Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Japan is crazy, man

Today the difference between studying in the west and studying in the east was really crystallized for me. Of course it’s been something I’ve pondered since I started looking into studying in Japan, but today was that day I really felt that difference. It started with our mini-tour of locations from the movie Lost in Translation. I watched it again this morning and I actually understood some of the Japanese in the scenes, which made the movie so much better. Lost in Translation really captures the lonely, outsider confusion that being a gaijin in this country can make you feel. Being in France was hard because I felt like I should look more like the skinny, perfectly manicured French women you see everywhere. Being in Japan is hard because I cannot become Asian and so I could never blend in a crowd or disguise the fact that I am obviously foreign. Which means all my interactions with Japanese people are based on my foreign-ness not at all based on me. The Japanese look at anyone who isn’t Asian and use that as an indicator of how to treat you. Which in a way is nice because people expect me not to understand how to order a cheeseburger. Japan’s difference is the confusing blend of ancient traditions with radically new technology and inventions. Japan is a country of convenience and everything here is constantly being updated to make things more convenient. Transportation is easier, school supplies are more convenient, convini and dollar stores are everywhere making everything more convenient. Of course there is also the ancient history of Japan underlying everything, with the odd physical landmark to point this out. Temples and shrines, monks, matsuri festivals all are remnants of a much older society which is based on radically different ideals and histories than my western society. Another thing which is interesting to consider is that Japan didn’t have cobblestone streets and there wasn’t really a lot built out of stone, so when we bombed Japan huge physical landmarks and remnants of old Japan disappeared. So while I might be living in a country that has a much longer and richer history than my own, the street that I’m walking down might have been built only fifty years ago. Which really makes living in Japan a totally different experience than Europe. Because that strange and off-putting combination of the old with new is completely foreign. And if you add to that the fact that, while many people in Japan study English, it’s very hard for them and most people don’t like using it. Topped off with a completely dense and indecipherable written language you have a country that is completely different.

This week I went to Akihabarah to buy an R4 card for my DS that allows me to download games for free. Which is amazing. I also went to a maid café with my friends- which are these places where you pay a lot of money to be served crappy food by cute girls dressed up in French maid (Japanese style) outfits. Lots of bows, ruffles, short skirts, and knee socks. I bought an essentially 11 dollar iced tea and I played a ‘maid’ version of rock, paper, scissors. Which here is called ‘du-run-ke-n-po.’ I then went shopping and bought clothes. Finding clothes that fit is always an adventure.
And, like I said, today I took a mini-tour of Lost in Translation. Which turns out to have been set in Shinjuku. A part of Tokyo that is very ritzy and also is where the yakuza reportedly hang out. Mostly we went to the hotel the movie is set in which is the Park Hyatt, one of the tallest buildings in Japan. Everyone who works there speaks the best English because of the movie hype. The famous bar that Bill Murray always drinks in is on the top floor of the hotel and after 8 there is a 20-dollar cover charge to hear the lounge singers. We went at seven, which was good because we were already spending about twenty dollars a drink anyway. But the view was amazing and the experience was excellent. It was an expensive and interesting week but I will not be sad about coming home and settling down into routines that are cheaper and more relaxing. Every day in Japan is an adventure – which can get pretty exhausting.
As always- lots of love and another Happy Birthday to my mom from across the ocean. I heart you all (^^)


Genevieve said...

Oh. My. God. A Lost in Translation tour? And a maid bar?


Miss you Lilly!

wasim said...

intresting blog...!
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