By Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal
Guilty as charged. Like most Filipinos, I went to Tokyo with my family a week before the rest of Metro Manila did. Now that I am back with nothing much to do except to go through my social media feed, I am half surprised to see photos of the hanami, from friends and strangers who decided to spend their Holy Week break in the land of cherry blossoms, amazing food, and if you’re adventurous enough, cheap finds and fantastic eats in unheard of nooks and crannies.
I can’t recall when it happened exactly but there was a time when Filipinos would troop to Hong Kong during short or long breaks. You’d see friends lining up in Yung Kee or shopping somewhere in Tsim Sha Tsui. It seemed like the ideal quick getaway. Not so pricey airline tickets, spacious hotel rooms to fit in more family members, and shopping everywhere, for those who can afford and who are more budget-friendly.
But Japan has somehow overtaken Hong Kong as the destination of choice for those who have five or more days to spare. From what I have gathered from friends, Osaka is for the certified foodies, as it is called a nirvana for the epicures. Tokyo is for those who want a more cosmopolitan experience and Niseko, for the holiday travelers.
It is fairly easy to see why. Accessibility, affordability, and an altogether new sense of adventure.
Based on the selfies that I have seen, Disneyland and Disney Sea are among the top destinations in Tokyo. Never mind the long-lines and the hour-long wait, it remains a must-go-to place for families. Next in line is Mt Fuji and Gotemba. The latter’s attraction is shopping for cheap and new finds that supposedly cost more if bought in the regular stores. That is, according to the ladies who went shopping, of course. As per their own testimony, Gotemba, unlike other outlets abroad, have more up-to-date stocks that are substantially discounted. Off-season items are immediately found in Gotemba after waiting for a mere month or two. True or not, Gotemba feels like a different version of Tokyo Disneyland for me. With fewer lines perhaps but with the same tenacious and determined people waiting for their queue.
I totally get it why Filipino travelers are falling in love with Japan. The airports are clean, efficiently run, it’s a breeze to pass through immigration and there’s hardly any flight delays (if at all). When you get out of the airport, there are clean, taxis waiting, manned by well-mannered drivers who give you the exact change, and issue receipts (no price-gouging whatsoever). Taking Tokyo’s train system will make you weep in envy when riding the MRT in Manila because of how efficiently their trains run. The train stations are clean, have countless directional maps, and numerous automated ticket counters. Eating in Tokyo is likewise a delight. No matter how cheap or expensive the restaurant you eat in, you’re almost certain that the food is delicious, the establishment is clean, and their toilets are well-kept. Maybe not-so-new but clean. You’ll have to get past the language barrier, but the restaurant staff are usually very courteous. Try getting lost and asking for directions is amazingly easy with non-English speaking locals accompanying you to the nearest corner or stop.
I am only one self-confessed fan but I am beyond certain that there are many who share the same views. There is a perfectly good reason why social media is flooded with cherry blossoms and outlet shopping. There is a logical explanation why most of us have opted to pay a little more and travel extra hours to experience Japan. We are fascinated, amazed and to some extent, frustrated on why we can’t have something like a Tokyo experience here in Manila.