Hoi An, Vietnam, 2014; Bali, Indonesia, 2010 and Japan, November 2015
I am, not by choice, a morning person when traveling to Asia. In fact, during a trip to Vietnam two years ago, I bonded with a rooster. While not actually hanging out with the rooster, I did, from the balcony of my Hoi An hotel room, watch it scurry and strut around a large rubbish pile in its spacious concrete enclosure every morning. A social guy, he roused his buddies around 5:20 a.m. and these other roosters would answer him in a delayed chorus.
My fowl friend even answered to human concocted cock-a-doodle-doos. This cockerel connection developed, because I was, to my knowledge, the only soul faithfully awake and up with this rooster. No matter how late I went to bed or what type of sleep aid I took, I woke up without fail at 4:30 a.m. every day in Vietnam. It had been the same way on a trip to Bali. A raucous rooster, which often sounded like it was perched atop my suitcase, kept me company, or at least its call did, in the early a.m. as I sat in our Ubud hotel courtyard while my family of heavy sleepers slumbered away.
Although not even close to being a natural morning person in the US, I actually appreciated that early dawning time in Vietnam and Bali. Once, I even arose before the rooster routine in Hoi An. I went out on the balcony and sat down on the tiles, which still felt somewhat cool in the already humid air. Palm fronds rustled and even brushed against my shoulder. It was Zennish. While the rooster and I would wake up before the rest of Hoi An, it wouldn’t be long until plastic flip flops thwacked along the pavement below, a radio played high-pitched Vietnamese elevator music and motor scooters revved up along the side street below. Vietnam was waking up. Early. Good Morning, indeed.
This was not the case, however, during my most recent trip to Asia — Japan, specifically. Apparently, people who live in the Land of the Rising Sun don’t necessarily want to get up with it — at least in the cities. Although I did not expect to experience rooster encounters in the middle of Tokyo, I certainly thought the notoriously workaholic residents would be up and running in the early hours of the day.
The Japanese urbanites, I discovered, are not morning people — not like Southeast Asians, who, of course, need to make use of the cooler part of their day. Normally, I would be excited to be among fellow night owls. In fact, I’m slightly bitter about the unfair advantage morning people had in the US, because they were the only ones awake at sunrise to set society’s agenda. Meanwhile we night owls were still sleeping. In Japan, the night owls were working late and set the agenda while the few morning people had already gone to bed.
Eleanor Warnock, an American journalist and self-proclaimed morning person, writes in an expat blog for The Wall Street Journal that the culture shock of the Tokyo timetable and acclimating to it was one of the most challenging aspects of moving to Japan.
“Living overseas means getting used to that city’s timetable – when people get to work and schedule meetings, when stores are open. In Washington [DC], friends squeezed in workouts, blowouts and coffee before work. In Tokyo, people have set their internal clocks a little later.”