Dear Japan

I don’t know how else to say this: I’m in love. China pales in comparison to you, (not that I expected it to shine). Don’t feel bad; I’ve always had issues with China. I know you and China have had your differences too, (don’t forget, you’ve had differences with America as well), but you’ve come a long way, and now I’m head-over-heels for you.

Just so you know, it’s not about your overabundance of toilet paper. (I know I talk a lot about that; it’s a daily struggle). I’ll admit, I appreciated the prevalence of heated toilet seats – even the public toilets were heated-seat Washlets. That’s very considerate of you. I especially liked your signs: “Please throw toilet paper in the toilet.” Clearly you’ve been spending some time with China, too. I imagine you feel my pain. So, thank you for having plumbing that accepts toilet paper. Even with the out-of-control toilet revolution, it’s going to be a long time before China can offer me all that. There were moments you made it seem more productive for America to invest in a toilet revolution than building its pointless wall.

Toilets Japan
China vs. Japan

As well, it’s not about the lack of olfactory abuse, though I did appreciate that too. Not that you don’t have your olfactory charms, but your smells were always appropriate to the task at hand. Even your markets—brimming with pelagic offerings and pickled something-or-others—didn’t overwhelm. You have a light touch, Japan. You can make a dead fish look attractive. You seem to understand when enough is enough.

Dead Fish
China : Japan

I’m not sure what accounts for that. Do you eat Durian? Do you dispose of your leftover cooking oil properly? You’re so . . . sanitary. In this regard, you didn’t endear me to Hanoi or Bangkok or NYC either (though they all knew how to have a good time).

Japan, you probably already know this, but you have a service industry with an amazing sense of . . . well, service. Not that I’ve ever cared much about that sort of thing. I just wanted you to know that I noticed.

It’s not even about your drinkable tap water. It’s not. I swear. I suspect having ugly water tanks in your dining room would offend your aesthetic – sometimes I can’t believe the Chinese invented feng shui. You really ran away with their concept.

Speaking of aesthetics . . . That’s really why I love you. People say women don’t care about looks, (it’s what’s underneath that counts), but let’s be honest; they do.


Trust me, your quiet queues (I’d almost forgotten what it was like to stand in a straight line), your friendliness (all that smiling . . . whoa, China, take notice), your openness, your good manners, your Internet access, your civility are important too. Your sense of organization really stands out. But they’re the icing on the cake. In the end, I love your style, Japan. China just doesn’t get it. You’ve retained the concept of art and architecture as an expression of culture in a way China can only dream about – does China dream about that?

Japan, if food packaging could be called couture—and there very well could be needle and thread involved in some of your food packaging—yours would be of the haute variety. I find your little obsession with vending machines cute too, but I can see how it could get annoying after awhile.

Your gardens, your courtyards, your shrines – you are so well-appointed. Meticulous. Minimalist. So . . . authentic, by which I mean, not fake, not copied, not pirated. You’re secure, self-confident in who you are. It’s really attractive, Japan. So opposite of China.


Now that I think a bit more on it, (I know it sounds cliché), maybe it was just your sense of humor that took my breath away. I’d heard about it, but it still took me by surprise. You don’t take yourself too seriously.



Maybe I’m being too hard on China? Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes, Japan, you’re a little bossy. It’s not as if you don’t have your problems (some of them seem like red flags): The myth of monoculture, intrafamily crime, the suicide rate, the lonely elderly, but somehow I want to overlook those. Like they say, love is blind. It’s amazing how charming you can be. I almost forget myself when I’m with you.

In another world, Japan, perhaps things could have worked out differently. It’s just not our time. I’m going back to China. I’ll just have to focus on China’s good qualities. Like the way it cooks pork.


Jofukuin Temple Interior


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ken Wade says:

    I don’t think I could love this more, Sharol. Of course you are far too kind to your new paramour (does Marcel know???) – Japan has made sweeping garbage under the rug into an intricate art form – but what is new love if not filtered? I’m excited to hear your take on Koya-san.


    1. Sweeping things under the rug is a characteristic of China too — and along similar lines (suicide, sexual identity etc.). I have a feeling Koya-san is not going to diminish my ardor. Alas, it’s back to China (and aggressive ambivalence) on Sunday. I’m going to have to go out immediately and eat some crispy pork to help with the adjustment.


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