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In My Eyes, Japan is Still Beautiful and the Japanese are Still a Lovely People, But…

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Last year’s trip to Japan was a whirlwind; this time, it’s a two-week trip. When you travel more slowly, you get the oppotunity to observe more closely. Visiting Kyoto and Osaka again, some of my first impressions from last year have dissipated.

Autumn leaves at Fushimi Inari, November 4, 2019
Autumn leaves at Fushimi Inari, November 4, 2019

We’re in Osaka right now, my family and I. We’ve already spent several days in Kyoto and this is the second leg of our trip. The autumn foliage is late this year and the leaves are just starting to change colors. The photo above might be the best autumn foliage image I will be able to manage.

But that’s okay with me. Minus the magical colors of fall, I see Japan and its people more clearly. No rose-tinted glasses.

Generally, the Japanese are still as polite and as helpful — something that made a deep impression on me last year. So far during this trip, the random stranger still goes out of his or her way to assist you when you’re lost or unable to understand the menu or bewildered by the vast and complex rail network. Even if they don’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs, they will do their best to make themselves understood.

Generally, the Japanese is still the epitome of efficiency and discipline.

But.

Some things happened.

Discipline is not universal among the locals

This time, I saw that not everyone follows traffic rules. Bikers especially. We’re staying at a place about 800 meters from Namba on a less busy and mostly residential street. Every time we step out of the bulding, we see bikers. And I see how so many pedal on as though they are exempt from traffic rules. They ignore red lights, they don’t respect pedestrian lanes…

This time, I saw how inefficiently Japan is imposing its supposedly strict anti-smoking rules. There’s a 10,000-yen fine if you get caught smoking where you’re not supposed to but, beyond the glitzy center of the city, you’ll see cigarette butts littering the streets. Day and night.

Some establishments are off limits to non-locals

This time, I felt what it’s like to be a victim of discrimination. At a restaurant, we were told that we could not be served. We left thinking that it was because the place was about to close for the night only to pass half a dozen tables, occupied by locals, where the diners were ordering more food and drinks.

It was bewildering. I wasn’t sure if we were unwelcome because we are foreigners, in general, or because we are Filipinos, in particular.

We booked an Airbnb experience called “City of culture Kyoto by foot” by Kohei & Friends, and the tour guide / host never showed up. No prior cancellation nor belated explanation.

Politeness. Friendliness. Helpfulness. There were the three traits I observed among that Japanese people last year that left such a lasting impression.

But, this year?

Do you know what it feels like to wait for a tour guide who was never going to show up?

In Kyoto, I booked a tour for Fushimi Inari via Airbnb. City of culture Kyoto by foot. The operator is called Kohei & Friends. I paid and I got a confirmation via email.

We were at the designated meeting place in front of the Kyoto Centreal Post Office twenty minutes before 2.00 p.m., the appointed meeting time. A minute after 2.00, I started to get anxious. I’ve booked a lot of tours in the past and the tour guide has NEVER been late. I figured I should start documenting the time. You know, for evidentiary purposes.

City of culture Kyoto by foot a BAD DEAL. Tour guide never showed up.

The tour guide never showed up. On my phone, I kept checking my inbox on Airbnb as well as my email, and there was no word from the tour operator. Nothing about the tour being delayed or cancelled. Nothing. By 2.14, we decided to proceed to Fushimi Inari on our own.

Tour guide never showed up: City of culture Kyoto by foot

By 2.20, as we were booking an Uber taxi, I received an apology but with NO EXPLANATION at all about why the tour guide never showed up nor why they counldn’t message me earlier so that we could have made alternative plans better. Nothing.

And, worse, there was no confirmation that there was an actual refund. All they said was that they would refund but that the refund had actually been made? Nothing. I had to contact Airbnb directly to make sure that the charge on my credit card would be reversed.

In Osaka, we checked in at an apartment that hadn’t been cleaned after the previous occupants left

How’s that for efficiency, eh? In Japan, of all places. I was shocked. And I booked the apartment months in advance. But I’ll reserve this particular horror story for next time because it isn’t much of a story without the details, and I do want to write about ALL the details.

So, the trip isn’t going well?

Well, there were low points, for sure. But aside from those, we’re having a good time. Good food (of course!), enough sightseeing to make our legs ache at the end of each day and more than enough shopping to make the girls happy.