Japan, for most of us, invokes the image of greener pastures, a future we could only hope for in the present—the land of the rising sun L. of our hopes and dreams, so close yet tantalizingly out of reach. To see it with my own eyes and step on its ground with my own two feet here was the mystical Japan of the East, of the famed anime characters my friends so loved, of sushi and sashimi and all those Japanese flavors renowned throughout the world, of technological advancements I could only dream of—and there I was.
There were eleven of us in this foreign land, a teacher and ten students, to spend a week of cultural immersion and an exchange of knowledge and perhaps a little sightseeing last August 3-8. The Japan-Asia Youth Exchange Program in Science, or simply the Sakura Exchange Pro-gram, was a week-long affair for high school students from nearby Asian countries—the Philippines, Mongolia, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand—to experience Japan up close.
What struck me first was just how orderly everything was. Coming from a country where the concept of “Filipino time” ran unabashedly rampant, the mere orderliness of it all was a welcome change. I witnessed that there were no excuses for tardiness or mediocrity, no stepping out of line even down to the littlest rules. It seems strict, and it is—but it is how Japan works. The Japanese are very conscientious, always mindful of themselves and more so of their guests: always ready to help, with a smile and a bow, from our facilitators and guides down to random people on the street whom we asked for directions. They took great pains to make sure we were well cared for, and their meticulousness still brings a smile of gratitude to my lips whenever I recall it.
The Japanese are even more commendable for their stunning progress. Broken and torn from World War II, this resilient race, hand in hand, slowly rose up to become the major world power the country is today. We were treated to their amazing developments. The Japanese have revolutionized life across all fields of knowledge—submarines to probe the depths of the seas, novel healthful cosmetics, sensors to detect earth-quakes from miles away, energy from microalgae, powerful supercomputers simulating the Earth itself—these are the testaments to their skill, proof of the enduring Japanese spirit of innovation.
Another focal point of our trip was visiting Japan’s universities in and around Tokyo. They are sacred halls of learning, where modern technology meets age-old knowledge. Seeing Filipino exchange students biking throughout the lush campuses, students using advanced laboratory equipment and enjoying the Japanese life outside school, I recall our own universities and schools back home—it brings more than one wistful thought to mind.
One more highlight was the chance to hear talks from leading minds in the scientific community. Dr. Akita Arima and Dr. Toshihide Maskawa, both renowned physicists the latter even received the 2008 Physics Nobel—shared with us students their discoveries, and their reflections on science and education and life. It was an experience that is truly once-in-a-lifetime.
By day, we toured museums and universities, but by night, we saw Tokyo for ourselves. The bustling city is a modern Manila without all the filth and the mess: vending machines on every corner, city lights bright in the night sky, people going about their business with Japanese diligence. It was hard to see how such a large city could be so neat, but so it was, running with Japanese clockwork. The chance to eat at an authentic ramen bar, to see the local malls and shops, to visit the city’s mystical temples—it was an immersion of culture that could only happen in such a place bursting to the seams with history and diversity.
After visiting the land of the rising sun, I cannot help but see my own homeland with tinted lenses, with thoughts of what could be so much more. However, seeing how in Japan, ancient culture does not give way nor resist but instead beautifully melds with modern progress, I am filled with hope that someday, our own sun will rise in a brilliant dawn.
(This travelogue was published in Feature Section of The Central Scholar, the official student publication of Philippine Science High School Central Luzon Campus that won Third Place in the 2015 National Schools Press Conference [NSPC] in Taguig City.)