the weak and those who won’t take life into his own hands.
So we make do. Every Juan, Pedro and Diego for himself. Suit yourself if you choose to stay in your line. Those who have faith in the system usually find themselves disappointed. So we take matters into our own hands – or into fixers’, or other corrupt means. We do not line up because of our poverty. Not just materially, but because of our poverty of faith – in one another.
Could it be that the Japanese can line up in the best and worst of times and all times in between, simply because they believe that their system works? Because they believe that there is enough for all? Because they believe that their government does take care of them? Could it be that they could wait properly in line, because they have faith that the guy behind them and the girl in front of them will do the same?
Maybe we can learn this from the Japanese. Just as we have recently imbibed a taste for ramen, a love of robots, and a predisposition for their cars, maybe we can also import this character trait from them.
I guess that’s easier said than done. The web is thicker and and spun a thousand times in ways more twisted than we can believe. I guess that’s what happens when the your own government steals from you and this thievery has become commonplace. I guess we’ve just waited too long for change, and have refused to believe that waiting yields results: whether it be change in government, change in culture, relief goods, your license, or even good sushi.