(SPOT.ph) You can travel to Japan without physically going there. All you need is a good book loaded with real-life experience written by someone who has a keen eye for detail and a knack for storytelling. This is the effect of Romulo Baquiran P. Jr.’s Aishite imasu ("I love you" in Japanese)—be transported to the Land of the Rising Sun without moving your feet.
Aishite imasu: Mga Dagling Sanaysay sa Danas-Japan is a collection of 43 personal essays on Baquiran’s three-year experience while living in Osaka as a Filipino professor. The short essays are written in Filipino with a smattering of English and Japanese making the narrative more dynamic to read. The stories can be read in a breeze, each averaging from two to three pages with the longest as the eight-page titular essay.
The stories are quotidian but full of surprises and adventures, revolving around Baquiran’s musings and longings while living in a foreign land with a language he does not speak as well as a culture and tradition he is not accustomed to. Readers are treated as friends tagging along on his journey.
The way he recalls his stories is not via a sentimental path but does not lack in lyricism. Baquiran, after all, is known for his poetry and is one of the mentors of the Filipino poetry organization Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo. His writing style in Aishite imasu showcases how well-versed he is in the craft, smoothly navigating from one topic to another without effort. Plus, the stories are sprinkled with many literary references from well-known poets and authors to filmmakers, from historical figures to pop culture movies and music, all to keep the work even more grounded.
The heart of Baquiran’s book is his first-hand experience; a perspective unique to him but undeniably relatable to those who have been in Japan. What makes this book a treasure is how the author tries to make sense of why the Japanese behave the way they do, with their age-old culture and tradition as basis.
Through his personal stories, Baquiran puts into context why Japan values punctuality as manifested in the efficiency and reliability of its transportation system. He illustrates their obsession with cleanliness as shown in how garbage is strictly sorted before disposal and recycling. Or why flushing toilet paper is allowed in Japan without the trouble of messing up the plumbing.
Readers get a glimpse into why the Japanese need to dispose of appliances even though they are still useful, as opposed to how Filipinos never get rid of something unless it is completely useless. Or why the Japanese are so strict in observing even the simplest etiquette no matter the circumstance, even just when using the elevator. Or how when you lose something in Japan, you are likely to get it back, regardless of its value. They have the highest regard for honor and dignity that they would rather die than lose those core values.
History is another factor of the book's musings. The Japanese are well grounded in the past because that is how they learn. Filipinos, on the other hand, appear to have short-term memory; it is easy for us to forget, forgive to some extent, and move on.
With all these glaring cultural differences, Baquiran makes sure that Filipinos shine, too. He portrays our values of optimism, flexibility, and steadfastness. Filipinos will thrive anywhere in the world, as the book points out.
Learning from Sensei
We learn from our many firsts, and Baquiran’s collection is prime example of that. Some stories turn into great discoveries, while others are just chaotically hilarious. Readers who are from the tropics get to share his excitement with his first snow experience and crack up with his bared-all onsen experience. Those who went through the same ordeal can relate while laughing their hearts out.
Whenever Baquiran describes things or events that he witnessed, he compares them to the closest that we have in the Philippines, take cherry blossoms and fire trees. It provides proximity to the subject allowing readers to appreciate what they have in their own country. Baquiran’s sensibility puts depth into his narratives. He does not limit himself to observing, he expounds on the meaning behind the fleeting beauty of sakura, or contextualizes an event to give readers a reason to ponder.
No mistake about it though: depth does not rid Baquiran's story of entertainment. He has a way of putting humor in his stories, laughing at his mistakes, and owning up to his faults even if it is embarrassing.
Throughout Baquiran’s entire experience, one thing is clear: We need to enjoy the moment and treasure every memory no matter how small or trivial they are.
Aishite imasu: Mga Dagling Sanaysay sa Danas-Japan (UP Press, 2021) by Romulo P. Baquiran Jr. is available on Shopee for P370.