This post is a first for me and for a very dear friend of mine Rohini. She is an inspiration for me in many ways and is one person who is always on the move. She has been travelling extensively and has made friends wherever she has been to. Here is Rohini’s first blog post and I for one am looking forward to read many more of her experiences.
The Japanese are so minimalistic and simple yet is among the most advanced societies in the world today. My journey through Japan was one of the most fascinating and unique experiences of my life. I have travelled through many a country as a tourist and a traveler, Japan is where I long to stay back and get lost into its mysteries, traditions, culture and food. I want to share my perspectives and observations below:
1) From Tokyo to Hiroshima, one has to look skywards to spot bars and restaurants. As space is much sought after in Japan, bars and restaurants are located at every floor in each of the buildings. There are boards on the ground level to tell you what they are serving upstairs and you can bar hop without getting out of the building! Each bar and restaurant seat 10-12 people with unique themes ranging from karaoke to hello kitty, neon lights to Bryan Adams. This is a nation where every niche is covered in all its glory.
2) The Japanese are ever so polite, kind and gracious in most social situations, however behind this façade is sometimes a feeling of loneliness, lack of self confidence and an extremely conditioned mind. Following rules of paramount importance to the Japanese, whether one is being watched or not. The men and women avoid making eye contact; if they have to say excuse me, sorry or thank you it’s sufficient to bow than to actually look at another person. Most of them are deeply engrossed in their Nintendo, phones , manga, books and other handheld gaming devices and like clockwork get off at their train stations.
3) Japanese have managed to make love a commodity, everything from maid cafés, virtual girlfriends, bars where lonely women go to talk to men, Geishas, the Love hotels, host and hostess bars providing a litany of services for the lovesick. All of this fueled by the feeling of loneliness, and the want for being loved or even listened too with contact in a very non-sexual way. Paid Love in the west brings images of sleaze however for the Japanese this could range from someone to hold hands with or stare dreamily into their eyes for 15 minutes costing them almost 1000 yen. Love is creating a virtual girlfriend who shares your life and can adapt to your needs and wants so much so that I watched a documentary that interviewed men who dint want to have a real girlfriend or wife they are happier in their 10-15 year virtual relationship with a Sega run program. Love is sitting in a maid café, with young girls all dressed in the same fashion to look and behave like maids. Men are very happy chatting with subservient and obedient girls because their life is already so challenged with hierarchy and following rules at work and in daily life. They find solace with a girl who is there to just hear him out, clip his nails, clean his ears and giggle at his conversations.
Japanese have managed to make love a commodity, everything from maid cafés, virtual girlfriends, bars where lonely women go to talk to men, Geishas, the Love hotels, host and hostess bars providing a litany of services for the lovesick.
4) For a country which could seem very religious from the outside, with a vast number of Buddhist and Shinto temples, Most Japanese view these temples as a place to go for a birth, death and a marriage in almost a ceremonial way. Land being at a premium in Japan, has potentially led to the cremation of the dead followed by burial of the ashes, or is it ritual orders emanating from Buddhism or even Hinduism. All said though this ceremony sets back most Japanese quite a few yen given the elaborate and esoteric rituals.
5) One of the most important aspects that make up their culture is cleanliness and discipline. In-spite of lack of dust bins on street corners, Japan is one of the cleanest countries I have seen, the locals are conscious of social cleanliness they bring their garbage back home to dispose. Much can be talked about their toilet seats that can sing a song so the neighbors can’t hear you doing your business or keep your seat warm for you or several nozzles that sprays, vibrates, cleans and dries. My Japanese friend told me that her husband refuses to leave the country because he is afraid of the toilets out there. The onsen or public bath culture is a similar quest to cleanliness, the sole purpose of family vacations is to visit the numerous hot springs around the country.
6) Social ranking and status in addition to gender stereotypes play an important role in Japanese culture. They place great importance in societal good and harmony hence compliance is a prerequisite in their nature. On the one end the Japanese respect hierarchy, age and wisdom however equally true is the patriarchal understanding of the role of women. Like any other eastern and oriental cultures women seem to have great difficulties in carving their path towards success in a man’s world. More and more women don’t want to commit to marriage and are opting to stay single, observed by a declining population and child birth rates, creating an unfair burden on the current generation.
Much can be talked about their toilet seats that can sing a song so the neighbors can’t hear you doing your business or keep your seat warm for you or several nozzles that sprays, vibrates, cleans and dries. My Japanese friend told me that her husband refuses to leave the country because he is afraid of the toilets out there.
7) Manga, anime and gaming is a Japanese phenomenon that is even starting to infiltrate the west, from the young to the old they absolutely love it. People reading manga in the subways of Tokyo is a common sight. Great artists like Osamu Tezuka and animator Hayao Miyazaki have captured the minds of the young and their fame has spread through the world. The J- pop artists are rushing to write theme songs for anime series as they know it’s a sure hit and will give them instant fame. Be it in adverting, warning signs at train station, or teaching manners and morals to kids animated characters are used everywhere in Japan.
8) Japanese love their little kiosks that serves everything from cigarettes, alcohol, ice cream, snacks, sodas, pizza on the go to toys. Even the smallest village road that’s sparsely populated will have a Kiosk. The best part of the kiosk is that you can get both hot and cold beverages, snack and even ready to eat hot waffle!
9) Being an island, the Japanese cuisine has a lot of fish! Everyone has heard the fantastic tale of the sushi chef Jiro Ono and many others who follow tradition and precise techniques to make sure their customers go hungry for more. Fresh and most simple dishes served by chefs who have trained and toiled preparing egg rolls and steam rice for years before being able to slice and serve sashimi. Other great dishes from Japan include home grown ingredients like wasabi, buckwheat noodles, miso, Japanese rice, soybean, seaweed, Yuzu and a type of leek make the dishes delicious yet simple.
10) I have always heard of fashion industry talk about New York to Tokyo trends and now I know why. From Tokyo to Fukuoka the clothes range from baggy, elite chic to traditional and colorful kimonos and yukatas. The mix of modern yet conservative dressing is very apparent in their day to day dressing styles, the women are very conscious of exposing their bosom yet they can wear as short a skirt/ shorts as possibly can. The dressing especially in Tokyo varies with the location, there are the elite and elegant Ginza style of dressing, the school girl styles of the Shibuya and the costumed girls of Harajuku. Most men carry handbags that are fancier than woman’s handbags and the styles among men vary from tailor made suits, urban chic to hipster. The women love their eyelashes, nails, fake colored contact lenses and makeup.
The Japanese have a complex multi layered society from the Edo period, the Samurai, Geisha and the modern almost western looking world it has been evolving within itself. Their way of life reminded me of a passage I read recently “As Albert Einstein liked to say, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. This is a beautiful way to address the frictions that bedevil modern society: as grateful as we are for the complex processes that have produced so much technology and progress, we are also dizzied by their sprawl. It is easy to get seduced by complexity; but there is virtue in simplicity too”
Clicks by Rohini Sripada.