In July 2016, I was invited, along with a few other medical students, to attend a prestigious medical exchange between Singapore’s medical universities and Tokyo’s Medical and Dental University (TMDU). It was my first visit to Japan and I was as excited as I could be about it. I had heard a lot about Japan from my fellow friends who had recently visited the country , and I was definitely eager to explore and experience the Japanese food, culture and environment.
Without a doubt, Tokyo enthralled me, with its varying districts, from glitzy Akihabara to busy Shinjuku. The first thing I loved was the food. With sushi bars at every corner of the street, enjoying Japanese cuisine in Tokyo was very satisfying. On our first night, the Japanese medical students brought me to try Okonomiyaki for the first time, a Japanese savoury pancake containing an assortment of ingredients. It was literally heaven in a pancake, and you even got to cook it yourself! The rest of the days were spent gobbling cheap bento bowls that you would never find at such prices in Singapore. Japanese food in Singapore is ridiculously expensive, and most are of lesser quality than typical Japanese food you find in Tokyo.
The second thing I found so endearing in Tokyo was the Japanese culture of being polite. It was so fervent, you saw it everywhere, from how people greeted each other, to the way they ate, and even to the way they discussed issues. The way the Japanese greeted each other, it was so refined and very different from a casual “Hi” we do back at home. During mealtimes, almost everyone would chant “Itadakimasu” politely in unison. There was a time, where we attempted to share our food with a fellow Japanese student, and she would just refuse to say “no”, instead choosing to say “Its ok, you can have it”. This incident really showed me how ingrained the Japanese culture of being polite was.
Temples and shrines
I was similarly enchanted by the tourist attractions in Tokyo. We visited Asakusa and I was amazed by the Kaminari Gate, an entrance gate leading to Sensoji, which was a popular Buddhist temple. Along Nakamise Shopping Street, we got to see many people donning traditional Japanese wear parading around. It was quite a sight! We also visited the Meiji Shrine at Shibuya, and it was nowhere short of amazing. The spectacular Torii gate was a sight to see, along with the beautifully decorated rows of saké jars. In this short trip, I had managed to get a glimpse of various parts of old Tokyo, which was beautifully refreshing.
In short, I would definetely visit Tokyo again, not only for the food, scenery but for the wonderful, friendly and polite Japanese residing there. Their warm gestures not only made me feel welcomed and well taken care of, but also made me think of how we as Singaporeans can advance to be more polite as a society. Thank you, Tokyo.