Saturday, January 27, 2007


One of the biggest misceptions Americans (if not all other cultures) have about Japan is that although Japan may have their long-standing traditions and inherited culture, we're all human beings at heart, subject to the same desires and feelings. That although we were raised differently, we can still live in each other's worlds if given the chance.

All the Hollywood movies you see, all the books you read, involve a young, naive westerner journeying to Japan, ignorant of the Japanese way of life. Yet over time, and through many trials, he or she meets a traditional Japanese person who can teach him the ways of the Samurai, the craft of the Japanese sword, the intricacies of farming rice, the art of Japanese cooking...

Fictional stories or not, few of us ever actually have such opportunities. We come here without connections to the cultural underbelly; we don't know the Judo master, who knows the owner of the fine restaurant, who knows someone who can guide us through the lesser known parts of this great country. Japanese people are probably the most interconnected of all cultures; I'm not referring to superficial text messaging by today's Japanese youth; this is old Japan, the people connected in an unweildy lattice of favors, friends, family, business partners, and above all on (obligation). Sometimes all you need is the right friend to help you.

In regards to the ignorant foreigner-Japanese master relationship, no one really knows what they're getting into. Complete obedience. Unconditional servitude. Logic and reason mean nothing unless your senpai tells you so. Gravity doesn't keep you on the earth; your senpai wills it if he so chooses.

My predicament... I am an obnoxious, headstrong, independent, dignified dirty foreigner, by all standards of old Japan. And although I may be able to survive by changing by ways, I'm not sure I want to. I like being unique and headstrong. I enjoy defiance, and shouting my opinion for all to hear. To top it off... I'm just not Japanese.

There are two worlds most dominant in Japan right now, and I'm honestly not sure which one I like more. I clearly respect old Japan: the traditionalists, everything you read about in Japanese history, from the art of the ikebana, to the behavior shaping corporate strategy meetings in downtown Tokyo. I relate more to the Japanese youth, the "American" Japanese people; they aren't hung up on repressing their behavior or blind obedience. They're individuals, not marked by the two hundred fifty years of history that affected their parents' generation. But, just like their American counterparts... they feel shallow to me, lacking the traits that I've come to associate with Japan.

A Japan divided against itself... cannot stand.

ikana kereba narani
I must go.


Brit in Hokkaido said...

In my experience it is those gaijin who try so hard to integrate into Japanese society that are often rejected for trying to be Japanese.

The gaijin that blindly carries on with his (in the Japanese view)strange gaijin ways regardless, is often the one that ends up integrating more.

Or at least that is how I cope with it anyway.

Miklos Fejer said...

Only two kinds of Japanese people?

"Old" and "Modern"?

Do you divide the folks of your own country into such limited categories?

I only ask because it's an interesting topic deserving of more thought...

ターナー said...

I didn't say there were only two kinds. Just that these two groups exist.

ターナー said...

I'm about to finish "A Year in Search of Wa," and I agree with the Brit in Hokkaido - maybe Japanese people are more willing than I thought to accept gaijin behavior, as long as it's coming from a foreigner; maybe you can still be yourself and integrate into the traditional side of Japan.

I have a feeling such behavior in Japanese youth, however, is likely to be stifled by shame; or at least, the older generation tries to make them feel ashamed. Who knows if it works, if what we see on the streets is nothing more than an elaborate facade?