So after giving you a day by day run down of my experience travelling around Japan – it’s finally time to close the chapter on this wonderful experience.
With that said, it might come as a surprise to all of you when I say I’ve never been a big fan of Japan.
I’ve never liked sushi – although I’m slowly coming round.
I’ve never really had an interest in Japanese culture.
I’ve never had the desire to visit Japan, like it was never in the top 10 of places I would have envisioned myself travelling to.
Without a doubt, this comes from my own heritage. Being Singaporean (that is, born in Singapore), we have a complex history with Japan. I mean, you all know about WWII, and their occupation of many Asian countries including Singapore.
I remember sitting in class, learning about the invasion, the camps where locals were held, the fear that governed the time. Worst of all, I remember this one Japanese kid in my class, who everyone bullied because he was Japanese. Kids would say horrible things to him:
“You don’t belong here.”
“You’re not one of us.”
“Our families suffered because of you.”
Kids can be brutal, but that’s how we felt growing up. That Japan had done us incredibly wrong, and they owed us.
So that’s probably why I wasn’t a big fan of sushi…
But as I’ve gotten older, I’m beginning to understand why holding on to pain and anger is such a terrible hurdle to progress.
There’s a quote:
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son (or daughter #feminism) shall not bear the iniquity of the father (or mother #feminism).”
I truly believe anger is genetic; it gets passed down generation to generation. It gets immortalised in cultural story telling – the dragon burnt down our village, now for generations we have to find that dragon and kill it.
But what if a baby dragon and a baby villager became best friends – then you move into some Romeo / Juliet narrative, where tension arises between generational conflicts and individual progress.
“But this dragon is a nice dragon, dad. Why do we have to hate him?”
“Because his great great dragon uncle burnt down our huts!!”
“But Rex (yes that’s the dragon’s name in this hypothetical) didn’t do it!!”
“Doesn’t matter!! We owe it our people to seek vengeance!”
And this narrative governs so much of our collective culture – where the sins of the father are borne by their sons.
The Japanese murdered and tortured my people – I was taught that in school!
The native Indigenous population and the settled local population continue to struggle to engage.
Not all Muslims are radical terrorists, but widespread rhetoric continues to imbue our social fabric.
This attitude and mindset limits progress and growth.
We stay angry and resentful.
And we miss out on so much as a result.
But the beautiful thing is that anger never holds up to contact.
When I travelled across Japan, I met some incredible locals and shared in some incredible experiences. With that, my engrained aversion to Japan and its beautiful culture slowly dissipated.
It’s only when you engage on a micro level do you realise that macro truths simply do not apply across the board. If I had just blindly believed that all Japanese people were evil, I would never have lived with monks in a monastery on Mt Koya, or visited Hiroshima, or tasted some amazing pork lard Ramen.
We all have a responsibility, to not simply accept broader social truths, but to challenge them and find out to what extent they apply.
Only when we do that, can we see each other for who we are.
Not bound by history or expectation.
But just as people.
Connected by a sense of common humanity and love.
Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.
Get in touch ~