Japan & Switzerland: Our Beloved Asian and European Cousins

Based on our Lynch Family’s pre-COVID-19 scouting trips to Switzerland and Japan, I was amazed at the striking similarities between these two fastidiously clean, high quality cultures! While planning a client’s extended family 2021 “around the world” trip, featuring both countries, we have noted a few of the many commonalities in our lighthearted celebration of these two wonderful lands. Enjoy!

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Passionate Cultural Focus with Cleanliness and Personal Hygiene

Along with Iceland, I cannot recall two countries more dedicated to general cleanliness. Though Switzerland was rated in 2019 as the Cleanest Country in the World at the World Economic Forum (EPI of 87.42!), we consider it a draw with Japan. Similar to Japan, the Swiss trains, train stations and even ordinary vehicles and farm equipment look spotlessly polished.

Based on its unique, native Shinto religion, ritual bathing to spiritually and physically cleanse oneself before entering a shrine has entered Japanese everyday life and cultural psyche. A largely animistic belief system,  Shintoism embodies an intrinsic value of natural areas. In effect, everything in the natural world has its own spiritual essence; including trees, rocks, and rivers. It follows that humans are connected to nature’s elements, and these natural objects are dwellings for the divine. As many of us have experienced, spending long periods of time in nature begins to fulfill our biophilic tendencies, or rather our subconscious need for nature. Regardless of where you travel in Japan, the natives are well-groomed, neat, and fastidiously clean. This extends to streets, homes, office buildings; from garbage men with carefully sculpted hair, to the country’s meticulously spotless and efficient white-gloved taxi service. This obsession with cleanliness is symbolized whenever entering any Shinto shrine. Before entering, one must perform “temizu”, a short cleansing ritual meant to prevent outside impurities from entering the shrine. It is this unique way of life that makes Japan’s culture of cleanliness and deep-rooted ties to nature and our earth that make it such a beautiful and eye-opening place to visit.

The Swiss, although 8,000 miles away from Japan, share very similar beliefs within their country. Before the modern days of Singapore and many other Asian countries, Switzerland was deemed the king of cleanliness and order. It has always been the way of life to live by simple means and protect the environment as much as possible, especially as technology and pollution increases. Although more of a social standard than a religious belief, the Swiss have lived by this notion for centuries. The government is, to this day, very involved in protecting this lifestyle, such as requiring permission to put even a TV antenna on your roof because it may interfere with nature or the clean and orderly “look” of the neighborhood. Even cleaning supplies for the home must be environmentally friendly with no toxins or chemicals that could harm the earth. When it comes to protecting their country, air, fresh drinking water, public facilities, etc., the Swiss have zero tolerance for anything harmful that may infect this pristine status!

When it comes to personal hygiene, did we mention the Japan’s famous TOTO toilets? They optimize sanitary and hygienic needs, such as an automatic seat lift, bidet functions, and deodorizing spray sensors to keep you clean and fresh. The Swiss, being very economically focused, offer the Swiss Madison counterpart! These toilets are comfortable, slightly taller, have a soft lid close, and most importantly, offer different flush levels in order to conserve water usage.

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Zytglogge, the astronomical clock tower in Bern, Switzerland
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Japanese origami cranes

Craftsmanship and Quality, Both Tangible and Intangible

The Swiss are rightfully proud of their global reputation for quality tangible products, including watches, clocks, engineering, and delicious chocolate and cheese (!), with the “Swiss made” label being an iconic brand. When it comes to intangible offerings, the Swiss have an aptitude for the sciences and are a home base for CERN, as well as hosting numerous economic conferences annually, inventing Dadaism in art, and inspiring us all with their impressive notion of neutrality and economic importance throughout its 26 cantons.

Japan’s insistence on high quality is similar! Some notable tangible qualities include high performance and standards in electronics, robotics, knives/cutlery, engineering, and of course traditional origami and tea ceremonies! Intangible qualities are pervasive throughout society and the world. “Omoi-yan” or the act of caring for somebody, reflects the deep-seated Japanese ideal of showing love and respect for the product user and the sincerity in the maker. Japanese appreciation for art and nature allows for an expressive society and beauty in life and surroundings. Art forms can be the amazing statues and sculptures throughout the land and trickle down to the form of sumo wrestling and the magical ambiance of the geishas.

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An example of Japanese omotenashi is carefully placed chopsticks
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The historic 5-star Hotel Baur au Lac in Lake Zurich

Sense of Impeccable Hospitality and Service

Based on our many Lynch family travels to Japan, we are most impressed with Japan’s sweeping, intrinsic sense of service and hospitality. Their level of high-touch service (omotenashi) is fully integrated into its Shinto/Buddhist-centered culture. Omotenashi is something that must be experienced first hand in order to understand, as it is a sense of personal service that is extended with the utmost sincerity, grace, and respect. Our Lynch family’s stays at iconic Tawaraya and Hiiragiya ryokans in Kyoto are perfect representations of omotenashi. When departing these amazing luxury ryokans, the respective proprietress and staff escort us to the entrance alleyway, stand in a line, bow and wish us all safe travels.

Although portrayed differently, the same high standard of service and welcoming of guests in Switzerland is upheld. Even at lower-level properties, the comfort and experience for the guest is the most important aspect of any stay. Hospitality has been rooted in Swiss history for hundreds of years. Due to its stunning landscapes, Switzerland has been a hub for royals, celebrities, and wealthy individuals for a very long time. From this, hotels in Switzerland have maintained their ideals of high respect, etiquette, attention to detail, immaculate presentation and cleanliness, and outstanding services from those times to today. A proper reflection of the Swiss keen attention to service is the fact that three out of the four of the world’s top hospitality universities are located in Switzerland: the unrivaled Ecole hoteliere de Laussane (EHL), Les Roches International School of Hotel Management, and the Glion Institute of Higher Education. It is no coincidence that Switzerland is the number one country in the world to study this industry and has been deemed “the home of hospitality”!

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Japanese Series H5 Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
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Swiss Glacier Express Train

World Class Rail Service and Punctuality

The Japanese railway/Shinkansen (bullet) transport system is refreshingly efficient, immaculately clean, very fast, and completely reliable. If only we had Shinkansen in the states! We particularly love the Shinkansen/Bullet Train Nozomi First Class N700 Green Cars featuring ergonomic seating and tilting technology for an unbelievably smooth ride. Recently celebrating 53 years of service, Japan’s Shinkansen can rightfully boast of having the best safety record on the planet, having served seven-billion passengers without a single passenger fatality due to collision or derailment. On top of this pristine system, the importance of punctuality in Japanese culture can be witnessed in its impeccable train schedule, with departures and arrivals on time down to the second. It is known that you can actually tell the time simply by noting when a train is departing, no need to find a clock! It is so rare for a train to be behind schedule, that if it ever happens, it is assumed there was a natural disaster or similar circumstance involved to cause such an odd occurrence.

Switzerland is no different when it comes to their beloved train system. Trains in Switzerland are both safe and economically friendly, paying close attention to emissions, cleanliness, and timing. The SBB (Swiss train company) has a punctuality rate of 97.8% and ensures no train leaves more than 3 minutes behind schedule if necessary. An average of 1.25 million people travel on Swiss trains a day, making it a vital part of their culture. Many choose not to own personal vehicles for economic reasons and utilize the train systems for travel to work, shopping, and everyday needs. For visitors, utilizing the train system is no different! It is almost always faster to take a train than to drive to a destination, and there will always be a route no matter where you need to go with a guarantee of making any necessary connections. Many scenic and specialty trains have been implemented with panoramic windows, luxury-class levels, and even special services such as the “chocolate” train journey. Train travel in Switzerland has never been more opulent! Our favorite train is the Glacier Express running to/from St. Moritz and Zermatt, recently presenting its Excellence Class car, which you can learn more about here. 

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Outdoor sulphur pool at the Lenkerhof Wellness Resort
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Gora Kadan's Kadan Suite with Open-air Bath Aoi

Hot Springs and Wellness

Due to Switzerland’s high level of service, cleanliness, and ties to nature, wellness is another important aspect of Swiss culture. On top of taking walks often, getting fresh air as much as possible, and eating natural local foods, the Swiss love to indulge in self-care. Due to their vast mountains and fresh mineral water sources, there are ample ways to reach bliss in Switzerland! This has trickled down to many resorts and hotels featuring various wellness-based amenities for guests wishing to participate.  The thermal baths at Le Bains de Lavay, just outside Montreux, offer the warmest thermal water in all of Switzerland for a relaxing experience. The water has properties to treat rheumatic and dermatological ailments as well as the musculoskeletal system. The Lenkerhof Wellness Resort in Lenk specializes in encouraging energized water to allow you to unwind and relax. With multiple pools (that started over 350 years ago!), a sauna, various treatments, and a day spa, you are sure to have a wonderful experience with a beautiful alpine backdrop. And of course, the thermal baths at Temali Salini in Locarno are a wellness paradise. The property has multi-tiered baths, all of which are saltwater, and have been set up as a bathing “ritual”, where guests progress from one stage to the next and enjoy optional additional treatments. You will immerse yourself in another world and let the pressures of everyday life slip away!

Onsen” is one of the distinctly native Japanese cultural aspects that did not originate from Greater China. Accounts of onsen bathing go back to Japan’s earliest historical records and have elevated the simple act of bathing in an “onsen” into almost a religious experience. For many visitors to Japan, both Westerners and Asians alike, the onsen is a somewhat unfamiliar territory that many people opt to overlook. The combination of the bath etiquette, the fact that nudity (sometimes with the opposite sex) is involved, and even things like the water being hotter than most Jacuzzis make it easy for first-timers to justify skipping an onsen experience. A shame, since bathing in an onsen or hot spring is healthful, rejuvenating, and leaves one refreshed, relaxed, and clean. Onsen waters have healing qualities due to the various minerals within, particularly helpful in clearing skin and relieving aches and pains. The country’s three oldest hot springs are believed to be the Dogo Onsen in Ehime Prefecture, Arima Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture and Shirahama Onsen in Wakayama Prefecture. Based on ancient literature, some experts believe Dogo is 3,000 years old because pot chards from that time have been discovered in the area. Among our Lynch family favorite luxury ryokan/onsen are Gora Kadan in Hakone and Kayotei near Kanazawa. Buddhism and hot springs also share mythological links. Kukai, the founder of the Shingon sect in the ninth century, is said to have discovered many hot springs across the nation, including the Shuzenji Onsen in Shizuoka Prefecture.

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