I have never really been to a place and not known where to start when describing it. Then again, until now, I’ve never been to the other side of the world. That’s Japan.
One one hand I can’t believe how similar Japan is to what I’m used to. I mean almost everything is in English (at least English subtitles), technology is everywhere, I can barely go anywhere without hearing American Pop music, and there are McDonald’s all over the place.
In contrast nothing is the same. The nuances are all different and the details aren’t even close. The train rides are quiet, personal space is valued above all else, perversion and smut seems to be accepted as part of life, the laws are based on common sense, and there is a certain cultural quality that I can’t quite put my finger on that makes Japan truly, well, different.
The Never Ending City
Every city I have ever been to pales in comparison to the sheer size and population of Tokyo, Japan. Atop the two tallest buildings in Japan, even on a clear day, I could not see the end of the city. This amazed me.
Dislike of Americans because of the Military
A few trips to the local pubs and after a few drinks the Japanese really start to loosen up. That’s when I found out that overall the Japanese do not think very highly of Americans. Why? Because the Island of Japan houses thousands and thousands of military personnel. Personnel that have been trapped on a military base all week or on a boat for months and decide to “blow off steam” in the Japanese bars and clubs.
For a culture that is relatively quiet and outwardly conservative a bunch of routy and aggressive Military guys tend to stand out. They also tend to be disrespectful and culturally incensitive. It’s no surprise to me – most of these guys are trained for war, but hanging out with the civilian population of a people we dropped two nuclear bombs on not too long ago. It’s not that all military guys are bad, it’s just a few bad apples.
The good news is, at a personal level, the Japanese people are willing to get to know anyone. As I found out – they also make great drinking partners!
Why Drinking at Local Bars is GOOD
Other than just to get intoxicated drinking at the local watering whole is great for meeting people. In a single night in Roppongi, the “club and party” district, I met a group of Dutchmen, a Scotsmen, several Canadians, a Swissman, and of course Japanese. This was all at my table. It seems good company attracts people no matter what country you’re from. I also found out that I do a great Scottish accent, my wife looks French, and I could be either Australian or American.
We discussed politics, our home towns, exchanged emails, bought each other drinks, had an arm wrestling contest, missed the train, had to stay out until morning, and danced the night away. I can honestly say it was a blast and I learned more about other countries than I ever did in history class. And just in case you were wondering… Yes – I did teach everyone how to fist-pump like an American :).
Old and New
Amongst the modern design and never ending city-scape is a hint of the old. Shinto shrines older than any living person on the planet – older than and living person for the past few generations. They are stragely peaceful and beautiful – even to a secular American like myself.
I have to admit that cleansing my soul with sacred smoke and water, asking for a prayer, and leaving behind a bad fortune made me feel eerily at peace. A beautiful Oasis in the heart of mayhem.
Don’t point. Walk on the left hand side. Keep your voice down on the train. Walk in lines not side by side. It’s legal to drink alcohol on the street, but no one does (why?), it’s okay and often attractive for women to dress like dolls, prostitution is “almost” legal, everyone knows multiple languages, the streets are clean, it’s WAY too expensive to drive, public transportation is awesome, and the exchange rate is horrible. Just a few interesting tid-bits about Japan.
More to come
There is so much to say about Japan that I think writing about each subject will have to be individual posts. Plan on hearing more specific analysis in the coming weeks.