On a journey on a ferryboat from Shanghai to Osaka, I met a Japanese professor with a background of 15 years spent in China. He gave me an interesting insight about the cultural differences between Chinese and Japanese people.

I’m on my second day on the ferry that crosses the East China Sea to Japan. In the same compartment with me there are two Australians, a Chinese couple, a Belgium and a Japanese.

The Chinese couple is set on their honeymoon, which is going to be more like a five days shopping session in Osaka and Tokyo. If any time left, the freshly married woman would go to feed deers nearby Nara temples and take some selfies with them, all together.

The two 30-35 years old Australians, were curious to discover the Japanese traditional sake and its impact on their personal perspectives about alcohol around the world. Regarding this matter, I gave them a hand with some homemade hard liquor made by my father, that I still had with me, 6 weeks after I left Romania; just so they can have a serious term of comparison.

Japanese sake is made from fermented rice. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng
Japanese sake is made from fermented rice. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng

The Belgium sold his house back home and left for a round the world trip by bicycle. He was already traveling for about 6 or 7 months and a few others were ahead. I didn’t ask if he was dumped by his girlfriend or what was the real reason he had for doing this (at that time Radu Paltineanu didn’t started his bicycle ride across the Americas).
At last, the Japanese was a Shanghai based professor at the university, who was living in China for more than 15 years. Every once awhile he was going home, to Osaka, for holidays. He must be missing his cultural traditions (I was thinking), different than Chinese ones.
Unlike most of the Japanese people, he was not shy person when breaking the ice in a conversation.
– Come on young men, the brunch is being served right now. Our Chinese colleagues they must have had already the desert, said Mr. Mitsouri while smiling at me.
The previous day I encounter him outside the boat while he was smoking a cigarette.

The ferry that took me from China to Japan. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The ferry that took me from China to Japan. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

He easily approached me by asking me why do I prefer travel by sea instead of plane, especially if the prices are almost the same. I answered him that I like the sea and that boats give me a real sense of traveling.
We went down the first floor of the ferryboat where the restaurant was and we sat at a table.
– Did you noticed that Chinese people eat 5 times per day?, Mr. Mitsouri asked me.
– Yes, I did. This was my second trip in China.

Shanghai dumplings. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng
Shanghai dumplings. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng

– If you ever wonder how Chinese people get their energy to talk all day and act fast, here stands the answer for. Ah, and did you know that in China one sprinkles not salt but sugar on tomatoes and watermelons?
– I didn’t know this.
– What about that in Japan it’s considered impolite to eat while walking?
– I didn’t know this either. But I surely do know that, in your county, talking with a mouth full is just fine.
– Haha, it’s true. Let me tell you more. Nowadays, in modern China, women are more bossy than men and, in many families, husbands cook. I know Chinese male who are good chefs in their family kitchen, but I don’t know any Japanese men that likes cooking. So, the Japanese women are better cook than Chinese women, but I’m not sure if it applies when compare with Chinese men.

An authentic japanese dinner set that includes rice, tofu, nyumen, or tsuyu hot noodle. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng
An authentic japanese dinner set that includes rice, tofu, nyumen, or tsuyu hot noodle. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng

Mr. Mitsouri was a kind of a straightforward Japanese, like no other. I could see the Chinese influence on him. Like myself, he was very interested in observing cultural differences in people’s lifestyle, traditions and customs. I was keen to know him better.
– May I ask you, are you married?, I asked.
– Yes I am.
– And is your wife Japanese or Chinese?
– Haha, well, what do you think?
– I would say you married a Japanese woman before you moved to China. You probably have children with her and now you’re getting home, to have your family reunited. But, considering that you are living for such a long time in Shanghai, where Chinese women are less traditional and more open-minded, you might have, actually, someone in there.
I could see on Mr. Mitsouri’s face a delight to see a Western man trying to guess how his life looks like. He answered me he has a beautiful Japanese wife, that he really loves. But, sadly, they didn’t managed to make the perfect timing for having children. Now, it was too late, in her 60’s.

This is actually Yu Niimoto (our Garlic Trail expert) 's aunt, at her son wedding in Osaka. Photo by Yu Niimoto
This is actually Yu Niimoto (our Garlic Trail expert) 's aunt, at her son wedding in Osaka. Photo by Yu Niimoto

He continued to make similarities between the two cultures on this topic.
– You know, even if they don’t spend that much time in the kitchen, Chinese women are famous for treating their husbands with plenty of attention, like nowhere else in Asia. They work more than Japanese women. But, the truth is that they always want to be in control with their life partner. In this matter, Japanese women are the same. They are, what we called it, “the domestic finance minister”. It means they are in charge with the family budget  and they will take decisions such as which TV to buy, what house to rent, etc. In Osaka you will be able to notice that commercials are all trying to appeal to housewives, because they keep the money of the family. This way, Japanese women feel a sense of security.

-Does it mean that, if you wanna go out with friends, you need to have previously asked your wife for some pocket money?
– Haha, not really. In general, they put aside a daily allowance for the husband.
– But Mr. Mitsouri, enlighten me please, if I go out with a Japanese lady, who will take care of the bill?
– When going on a date in Japan, a couple often splits the restaurant bill in half.
– Fair enough, I’ll keep that in mind, if necessary.

The boat sailed gently into Osaka harbor. I couldn’t wait to try a tomato with sugar and some sake maybe? Moderate…if any (as it seems not the right place to wake-up romantically involved, when traveling)

Geishas (meaning performing artists). Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Geishas (meaning performing artists). Photo by Ovidiu Balaj


In the header picture: my Malaysian friend Ng Siew Cheng, in a Japanese kimono. She’s coming to Romania, this summer and, probably, she’s going to look even more beautiful in a traditional costume from Maramures county.

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