What can we learn from Japan?

By Wang Qian
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, April 18, 2019
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A street view of Kyoto, Japan. Chinese visitors travelling to Japan hit a record high of 8 million in 2018. [Photo by Wang Qian/China.org.cn]

With the warming of China-Japan relations, 2019 has been designated as the "China-Japan Youth Exchange Promotion Year" by the leaders of the two countries. While Tokyo gets ready to host the Summer Olympics next year, Beijing is busy preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, so the two Asian neighbors share common interests and an increasing level of bilateral interdependence. Although China has replaced Japan as the world's second-largest economy since the end of 2010, China still lags behind Japan in regard to some public services, particularly in the user-friendly design of public facilities. 

In 2018, Chinese visitors travelling to Japan hit a record high of 8 million, with total spending exceeding 100 billion yuan (US$14.9 billion), according to Ctrip, China's largest online travel agency, accounting for the largest part of the over 30 million foreign visitors to Japan last year. The booming tourism exchange between the two countries also offered more ordinary Chinese people a good opportunity to closely observe, better understand and learn from Japan from more perspectives. 

The hashtag "#DetailsOfJapaneseToilets" has been trending recently on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. As of April 18, over 130 million people have viewed the topic and more than 11,000 people have made comments, posted photos and videos under the hashtag, expressing their admiration of the multi-functional and environmental-friendly toilets of Japan. 

I myself was very impressed by Japan's toilet culture during my trip to Osaka and Kyoto last November. Be it in nice hotels, department stores or scenic spots densely covered with tourists, the high-tech integration and user-friendly design of Japan's well-managed public toilets make that necessary journey no longer an awkward experience. You never have to worry about the lack of toilet paper, and flushable paper means the public toilets are kept very clean — not to mention perks like self-heating toilet seats and warm water bidets. 

China launched its own "toilet revolution" campaign in 2015 to upgrade tens of thousands of toilets at tourist sites across the country, and since that time, big improvements have been achieved, but we are still a far cry in this area from developed countries like Japan. This year, Chinese authorities will continue the "toilet revolution," granting 85% of rural households in mid-western areas access to sanitary toilets, according to the office of the central agricultural work leading group and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. There is clearly huge room for China to cooperate with and learn from Japan in this area.

Another feature in Japan that greatly impressed me is the advanced accessibility of public transport. Living and working in Beijing for over 17 years, I rarely see people traveling by wheelchair on trains or buses without the company of a companion who can assist them. But I witnessed several such cases during my short trip to Japan. I've heard of the punctuality and the highly efficient public transport system long before arriving in Japan, but I was still amazed when I saw the standard procedures drivers and staff followed to help people in wheelchairs to get off and on trains and buses — as crowded as those in Beijing during peak times — in minutes, without causing any delay.

With the two Asian neighbors hosting Olympics one after the other in the near future, Chinese city management officials can definitely seize this opportunity to learn from their Japanese counterparts, and introduce some Japanese practices to make the visit more convenient for tourists. In addition to more user-friendly public facilities, we can also learn from Japan in their handling of garbage, and can also join hands to tackle the serious issue of aging populations, which both countries currently face.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to achieve the target of 40 million visitors to Japan by 2020, according to the Japan Times. Tourism has become Japan's pillar strategy to boost economic growth, with China playing a key role. Many department stores in Japan have already introduced WeChat Pay and Alipay, plus Chinese-speaking guides to assist Chinese tourists with particular shopping needs. 

The two countries have also agreed to arrange mutual visits by 30,000 young people from the two countries in next five years. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on April 14 that "young people are entrusted with the hopes of the two countries and future bilateral ties," speaking in Beijing at the opening ceremony of the China-Japan Youth Exchange Promotion Year" and the 5th China-Japan High-Level Economic Dialogue.

Let's hope, in the spirit of Japan's name for its new era, Reiwa (令和), meaning "pursuing harmony," that the two Asian giants can put aside their differences and work closely together to pursue harmonious development. If they do, they can achieve great progress in maintaining world peace against a backdrop of resurging unilateralism and protectionism.

If you would like to contribute, please contact us at opinion@china.org.cn.

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