Maybe it’s being left to my own devices for the first time in about 10months or the culmination of my experiences coupled with the films and books I’ve been reading lately; but it’s struck me recently how for a country so focused on group culture, just how prevalent and normal being alone can be.
Recently when studying for an impending Japanese test, one of the longer reading passages was talking about the culture of meeting your neighbours when you move to a new place. It talked about the importance of meeting them as soon as possible and taking them a lovely little gift, such as towels or perhaps some sweets. By doing this it will bring with it such benefits as having your neighbours pick up your post for you when you’re not around, and surely bond you together as life-long kindred spirits.
In reality though, I don’t know any of my neighbours, so i’m well and truly fucked if I ever need to borrow a cup of sugar (or miso, as it is Japan). But then I’m pretty sure that none of them know each other either.
In my small complex of shoebox apartments the turnover of people is tremendous. I often get new neighbours, who i thought were meant to be showering me with gifts with the hopes of becoming best-est buddies, although I never seem to meet them. I noticed this happening a few months back when I was no longer hearing a man snoring at all hours of the day, but instead a woman coughing every now and then.
With all this coughing and snoring i realised that we can all hear a lot of what each other are up to, and yet I am never troubled with noise. This is because no one ever seems to come and visit anyone here. I estimate I have more visitors in a week than the rest of the apartment block put together. Maybe I’m more popular than I give myself credit for, although I doubt it. Maybe it’s part of the culture not to visit the shoeboxes where people live, but instead go out for rendezvous? A restaurant or bar perhaps?
But when I go to the local Izakaya, it’s hardly like walking into the Japanese equivalent of Cheers (although ironically everybody does know my name; i don’t blend in too well). But even there, there is an abundance of people partying solemnly alone, trying to not go back to their families.
Taken somewhere close by, have a look at this happy camper.
If only he had some friends with him to stand him up, brush him down, and he could probably make it to a couple more bars.
Maybe it is just the Japanese style of doing things but having read things from a range of different Japanese authors too, no one seems have any friends in the fictitious world either. Their lives are uninhibited by any sorts of social arrangements, or even acquaintances. Even Harry Potter had that whiny ginger kid to knock about with.
Movies tend to be the same. Either your a sexy high-schooler learning valuable life lessons, or a recluse that seems to only use speech as a narration device for the audience. Although, watching mainly Japanese horror movies probably makes these observations slightly null and void.
But I’m obviously viewing all this through my western lens, and this research actually suggests that for Japanese people, life satisfaction and loneliness might be largely independent of each other. So whether they have many visitors, eat and drink alone or with friends, or spend their night pissed up leaning against an open elevator, might not really matter to a lot of people.
I will wrap up by saying that thankfully I am not lonely. Being an outsider has some advantages, and not taking on/being accepted into all facets of Japanese culture suits me fine
I recently visited one of Japan’s biggest music festivals, probably only second to Fuji rock. And despite it not being a camping festival, it was still quite the wild experience.
First of all, being an extremely drug fearing country, they have entirely un-ironic ‘powder rooms’, which I was told contained a labyrinth of mirrors, and girls actually attending to their makeup rather than dusting their beaks.
With no ‘powder’ so to speak of, in the powder room, people had to go and get their kicks elsewhere. Naturally there was an array of bars, but yet no queues. Despite the ‘rules’ of the festival stating that you could bring none of your own food & drink (except water) into the festival, these were quickly brushed aside. In fact, in true Japanese style of having convenience stores literally everywhere (I have 3 within a 2 minute walk of my house), there was one on the festival site. And this was where everyone was getting there supplies. Below is the queue we spent 30 minutes in, simply to enter the store. More queuing was then required. (p.s. this is NOT a joke).
Something else that blew my mind was the unavailability of free drinking water. Although it rained heavily on the 1st day, the 2nd was unbearably hot. Easily the sort of weather where people could pass out and die, especially if dancing. But I guess the Japanese are too polite to go suing people, so instead the festival just bends them over nice and gently and….(you get the picture). They give a pretty clear message about the water they do provide.
Elsewhere, especially during the deejay sets, it was really nice to see lots of Japanese people letting loose a little bit and really dancing their faces off. Although you’ll never eradicate some cultural behaviours, and no matter where you go, and how hard the beat is pounding, there’ll always be some Japanese people sleeping (or sitting and enjoying quietly)
Overall it was a really good festival, although horribly expensive if you don’t happen to be eating money in Japan.
The best: 2many deejays, Gotye, Soulwax, SBTRKT, Passion pit
The worst: Grimes (too much echo/wailing/screeching in an attempt to sound arty, but instead just sounding pretentious and unable to sing properly live. I’ll admit, even i had a little sleep in this set)
I don’t know what it is, but this picture makes me feel really uneasy
Japan is full of lots of crazy, cute little characters to cater for everyone’s taste. But by far the strangest i have found is the ‘kobito’ (小人 meaning dwarf in Japanese). I find it hard understand exactly who these little beasts are marketed at; too cute for purely an adult market, too twisted to be solely for children. But despite their scary appearance, the kids love them still. I overheard an elementary school boy saying to his friend, “It’s so scary. But I want it!”.
It’s probably best to fill you in on a bit of background for these elusive little fellas, so here’s the line up of the usual suspects.
From what i understand, kobito are small elf like creatures that inhabit the natural world around us. Similar to fairies in some respects, they are the sort of thing you will only see if you are very quiet and believe that you will see them. But they don’t just keep to the hills and the valleys. Many shops selling Kobito goods have instructional videos on how to catch the different varieties, with tactics ranging from luring it with some tasty toilet paper, to suspending a peach from a weak piece of string above hole in the ground. But after looking a bit closer at what the Kobito get up to, the only reason I can find for wanting to catch one would be to burn it and return it to depths of hell from which it surely came.
Lets look at some evidence.
This Kobito likes to strangle frogs for kicks.
This fella likes to make out with blades of grass.
What better than feasting on tomatoes like they were the corpses of your latest murder victims.
How about raping a sheep?
Or getting together with your pals to spy upon the boy next door taking a shower? Not getting you going yet? How about a golden shower?
Or maybe what you need is a nice ass shot. カクレモモジリ obviously puts his time in at the gym doing squats.
It really makes you hungry for ass shaped peach, although I would question whether the taste would be pleasant. I was in fact lucky enough to spot one of these in the wild whilst at a bar last weekend.
Scared the life out of me.
So to conclude, the evidence suggests that they are far from your usual cute characters you stumble across in Japan. I recommend you watch your back, because next time you don’t they’ll be there, watching you in the shower, wanting you to urinate on them, or waiting to force themselves on your beloved pet. You have been warned! They are the stuff of nightmares.
So it has been a while since I posted anything long, but life has taken a busy turn with most weekends being booked up, and then karate and private students on weeknights.
Last month we had the blossom viewing season, and so like everybody else we went and viewed some blossoms (cherry if i’m not mistaken). People in Japan really seem to dig ‘viewing’ things. Pretty much, they like to plant cherry blossom trees everywhere, and then wait until the beginning of spring for some hot viewing action. In amongst it all is some jazz about life being fragile, but beautiful and fleeting (just like the blossoms); but really it’s just an excuse to get your blue tarpaulin out and drink during the day.
People can take it a little seriously too. A lot of people arrive early in the morning so to reserve the best spots with big, blue, plastic monsters. Sometimes people will even sit with tarp, guarding it until the rest of the party arrives.
Being foreigners, none of us had a tarp, and people looked pityingly at us as we sipped our drinks, and wished for it all to end soon. Luckily it did, when some people working for Kirin (the beer and other booze) company invited us over to their tarp. They plied us with some free samples and we had the usual conversations, whilst they looked on, vacantly smiling, and looking like they had all just escaped a house fire.
Just the smell of a beer will turn most Japanese people into what can be best described as very peace loving sunburn victims. One of the guys also had a very charming teeshirt to break the ice.
But no one obliged. It’s certainly a bold opener….
Everyone seems to also spend a lot of their time taking close up pictures of the blossoms, so i tried too.
And some not so close ones too.
Unfortunately, all the festivities and shear amount of blossoms got to Tammy and she tried drunken style chinese boxing on me. Luckily my friend ‘the bush’ helped me over power her, and some friendly passing Japanese people helped me pull her out of it. Japanese people can be really friendly at times.