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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Japan in Vietnam


Being in Vietnam as a tourist is an odd idea if you're old enough to remember the constant black-and-white news coverage of the place during its wartorn years. However, its the second decade of the 21st century, and everything's sharper now and in color.

Lotteria Japanese fastfood outlet in Vietnam.
Lotteria hamburger outlet in Vietnam
Our few days in Vietnam were dominated by color: a sizzling palette of it after the dove, mushroom or battleship grays of Japan. The architecture, too, is a world away from Japan's--ironically in that it epitomises a central element of Japanese culture that is nevertheless pretty much absent in Japanese building design: kawaii, or cuteness.

Housing in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The kawaii architecture of Vietnam
Perhaps it's the French influence, but housing in Vietnam is intensely cute and quaint with its French windows, pediments, projecting bays, tympanums, cornices and fanlights, all painted in varying degrees of subtlety and finesse in generally bright and snappy, but at the same time delicate and well-thought-out, combinations.

Dorayaki Addict shop in Vietnam.
Dorayaki Addict, Hanoi, Vietnam

However, when it comes to Japaneseness, the most striking presence in Vietnam is Japanese motorbikes, especially Honda. I was told by a Vietnamese local that of the approximately 3 million motorcycles (mainly motorscooters) in Hanoi alone, about two-thirds were Honda, and most of the remainder Yamaha. Compared with motorbikes, cars are in the minority on Vietnamese streets. Honda cars are not uncommon, although Toyota seemed to dominate there.

Honda motorcycle dealership in Vietnam.
Honda motorcycle dealership, Vietnam.
Japan's popularity in Vietnam goes beyond just technology, and extends to food and toys. We saw not a few Lotteria fast food outlets on our travels, Japanese restaurants, karaoke, Hello Kitty, Sony dealers, and highway billboards advertising many different Japanese brands.

We encountered numerous Japanese tour groups in Vietnam, however, it was apparent from the exchange rates offered there that the US dollar was still favored over the yen.

"I Love Tokyo," seen in a Hanoi department store, Vietnam.
"I Love Tokyo" Japanese houseware corner in a Hanoi department store, Vietnam.

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