March 30, 2009
Something I have realised is that Japan makes me feel a bit like an uncivilised heathen.
Not on purpose I’m sure.
The first thing that strikes you is how incredibly polite everyone is, how calm and clean the subway trains are and how efficiently everything is organised. Even as we landed we were greeted by five people bowing, the bus driver, the bell-boy and the receptionist all followed suit afterwards. Within no time you begin to pick it up and now I’m bowing left, right and centre. The longer I am here the more I notice; the waiter who covers all the dirty plates with a nice cloth as he wheels them on a tray to the kitchen so no one has to see them, the homeless man who carefully re-ties the garbage bag and tidies up after he has searched for food and the bell-boy who runs with eagerness for even the most menial task. I have not seen one child having a screaming fit, nor any parent needing to control. The worst thing I have seen is someone dragging his foot in gravel to make shapes…this made me stop and stare because it seemed so out of place. Even when travelling into and around Tokyo I didn’t see one dodgy-looking character as I would surely expect to in London or New York.
Everything is so ordered and calm and done with such enthusiasm that even my thoughts seem reckless and lacking in some dignity I feel that I should posses to get by.
Being here really makes me feel like I need to try harder.
Expectations are high, morals are revered and they tell us that selflessness is the one golden rule you must remember to survive. Everything is geared towards maintaining the status-quo, making others happy and throwing yourself into the moment so as to make it matter. For example, the other night we all went out for our last night and we went to a bar where there was a dance floor. After a while a few of us started to dance and were soon joined by a handful of young Japanese, salarymen still suited and booted and some hot young things that were hip-hop geniuses. I have never had a greater two hours dancing. This was a none-descript bar, on a none-descript day with random people just thrown together, but we partied like we were never going to party again! The locals just threw themselves into entertaining and having a great time. We didn’t need alcohol. We didn’t need music we knew. I mean if any of you have seen me dance, well they made me want to dance more crazy! Their enthusiasm made me think I should be putting more effort in…so I did and it made my thighs ache for the next three days!
I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to think you can do better, but the alien thing is the way in which I am thinking I should be better. Usually when I travel there is an inherent arrogance held in the English language; Americans believe that the British are fabulously intelligent and wonderfully cultured, and the Europeans are so much more willing to learn our language than we are theirs so we are never threatened with a move out of the comfort zone. I can wonder into their cultures and always know I will never be far from home, I can mock it, exaggerate it and play upon stereotypes, but here I have no such safety net. Here, there is no arrogance, little knowledge of English and the general view that the West is pretty terrifying. So whereas in America I might have mocked my horrific chop-stick skills, or in Europe shrugged off my lack of language knowledge, in Japan I am embarrassed and self conscious, just bowing to pretty much everything and hoping that that makes up for my stupidity! Don’t get me wrong though I’m still laughing and genki, but I think I will be walking on eggshells for a while hoping that my smile will get me through and my blue eyes buy me enough time to learn Japanese!