japan's a place, and it exists, and there's people that live there. Not many know about what it's like. How is bobbing along on this rock with 125 million other pensioners?
I don't know if this is isolated to the people I choose to surround myself with, but the visceral thrill of conversations comes from dissection. Picking apart introspection, comparing perspectives. But as it occurs to me, the punchline in Japan often seems to by hypotheticals. The conversations are less puerile but also more tasteless.
Japanese society operates on the assumption that everyone in society are rational creatures. Not empathetic, rational. They can see and react to social situations according to expectations. Don't waste food because you expect everyone to respect farmers' labor. Don't litter because you're inconveniencing someone else. Actions are always tied to consequences, empathy but stripped of its strictly moralistic purpose. In the US you have to expect everyone to be a bastard. I'm a fan of black sugar shochu, a rum made from japanese molasses and brown sugar. I saw a twitter post by a distiller in Kagoshima advertizing an alcohol display at a supermarket. It was a little corner a bit like the Trader Joes booth that gives out free samples minus the incarcerated human employee. Complete with paper cups and open bottles for people to pour and sample liquor. That would not fly in the US because everyone is a bastard. The fundamental question, one that every non-native japanese speaker asks themselves, is what degree these motions are etiquette, courtesy, or whether they carry genuine sentiments behind them. How much agency is behind these reciprocal social contracts, and are people just begrudgingly following them?
Houses are considered to be transient. When buying property it's common for the land / building costs to be about equal. Inexpensive housing gets torn down and rebuilt fast, at least in Tokyo. The weather is relentless, post 60's earthquake standards are a concern, and there's little financial incentives to be sentimental of a house younger than 50 years. Go out to the countryside and there's gorgeous wooden houses that have been built by grandads. Abandoned properties are becoming a larger issue, unrentable because of earthquake regulations and undemolishable due to cost.
identity and foreigners
There is no cultural plurality in Japan. Those who are Half-Japanese or Japan-raised exist in an odd ambiguity. Unlike France or the UK, national identity is inseperable from nationality, not on the basis of some exclusionary racist rhetoric, but outdated cultural norms about assimilation. As an example, the label "Zainichi" is persistently applied to Korean immigrant populations, many who have lived in Japan since the country's gallivanting colonization phase. The main difference with other countries who have outgrown their pith helmets is the ability for 20th century East Asian immigrants to "pass" in Japan in regards to outward appearance. Some have kept Korean names but chosen Japanese citizenship, others have assimilated completely. Some married Japanese men, at which point their ethnic roots disappear completely on government records.
Anime otakus for the most part pursue their hobby with the resignation that they will forever huddle in the drudges of society. People keep their head down and try to live normal lives. It's even the fundamental plot point to Otakoi, a group of four anime-watching officeworkers who bond over their hushed collective transgressions like Soviet dissidents. To the mainstream bread-baking horoscope-tracking linen-draped Setagaya housewife, anime otakus exist somewhere inbetween NEETS and child murderers.
It's a far cry from weeaboos who advertize their prepubescent desires in the same indignance as furries, eager to shamelessly tell everyone that watching pirated anime is their hobby. Anime otakus in Japan act like closeted horsegirls, eager to conceal themselves from the social pogrom.
Some series especially ones on Shounen Jump break through the stigma to shake off those connotations, simply becoming another set of faces, another brand. Liking Dragonball Z or Bleach doesn't make you an otaku in the Japanese sense.
The Japanese internet landscape is strange. It feels less centralized with no r*ddit equivalents, and even 2ch is not as populated as the numerous english boards its spawned. There's still a heavy reliance on ancient sakura-hosted personal sites as well as the littany of blog services. Yet I've never felt a particular collective atmosphere in any of them, they all feel relatively insular, personal little things. There's thousands of terrible little congregation sites drawing threads off of 2ch talking about butts and things or vague ghost-written articles about X. It seems to me that twitter is still king, to the disadvantage to me as it's not a terribly legible site to navigate. The uniquely Japanese apprehension in reposting images without consent rules out tumblr as a viable platform too. While the Floridian elderly shuffle around on Facebook spitting minion-adorned vitriol about foreigners, the over 50's in Japan either manage hand-coded blogs or are offline entirely.
cabarets, paying to talk with someone
Cabaret clubs are the strangest thing. Mostly populated by salaryman NPC's, women are paid to talk about anything. Incomprehensible to anyone out of this godforsaken island, but the crushing isolation gets to everybody.
Because no one has the luxury of spending time at home, mobile games exploded in popularity starting around 2010. Japan was relatively slow to fully adopt smartphones and I still saw some flip phones into 2011. It's also why some Japanese sites look utterly prehistoric, to load easier on pre-martyred Jobs hardware.
(1/3/2020) Realizations and epiphanies of 2019:
•I rarely notice my tinnitus, probably a bad thing with the noise pollution
•Maybe making Japanese friends might be trouble than it's worth.
•I need to be more literal with other international students, my method of communication that I'm used to doesn't work on people who are trillingual. (learned this through texts)
•The distress of being unsure about your housing extrapolates to all other aspects of your life.
•My style of dress is odd, even in Japan. Previous "fuck, everyone's well dressed here" was applied to clean-cut squared away types, not earth-hovel dwelling types like me.
•Alcohol plays an important role in social lubrication, it's the grease on the broomhandle. Alcohol is terrible and expensive but it has a use in my life. Will never drink by myself though, that's stupid as hell. Then again my grandad quit cold turkey at 75 after smoking for 40+ years. Addictive personalities don't run in our families and in my case it's quite the opposite.
•Yokohama is rather dry and quite dirty
•I love Saitama, pretty sure that sentence has never been uttered before.
•Living close to the station is absolutely HUGE.
•Pants are very important. I had a habit, like I imagine most people, to fixate on big, exciting stuff like jackets and shoes. A Kapital Tri-P is still one of my grails but I can't really imagine myself doing it justice. I'm 80% legs so pants usually determines what my outfit's silouette is going be.
•It takes multiple wears to really put together a cohesive outfit. Oogling at yourself in a mirror doesn't convey how restrictive it is, how the assembly flows during movement, or just how inconvenient wearing a pants without ass pockets is. Conversely, some colors and garments I've initially disliked have become some of the most-worn. And that's part of the fun in clothing, when it all comes together. Creativity when I'm designing clothes, improv when I'm sewing, creativity when I'm arranging outfits.
back to top ⤴
Japan is fine. It's a country. here's the bits i like.
made in Japan
Made in Japan means something, people over here pride themsevles on an enduring craftsmen culture, from woodworkers to shunga artists to cooks. Products are made to a high standard, the passionate people behind the anonymous veil of store shelves are presumed to retain an insatiatiable pursuit of "their" perfection. Their personal touch that they just can't relinquish - their Kodawari. A collective assumption among consumers is then born, deliberately making and deliberately buying domestic products because it carries value beyond its list price or blind jingoism.
Made in America means nothing. There's no presumption that the people behind products are paid well. We've been avoiding manual work like it's a cough in the mouth, there's no assumption that the workers are proud of their work. Some of the most sacralized American industries are dotted with immigrant labor from steelworking to garments to foodservice/hospitality. There's no assumption that the product is well-made, the current state of the American auto industry is a depressing example. This was a topic that I remember joking about when very young, sandwiched between Michael Jackson and Brittany Simpson jokes.
Shops exhibit tons of Kodawari
. Hobby-oriented shops in particular are so insistent in chasing customers that are just like them that their wares almost resemble prideful personal collections.
So effortless, so efficient. The zenith of how a subway system should be run. Employers will often cover ticket costs too. Less people are buying cars due to hard times and it's no wonder when freeways have toll booths. In turn, lots of places are tailored to pedestraians, not cars.
24-hour convenience stores are everywhere if you live in a city. While a bit more expensive they're life savers. I'm quite fond of the mini grocery stores, there's some deals to be had there.
Strolling around with an open can of beer is fine and there's no restrictions on public intoxication. People drink responsibly here. In the US you'd be down on all fours cavity searched on the sidewalk by the religious police. Buying alcohol is also easier, Americans would shit their own hips out if they found out you could buy drinks on ebay.
crime is rare. I've accidentally left cameras and wallets in resturaunts and they didn't disappear. There are of course exceptions like foreigner-ridden Roppongi or working-class Kamagasaki, but even then it's limited to trashed bathrooms or pickpocketing. The random stabbings or Floridaman headlines are something you just don't see. If you drop something people will likely prop it up somewhere visible or hand it over to a police station. You'll see countless orphaned lens caps and gloves placed on bollards. I've had relatives leave money in self-service registers and it was still there when they came back.
The use of bike locks are rare, some shops in Kyoto don't even have locks.
drugs are bad. there's not much in Japan. Maybe a sprinking of meth and cocaine.
It's an open question why more Japanese people don't vacation overseas but the density in domestic sightseeing locations is probably why. There's never a moment of boredom if you have the money to travel around.
wow you actually have more than 2 telecommunications companies to choose from. Japanese home internet is reputably fast, not like I would know.
No, the Japanese do not eat sushi everyday. The food is great. Eating a plate of slop under a roof can quickly hit $15 in the US but a decent meal here is around that much. Even zero-effort meals at Sukiya are cheap and not cripplingly comatose-inducing. The portions are tiny, best exemplified by the toddler-sized cereal boxes. I could inhale a bag of chips in japan. I do find myself consuming more soft drinks in Japan, no idea why. No one eats whale or horse, but Unagi is a questionable dish considering eels are now endangered. As always it's the rich who are destroying the planet, one $50 unagidon at a time.
As far as alcohol, "You havin a pussy drink bro?" is less relentless in Japan, although there are some cocktails more gendered than HRT injections. Makes America's conception of masculinity a bit embarassing frankly. Public drinking is allowed, and covenience stores carrying alcohol are open 24/7. Just don't be a cock when you're ruining your life.
sweet things aren't that sweet. I went out for BBQ in the US and I was knocked catatonic by how sugary everthing was. Even me who grew up destroying their insulin baseline with fundip and whoppers and candycorn and milkduds found it just too much. Good thing then that the japanese pride themselves on subtlety. goes back to the craftsmens traditition of subtle presentations, the vital bits being in the details. Sweets are refreshing, you could inhale cakes and pastries for hours without your liver clawing itself out your abdominal cavity. Their use of dairy in sweets is also unparallelled. While Japan doesn't have a flourishing craft cheese industry the cream and butter used in bread and sweets are delicious. Think a really good milkbread.
Cheap food won't destroy your body. There's a universal presumption in the US that cheap food is bad for you, and the inverse is also true. It explains the comorbidity of obesity and poverty, the existence of food deserts, the incestuous relationship between the federal government and agribusineess. In Japan especially inexpensive food doesn't have connotations of fast food, but central kitchens. Think sysco or school lunches. Vegetables are cheap without relying too much on underpaid transnational migrant labor. Poverty meals are interestingly soy-bean centric, from bean sprouts to natto to tofu.
Poverty is rare-ish. Estimates say 2000 people sleep rough across japan. To say it's a non-issue would be profoundly naive when sociological terms like "hidden poor" regularly swirl around but it's less prominent relative to the US. No more skid rows.
pleasantries extends to (some)business. When out to buy green tea at a department store one of the Itoen employees referred me to their competitor across the floor.
If I said privatizing nationalized companies works you'd probably have the sense to make me disappear. In this bizarro land it somewhat makes sense. The Japanese post, the subway system, there's several examples where privatization hasn't been a complete disaster.
Surprise! The Japanese Post has suspended weekend deliveries indefinitely, leaving businesses less productive, rural communities more isolated, and deliveries even more strained. Thank god shareholders got their return though.
back to top ⤴
Some places are just too grey.
Japan is a big country so of course you'll experience different temperature ranges. As Tokyo was formerly swampland it generally goes from 35 to 0 degrees year-round. Summers are hot. Mold is something you have to be wary about. Beware bottoms of beds and camera lenses.
I miss being able to lay in a patch of grass under the sun. In Japan you look like an open buffet for critters, particularly mosquitos. Live on the 3rd floor+ if you want to avoid centipedes and roaches. In the countryside you have horseflies, boars, and monkeys to deal with.
Japan was a caste society, not that far off in execution from India. They similarly had the "untouchable" class based entirely on employment. Now a remnant of the past, former working-class slums are still afflicted with poverty, alcoholism, and crime. That hierarchy has been preserved in the office, polymerizing with craftmens' apprenticeship culture. Tutoring new hires is a perennial ritual. If your superior is a real piece of work, there's no other places you can turn to for guidance. Superiors will take criticism and arguments personally, as you're seen to be too "inexperienced" to offer anything of value. There's also little latitude in decision-making or agency. It's a cacophany of stratification and ego.
And despite the stereotype that Japanese companies hire for life, many are hemorraging their workforce. As changing careers becomes easier, only those who adapt to normal work standards will not experience brain drain. You see where this is going. If the management is shit and turnover is high, there's little reason to believe that a company structured this way can prosper. It's a masochistic tradition with no tangible benefits to anyone. That's one of the persistent thoughts I have while living in Japan. In the US, inequality or exploitation is easy to elucidate: just follow who it benefits, and that's usually the rich. In Japan, it seems like everyone is utterly miserable in the workforce.
If you want to work in japan(don't know why you would) billingualism isn't a terribly significant advantage. It sounds like it would, and your average Japanese person will parrot that sentiment as well, hyping it up as a golden ticket out of 60 hour workweeks. For 20 years the government and big corporations have sung in unison, saying they need to be more globally-minded, yet that's always been just talk. For employers it seems like they don't really care, their desires are a smear and a blur. They want Japanese employees - through and through - that can speak English. Your experiences in other countries are worth nothing if you can't assimilate as "one of them." Your English proficiency doesn't even really matter. Can you say "this is a pen" without forgetting the consonants? And so the country has been continually shooting itself in its foot, not because its standards are so high but because they don't care enough to change.
Japanese employers look for new hires seasonally on a very rigid schedule: New uni grads for top-tier companies, those switching jobs, then the rest. The majority get hired right away after graduating and if you're not within this demographic you're already considered second-tier. The system does not make concessions for foreigners. The applications, interviews, and contracts are in Japanese. If you're not fluent you're useless to any company worth working under. Second-rate companies don't offer commuting/housing stipends, visa assistance, your income will be less than $25k a year, and they will have no problems giving you 60+ hours of overtime. Even normal salarymen regard their apartments as little more than hotels to sleep in. Come home at 11pm, wake up at 7am.
The accurate stereotype that people work like indentured slaves likely originates from the bubble era, where the average Japanese worker couldn't get rid of their earnings if they tried. Salarymen in the late 80's would clock in at 9, work until 10pm, drink with their co-workers into the morning and continue working without coming home. Work and leisure became hermaphroditic, with golf outings and dance clubs holding the same obligations as slaving away on a PC-98. The prime difference with today is that they were rolling in cash. Why sleep when you could be making big bucks?
This monetary easing-drawn economic revitalization crumbled by 1992, to which the country was thrown into a deep recession that took real estate 26 years to recover from. Suddenly the long hours were a product of neccessity, a matter of nationalistic survival. By now it's just the norm, stripped of its reasoning and 40-hour monthy overtime quotas dot work applications like gangrenous infections.
drugs are bad, but weed is illegal as a remnant of US occupation. who cares?
Japan is starting to legalize casinos, following the lead of Macau. In regards to gambling there's plenty that tread the line of legality already, from pachinko to horseracing and boat races. Gambling addiction is already prevalent issue with pachinko and racing, I can't imagine this cash grab will be good for Japan.
Only 40% of people voted last election, which is US levels of pitiful. Politicians here are treasured on the same frequency as tepid yoshinoya vomit. The same political party has more or less ruled the country for 63 years. Concerning, no?
Comedians are the prime faces in TV, being permitted to jump between standup, news, and food shows. But as with everything else in Japan, the TV is viciouly cyclical. New faces are often cast off in months. Good shows emmanate a chumminess often seen in gruff British television like the personal Salameshi, or colorful talkshows like Karisome Tengoku.
Most news channels are devastatingly shit, with some resembling clip shows with videos you would've bother uploading on youtube playing on national TV. A woman jumping into a pool isn't news. A dog barking like a bird isn't news. The news is made to be as sedate and non-combative as possible, while tabloids are filled with the same sensationalist carrion peddlers as The Sun. The sterility in presentation is actually quite jarring to witness, like an entire BBC department has sprung a gas leak. It goes beyond culling just the emotive value, fundamental details are often omitted. You will never see hard questions in an interview. You will never see career politicans be interviewed. Yet like any bored child, the news often throws tantrums to bring attention on itself. It was Asahi Shinbun, one of the largest and most prestigious newspapers in Japan, that peddled HPV vaccine injury conspiracy theories. And of course the government is looking to lap up popular opinion rather than keep some sort of ideological consistency or I don't know, refer to research. Today the vaccination rate for young kids is a staggering 0.7%, parents making the critical mistake of trusting the news.
fuck the police, but fuck the japanese police in particular. over here, your judicial rights only extend to what orifice they can't explore. You are considered guilty until proven innocent, and stop-and-frisk is a depressingly common sight. Accused of molesting someone on the train? Take your chances on a 99.6 conviction rate. Accused of murder? Prepare your confession under duress. Bike cops look like power rangers though, so that's a plus. And you'll ejaculate during your hanging, so you'll have that to look forward to.
being a car enthusiast is easier in the US due to some arduous smog laws that encourage new car sales. Vintage cars older than 30 years on the road are a bit of a rarity. You can oogle at all the Skylines and Supras in the world though. I also spotted a Hakosuka in kichijoji.
men over the age of 35 are demonised and for good reason.
back to top ⤴