My husband, Marvin, finally checked an item in his bucket list – to run a full marathon. His first attempt was thwarted by Super Storm Sandy that devastated the Big Apple last year. (See The 2012 New York Marathon that was…n’t) On February 25, 2013 he ran the Tokyo Marathon.
The Tokyo Marathon is one of the six World Marathon Majors. It is the only Asian city in the league as the others are Boston (mid April), London (late April), Berlin (late September), Chicago (early October) and New York (early November).
The wives of his running buddies could not make it to the marathon. We decided to ask our first born, Martin, to join us so I would have a cheerleading companion. Being “geographically-challenged,” I wouldn’t have made it to those kilometer milestones on my own. I would have just stayed in the hotel room and prayed the rosary a-la-Mommy Dionisia during Pacquiao fights!
It was only my second time to go to Japan. The first was just an overnight stop-over at a hotel near the airport so this was essentially my first real experience of Japan. Back in the ‘90s I had some dealings with Japanese investment bankers and we also had a Japanese Board Director from Mitsui Bank. What I recall about them is that they loved to drink alcoholic beverages in every meal and were very courteous. They were the first ones to hand their calling cards with both hands and a bow. They loved to bow. When you bow back to acknowledge their courtesy, they would bow again and somehow you wouldn’t know when the bowing act would end. They also took a much longer time to complete their study of a potential investment. But you have to be patient with them because once they decide to invest, they are with you for the long haul.
When we arrived at the Narita airport on Wednesday before the marathon, we decided to take the airport bus going to the hotel as taking a cab would cost us something like 25,000 yen (around PhP11,000). I was amazed to see the bowing act extended even to the buses! I’m not kidding. The two people stationed at the bus stop bowed each time a bus arrived and left the station. When we got in the hotel and rode the elevator, the hotel staff who got out ahead of us did not head directly to her destination but faced the elevator doors and bowed down her head until the doors were closed completely. And the way they bow their head is not the abrupt way we see when the act is made fun of. There is a sense of serenity in the way they do it.
Inside the bus and trains, the PA system reminds the passengers to switch their cellphones and other electronic devices to silent mode “because it can be annoying to your neighbors.” So you see riding even a cramped train is not as stressful as in the other countries when people would start chattering on their cellphones during the entire ride.
There’s a lot of movement on the streets and the train stations. Men and women glamorously dressed in black are always rushing to the ticket booth, to their train stops. I didn’t see a single person who was dugyot (Ilocano term for untidy/unkempt) and even in crowded places I didn’t smell anyone stinky. They and their surroundings are very clean and orderly. In fact, I think they’re the most fashionable group of people I’ve ever seen. In Europe they’re a mix of fashionistas and some “dugyoters” and I wasn’t really very happy with the smell of perfume poured over a body which smelled like it didn’t shower for a couple of days.
In a Ladies’ Room at a shop in Ginza I glanced at the mirror while I was in line and saw myself as the worst dressed and most unattractive lady! I was wearing four layers of tops and bottoms and my topsiders bulky with double socks while the mom and daughter in front of me were wearing coordinated trench coats, stockings and heels (even the little girl) while the grandma and another lady behind me were just as glamorous with well coifed hair while I was in my bonnet with earmuffs trying to protect my body from hypothermia as the temperature approaches freezing point at two degrees Centigrade with wind!
Like the Koreans, most of them have flawless skin. Bangs are still “in” among both the young and old. But I wonder why most of them are bow-legged?
They are very strict about time. Their trains and buses arrive and leave at the designated time with precision to the second. In fact, they even have time limits for diners at the restaurants. In a yakitori restaurant we were told that we could only stay for a maximum of two hours. In an eat-all-you-can sukiyaki restaurant the rates are different if you stay for one and a half hours, and two hours.
I love their stores, their food and other products in very neat and nifty packaging. Despite being expensive, I found myself buying their food products, probably as an expression of my admiration of their skill and tempered efforts in design. I’m now a big fan of Japanese art, fashion, efficiency, and cleanliness. I hope we could learn from their respect for time, efficiency and cleanliness. (Attention: Quezon City officials – why do we allow our people to create a mini Payatas in the corner of the newly constructed Congressional Avenue corner Luzon Avenue?)
(The continuation of this article discussing the Tokyo Marathon experience will be published tomorrow.)