Four years ago in this column I explained the love-hate relationship between China and Japan (see WiC288). During my recent trip to Nara and Tokyo – the ancient and current capitals of Japan – I found that Chinese appreciation of all things Japanese seems to have grown substantially in recent years. Actually, many Chinese now view the neighbouring nation as a favoured destination for holidays, shopping and business conferences.
November is not an obvious holiday season in this part of the world. However, I was intrigued to find out that six friends living in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong had all planned separate trips to different parts of Japan to see the autumn leaves in Kyoto, visit an exhibition of imperial treasures in Nara, watch the sumo wrestling in Fukuoka or organise an investor seminar in Tokyo.
I joined a couple of friends on a blissful holiday last week. In my last write-up about Japan, I mentioned that as a typical Dongbei-ren (from Manchuria – a region brutally occupied by the Japanese between 1931 and 1945), I grew up resenting Japan for the wartime atrocities inflicted on China. But my attitude modified after befriending a group of Japanese students during my college years in Beijing. My views were further improved after I started visiting the country in 2003. Like many first-time visitors, I was amazed by the orderliness, cleanliness and impeccable services that put China and also most developed countries to shame.
I only scratched the surface on earlier visits, while my recent trip gave me a deeper understanding of Japan’s spiritual and cultural legacies, some of which were derived from ancient China. It took the Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk Jianzhen 鉴真 12 years and five failed attempts to come to Japan, before finally arriving in Nara in 754 at the invitation of the Japanese emperor. Jianzhen then propagated the Buddhist faith among the local aristocracy, and taught about Chinese culture.
While visiting the well-preserved Toshodai-ji Temple where the Tang monk worked, my friends and I seemed to have travelled back 1,200 years to a time when China was the beacon of sophistication, culture and social order. We felt proud of our ancient civilisation and grateful that Japan had preserved many of the cultural attributes which might have been lost in our home country.
My businessman-turned-Buddhist friend from Beijing says that he loves going to Japan to escape the restrictive political atmosphere and rampant commercialism at home. He loves Nara’s tranquillity so much that he bought a wooden house there a few years ago and turned it into a sanctuary for himself and like-minded friends.
On the trip I saw that Mandarin-speaking Chinese constitute the lion’s share of overseas visitors at tourist sites, shops and restaurants and that Chinese is one of the three main languages printed on brochures, signs and recorded in audio guides.
Coincidentally, the South China Morning Post published a report last weekend about the surge of Chinese visitors to Japan (up 11.7% to 4.5 million in the first half of 2019 year-on-year) and their changing attitudes towards the country. It also quoted a visitor from Hangzhou as saying: “Most of my friends like to travel to Japan multiple times a year because we have all started to love Japanese society.” My observation and sentiment exactly!
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