Japanese stories | Inquirer Opinion
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Japanese stories

/ 12:22 AM February 23, 2017

I’ve just returned from a wonderful vacation with family in Japan. Wonderful because of its people.

After World War II, Japan was devastated, as was much of the Philippines. In 1960, Japan had a population of 92.5 million and a GDP of $44.3 billion for a GDP per capita of $476. The Philippines had 26.3 million people and a $6.7-billion GDP, resulting in a GDP per capita of $255. Fifty-six years later Japan is the world’s third largest economy, with its GDP reaching $4.4 trillion and population totaling just 127 million. And the Philippines has a GDP of a measly $292 billion and a population of 101 million.


In five decades, Japan’s GDP per capita surged by 73 times to $34,646, while the Philippines’ own grew by only 11.3 times to $2,890.

What went so obviously wrong? Japan has minimal natural resources, and the Philippines, oodles. So it should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? I put it down to the kind of leaders we’ve had. But also to the culture of society.


Let me tell you a few stories. (Think about the Philippines as you read them.)

Tokyo is spotless, Manila is filthy. It takes no effort to dispose of rubbish correctly, and the Japanese do. Filipinos leave more than 30 truckloads of rubbish behind after the Black Nazarene procession. The Japanese take their rubbish home.

The Japanese are orderly—no pushing and shoving. On an escalator they all stand on the left so those in a hurry can run up the stairs on the right.

The metro system has three tiers of tunnels that have trains going everywhere under the city, transporting thousands and thousands of commuters—which means that aboveground traffic just flows. Mind you, that is helped by the orderliness of traffic and the politeness of drivers to others in Tokyo, which is simply amazing. A city of 13.6 million has no traffic jams. Incredible.

Pedestrians don’t cross anywhere, anytime. They wait for a green light, even if there’s no traffic, or traffic aide present.

In a shop we asked the salesgirl where there might be a really good Japanese restaurant. She didn’t know. A young shopper nearby heard us, came over, and not only suggested one but also accompanied us there so we’d not be lost. It was the same in the train station: Seeing our perplexity, a lady offered assistance until we had the tickets. Shopkeepers guided us to a competitor shop if they didn’t have what we wanted. (Filipinos are helpful, too, if asked. But they’ll not offer the information; perhaps it would be nice to.)

Which brings me to the fundamental difference in the two societies. All we saw in Japan was instilled, ingrained from birth, and as part of the educational system.


Everything from products to services are done perfectly, not haphazardly, with detail and precision. Bags on the airport carousel are oriented, not thrown haphazardly on, so they’re easy to retrieve.

We ordered three glasses of champagne for breakfast (it was Sunday on vacation after all). One glass seemed rather flat, and we told the waiter so. He said they were all from a new bottle. We accepted it. Three minutes later he was back to apologize. He had checked and found that one glass was indeed from yesterday’s bottle. He changed it. He took the initiative to care, to truly consider another person.

Japan is becoming a preferred tourist destination (a record 19.7 million in 2015) because of all that, distilled in three words: consideration, discipline and initiative, not a selfish right to do as one pleases that has no part in a modern and democratic society. They’re all learnable and would make the Philippines a more wondrous place than it already is. And maybe move it into the top economies where it should belong.

I think Education Secretary Leonor Briones has a massive reformatting of the school curriculum to undertake. Because kindergarten is where it must all start. Teaching old dogs? Maybe. But that would need a wide-ranging, well-coordinated government PR effort that, sadly, I don’t see happening.

We fly PAL and have never had reason to complain. “Friendly Skies,” it is indeed. Very attentive cabin crew, and on the ground. It’s comforting to be in a homegrown airline that works. Kudos to Jimmy Bautista for what he’s achieved.


E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: economy, GDP, History, Japan, Japanese, Japanese culture, opinion, Profit
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